Season 2, Episode 6: “Double Shock”
Original airdate: March 25, 1973
Kriti: When I started watching Columbo, I was aware that it would be challenging to surpass the fantastic experience of Remington Steele from the previous week.
While I didn’t quite resonate with Hart to Hart, the complete absence of women in significant roles, especially compared to our earlier viewings, felt like a step backward.
The central mystery in “Double Shock” revolves around the death of Clifford Paris, an incredibly wealthy man who was discovered dead, slumped over his exercise bike on his wedding night.
The woman who initially finds him is Lisa Chambers (portrayed by Julie Newmar), a much younger bride.
Further, the potential heirs of his multimillion-dollar estate are his constantly feuding twin nephews, Dexter and Norman (both brought to life by Martin Landau).
The show only featured two women, Lisa and Mrs. Peck (Jeanette Nolan), and their characterizations were highly problematic.
Lisa, who was Clifford’s fiancée, faced questions about her feelings for Clifford primarily due to her age difference.
When Columbo came to interrogate her, she was engaged in Pilates (did this exist in 1973?), and he openly ogled her, even going so far as to say, “I enjoy watching.” This behavior is uncomfortable.
Furthermore, just as Lisa began to show some interesting character traits and assert herself with Columbo, she met an untimely demise.
Mrs. Peck, the housekeeper/manager, was portrayed as overly shrill and obsessively concerned with the cleanliness of the house.
This characterization reinforces stereotypes about women as cleaning-focused.
She frequently scolded Columbo for various reasons throughout the episode, even when her points were valid.
This portrayal of women in Columbo was disappointing, especially when compared to the dynamic female characters like Laura Holt and Jennifer Hart (though I may have been somewhat critical of the latter).
Setting aside the problematic depiction of women, I found the overall plot unengaging from the very beginning.
It was glaringly obvious that one or both of the twins, Dexter and Norman, were involved in their uncle’s murder, as neither of them provided convincing arguments for their innocence in their suspicious statements to Columbo.
Additionally, in my opinion, Columbo appeared bumbling and inefficient. While he eventually solved the case, I found him lacking dynamism and interest.
The most amusing part of the episode was the peculiar scene in which Columbo teamed up with TV food personality Dexter to make hollandaise sauce on national television.
This scene stood out for its odd interactions and felt somewhat out of place in the context of the plot.
Notably, there was a woman in the background with massive, almost gigantic, hair who became my favorite part of the episode.
In essence, this episode could be summarized with the tagline, “wealthy white men with material obsessions commit crimes to gain more wealth.”
I apologize if this offends any Columbo fans.
Sidant: Well, that was a rather bizarre experience. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I first started streaming Columbo, and I’m still trying to make sense of what I just watched.
To be frank, this episode had the least captivating mystery plot among the ones we’ve seen so far.
However, there’s a part of me that believes this may have been intentional. The true standout here is Peter Falk, who shines as Lieutenant Columbo.
He rises from his bed late at night to solve a particularly heinous murder.
What’s intriguing about Columbo’s approach to problem-solving is that it appears he doesn’t have a specific method.
At various points in the episode, Mrs. Peck refers to him as a “hobo” and a “bum,” commenting on his appearance and lack of manners, possibly indicating his social class or something along those lines.
The other remarkable aspect that left a lasting impression on me is how incredibly naturalistic this episode felt.
As Kriti previously mentioned, the cooking show scene, which was endearingly awkward, the entire episode was filled with characters who seemed so absorbed by their own motivations that their conversations didn’t appear to be occurring intentionally.
Even in the climactic scene where Columbo demonstrates how the victim met his demise and how both brothers were involved, he seemed uncertain about how to present the evidence.
These two elements set Columbo far apart from Remington Steele or Hart to Hart. The latter shows have an element of “class” woven into their narratives.
For the Harts, as well as Remington and Laura, their line of work often involves donning tuxedos and getting their outfits disheveled in the course of their duties.
In contrast, Columbo wears his profession on his sleeve. While he may frequently downplay it to Mrs. Peck, he remains steadfast in his approach.
He admits, “It’s just a fault of mine,” indicating that this is an intrinsic part of his character. This is likely why viewers would tune in to watch the show.
Naveen: Wow, I must admit I’m a bit surprised by the reactions to this episode. It’s not that the critiques are invalid or misplaced; it’s just that I believe Columbo needs a bit more contextualization.
While I’m hesitant to resort to the “it was a different time” excuse because it’s certainly not a sufficient answer to the issue of regressive or problematic representation, we have to acknowledge that this episode aired almost a decade before the first two shows we discussed in this theme.
Regrettably, the lack of female involvement in the episode is distressing, but it appears that Steven Bochco’s script wasn’t particularly concerned with women.
This might not be good, but it’s also not entirely surprising.
On a personal note, I found the raw simplicity of “Double Shock” rather charming.
While I do appreciate the abundance of cheese and puns that come with shows like Hart to Hart and Remington Steele (with the latter certainly offering more substance), there’s only so much of it I can take.
Therefore, it was a welcome change to go back in time and explore the type of programming that Hart to Hart and Steele likely responded to in the early 1980s.
