Friday, March 14, 2008

Television: Columbo

"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” –Matthew 10:16
Long before there was Monk or Psych, there was Columbo. Just as Columbo is not your average detective, the show was not your average mystery program. It popularized the “inverted detective story” where the audience knows from the start who the murderer is and how they committed the crime. In this type of story, the emphasis shifts away from the typical puzzle of most mysteries and focuses more on the characters and their reactions to being investigated. It is usually a fascinating journey, watching the murderer go from smug and secure in their perfect plan to edgy and desperate as they become exposed.
Columbo himself is a joy to watch and the ultimate reason behind the success of the series. He is the perfect example of the apparent paradox of Jesus’ demand that His disciples be both shrewd and innocent. Columbo seems to always be aware of who the killer is as soon as he first sees the scene of the crime. The problem is it does him no good to know who is guilty. He must be able to prove it. So the whole show, Columbo plods along testing the killer’s story for weaknesses. He even gets the killer to help. All the while, Columbo plays dumb.
His innocence is more than an act however. In spite of his deep knowledge of human nature and the capacity for evil that exists in people, he is good. He enjoys simple pleasures. He has no ambitions for wealth or power. He brings killers to justice, but he is not vindictive. Sometimes he even seems to like the people he is trying to expose. He is never taken in.

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