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Peter Falk, 1927-2011

There was something very likeable about stage, screen, and TV actor Peter Falk. Just seeing his rumpled everyman persona appear on the screen made you smile, just as you would when an old friend enters a room. So his death yesterday brought some sadness.

He will be best remembered for his recurring character of Lieutenant Columbo. The TV series was formulaic but in a good way. There was no violence, no car or foot chases, no explosions, just old fashioned storytelling. The beginning showed the crime being committed so there was never any mystery involved. The plot revolved around how Columbo pieced together the sequence of events that resulted in him determining the culprit, and the ensuing cat-and-mouse game leading to the capture of the guilty. This focus on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘who’ also solved the problem that besets traditional whodunit TV mystery series which like to cast a well-known guest actor each week because the most meaty guest role is usually that of the villain, which gives away the surprise.

As an added bonus (for me at least) there was also a class element to the Columbo stories. In every episode that I saw, the criminal was very rich and moved in high society and viewed with condescension the disheveled cigar smoker in the worn and grubby raincoat, driving a beat up old car, and alluding to his never-seen blue-collar family and background. The criminals would draw the conclusion that he could not be very smart and that they were safe, and the slow dawning on them that that they had underestimated him and that this befuddled character would be their Nemesis always added a pleasant zest to the ending in which they received their comeuppance.

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