Regarding Peter Falk’s portrayal of the title character, there might not be much new to say, but he excels at embodying an intelligent screwball who always appears to be the smartest person in the room, even if he’s not entirely aware of it yet.
It’s intriguing to contemplate Columbo as one of the foundational figures in the medium, contributing to the development of the “moderately dysfunctional, borderline solipsistic detective” character archetype.
These characters operate in very distinct shows that differ significantly from programs centered around partnerships or teams.
Monk, for instance, clearly drew inspiration from Columbo in a more contemporary context, underscoring the potency of this character type and its impact when brought to life by exceptional actors.
Moreover, I must commend Martin Landau for his excellent portrayal of the twins in this episode.
He managed to differentiate them effectively, and although the resolution was evident from the outset, I genuinely enjoyed how the brothers interacted with Columbo, sometimes aiding and at other times obstructing his investigation.
The episode skillfully provided valid reasons for placing the title character in close proximity to the suspect without straining credibility too much.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that this episode and the show as a whole display a somewhat heightened interest in procedural processes.
While the first two shows we discussed highlighted the investigative work of the duos, they also had overarching premises, both fundamental and basic, that could lead the main characters in various directions.
In contrast, this episode focused on Columbo’s investigative work.
Astha: Columbo had the capacity to deliver compelling characterizations, yet they were predominantly reserved for the weekly antagonist.
This approach meant that when the perpetrator was a woman, there was an opportunity for a remarkable role that an actress could fully embrace.
Nevertheless, the remaining cast members often found themselves confined to stereotypical roles.
In this episode, the limited portrayal of women is evident. Despite this, it underscores why Columbo consistently offered a satisfying viewing experience.
Landau’s performance is exceptional, and he appears to relish portraying the dual roles.
The audience never questions Columbo’s ability to solve the case; the enjoyment lies in observing how he accomplishes it.
Krisnaa: I wholeheartedly agree with Naveen’s perspective on this matter.
Among the three shows we’ve examined thus far, Columbo may appear to be the least captivating, or at least lacking a strong sense of amusement.
However, this does not diminish the fact that I found the unfolding of this narrative to be quite enjoyable.
The episode maintained a commendable pacing as Columbo meticulously collected information related to the investigation.
It struck a balance between the investigation process and the interactions with the suspects.
Despite the absence of gunfights or chase sequences, the episode managed to avoid becoming excessively monotonous.
Moreover, I discovered the resolution of the mystery to be quite intriguing.
Right from the beginning, we were aware that one of the twins was the perpetrator, but the story’s consistent ambiguity kept us guessing about which one was guilty.
It wasn’t until the final scenes, as Columbo elucidated the necessity for an accomplice, that it became apparent the twins had exploited their identical appearance to their advantage.
When it comes to some of the show’s more problematic gender dynamics, I believe it’s worth acknowledging the “different time” aspect.
However, what’s even more significant is recognizing that Columbo is not attempting to be the same kind of show as Remington Steele or Hart to Hart.
It doesn’t follow the format of a police procedural centered around a central relationship or incorporate an ensemble cast.
Instead, it focuses on the story of the individual whose name appears on the title card.
Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo, Columbo, “Double Shock” and, as is the case with many other shows of this kind, Columbo is certainly worth watching due to the outstanding performance at its core.
As portrayed by Falk, Columbo embodies the quintessential hard-working detective who perseveres in his pursuit of justice.
He is untroubled by his personal appearance or the judgments of those around him if it means accomplishing his objectives.
Observing Columbo at work might be cringe-worthy at times, but it remains a fascinating experience.
His investigative style, which is both half-distracted and half-observant, is a source of frustration for everyone around him.
However, it conceals the fact that he notices things that no other law enforcement officer does.
In Columbo, you can discern the prototype for a multitude of detectives, ranging from Carl Kolchak to Bobby Goren to Adrian Monk and even to the modern interpretations of Sherlock Holmes by Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch.
He conducts his interactions with respect for those he converses with, always ready to apologize when his behavior seems to go too far.
While he may not depart exactly when asked, he eventually leaves.
There is a subtle dignity about the character that neither Pierce Brosnan nor Robert Wagner could rival in the flashier detective shows we’ve explored in the past two weeks, and this holds its own value.
The moment that established the tone for me occurred quite early in the episode.
Columbo, appearing sleep-deprived and probably dealing with a hangover, ascends to the master bathroom to freshen up.
As he stands before the mirror, he spots the absence of a towel on the rack, leading his gaze to the damp towel concealed in the hamper.
These observations trigger his realization that the bathtub has been recently used.
After a brief pause for thought, he proceeds to adjust his tie, takes a puff of his cigar, and then descends the stairs with the determination to treat this as a homicide investigation.
Despite his occasional appearance of distractibility, dishevelment, and even a hint of denseness, Columbo demonstrates that he is a consummate professional.
Once the situation is established as a genuine case, there is no doubt that he will solve it.
Just a friendly reminder, we’ll be taking a break next week for the Thanksgiving holiday. We’ll return the following week, and our upcoming schedule is as follows.
If you have any suggestions for our final installment or if there’s a specific show or episode you’d like us to discuss to close out our conversation, please feel free to share your thoughts.
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