Columbo Under Glass: A critical analysis of the cases, clues and character of the Good Lieutenant
Paperback: 428 pages
Publisher: BearManor Media (July 7, 2016)
Sheldon Catz's Columbo Under Glass is not your typical TV series episode guide. It provides very little production history or background and includes no interviews with any of the participants. As Catz admits in his introduction, that ground was already expertly covered by TV historian Mark Dawidziak in his 1989 The Columbo File: A Casebook. Dawidziak was kind enough to write a complimentary foreword to the Catz study, saying he never thought his own book was the end-all and be-all for Columbo.
Instead, Under Glass is a very personal analysis of the long-running, on-again, off-again series of TV movies. Yes, Catz reviews every one of the episodes but most of his commentary is his own thoughts on what worked and especially what didn't in the scripts and acting. Frequently, it's difficult to understand why he invested so much time in Columbo as most of his analysis points to flaws he saw in how writers established the clues in each episode, whether or not the storylines were credible, whether or not the conclusions were well-thought out, or whether or not the characters were sympathetic or two-dimensional.
Then, in a number of essays, Catz analyzes the series from a wide range of angles, essentially retrodding the same ground he had covered in the episode guide in different ways. For example, "The Bloating Problem" re-examined why the 90 minute episodes were usually superior to the over-long two-hour TV movies. He looks at the "First Clues" that usually drew Columbo into pursuing a case and then the "Intermediate Clues and Some Delayed and Slippery Ones" that carried the plots forward for good or ill. He analyzes the various kinds of endings and complains about the lackluster Ed McBain novels rewritten into Columbo scripts. He writes about the developing character of Columbo, the "Morality of Columbo," the failed Mrs. Columbo spin-off, the supporting casts, the theme music, you name it. By the end of the tome, there's no "Just one more thing" left to talk about.
As with all such TV books, your interest in Columbo Under Glass is going to rely on your interest in Lieutenant Columbo as created by Richard Levinson and William Link and portrayed by Peter Falk from 1968 to 2003. Your interest may be piqued by the opportunity to match your own opinions with those of Catz. Odds are, most readers will find themselves skimming through the essays as so many points are revisited multiple times. But it's good to know there are those who still care about Columbo. So many of those old detective shows have disappeared without a trace.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on May 24, 2019: