On Columbo

Like most people, I was always sucked in by Columbo. His sense of justice was fairly absolute, and he would stick to the killer until he had it figured out. The show was not a whodunnit, but it did show how Columbo would put the pieces of the puzzle together. The killers were always so mundane, killing for all of the most superficial of reasons–money, love, jealousy, fame–so predictable. His secret weapon is not that he feigns stupidity, but that he lets his personal humility run his investigations, letting his egotistical suspects hang themselves by lying when he asked them questions. He solved most of the crimes by simply letting his suspects talk. In Spain we say that it is easier to catch a liar than a one-legged man. Perhaps Columbo was successful because he was tenacious, hard-working, thoughtful, and creative–he had to be able to think like a murderer. I often wondered that if he were real, how would all of that violence and murders affect his personal life. He didn’t have time for big shots or people who thought they were better than others. He rejected the lives of the rich and famous while taking great pleasure in a simple bowl of chili. He loved his wife, took care of his dog, and drove an old Peugeot. He never dabbled in the materialistic world of his suspects, perhaps because he understood the trap of uncontrolled materialism so well. By not desiring more than he ever had and taking pleasure in life’s simple things, he had enough perspective to understand why people fail so miserably at life and kill others. That he smoked those miserable cigars and annoyed people with his incessant questions is irrelevant, part of the “smoke” screen that would put his prey at ease, allowing him to work out the complex solutions for which he was so well-known.