I think it speaks volumes that Columbo remains one of the most popular shows from both the 70s and from the detective genre. There’s just nothing else quite like it. The style, the main character, the soundtrack, and of course, the reverse-whodunit story lines. Whereas many tv shows older than 30 years may fall by the wayside, Columbo remains an oddly timeless piece despite its very dated setting. You can sit back, watch an episode, and be enamored by this humble detective and his charismatic, murdering antagonist. So in this age of reboots, remakes, and sequels, I’ve been asking myself the question: What would a Columbo remake be like?
Columbo’s simple and surprisingly still unique premise can be easily adopted to modern television. A perpetrator murders their victim and Columbo has to figure out how they done it and how he will catch them. Through a humble, often forgetful approach, the perpetrator will let down their guard and allow Columbo into their lives even to the point of helping him. But through slip ups and confusion, they will spiral further and further into Columbo’s figurative trap where he nabs them. It’s such a splendid show that it works very well despite the formula repeating (almost) every episode.
So I think the Columbo series would fit very well as a miniseries similar to Sherlock. Instead of producing 22 or even 13 episodes, we can produce maybe 7 or 8 episodes that are about an hour and a half long. An episode being more than an hour long will definitely help us connect to a new villain and give us time with them which is very valuable.
Additionally, Columbo has two persistent themes that continue from season to season that I think can be adopted very well for the 2020’s; cutting edge technology employed in the murder, and, more importantly, a lower class man outwitting upper class murderers.
That cutting edge technology I think has so much potential. Sure, it would make our modern Columbo dated within 10 or 20 years of its time but so did the show from the 70’s! Those ancient computers, subliminal messaging (which is debunked), and, weirdly, Robby the Robot are so humorous to watch nowadays. Technology shouldn’t stop us here. This can be anything from a newly developed app, to medical devices, drones, mechanical ingenuity (Battlebots anyone?), smartphones, self-driving cars, AI, virtual reality, and 3D printing. And this is just off the top of my head! The use of any of these for murdering people can be done with excellence. I would love to see the use of that self-driving car, btw, I can totally imagine the murderer be like “Perhaps the car didn’t “see” the victim when it accidentally ran over it.” Pick any of these and it’s bound to be a fun story.
But I think the more important reoccurring story element is the lower class man outmaneuvering the egotistical upper class individual. The original Columbo show always had hints and elements of this. Columbo’s car is rusty and on the verge of a breakdown, he smokes cheap cigars and his trench-coat looks old and ragged. Meanwhile, his antagonists’ homes are large and lavishing, they pursue expensive hobbies, they run large corporations or enterprises, they’re big-time actors, high ranking generals, scumbag politicians, notable doctors, and even a lauded matador. They may be repelled by Columbo’s cigar or amused by his forgetful and humble mannerisms. They see themselves as above him and are increasingly frustrated by his persistence and ingenuity. This iconic symbolism definitely needs to continue in the new series. Columbo can now go after Bezos or Zuckerberg-esque archetypes. He can take down greedy bankers, careless oil tycoons, gluttonous Hollywood producers, and insufferable Pharm leaders. It would be so satisfying to watch.
There should also be a few episodes with a sympathetic villain. There are several Columbo episodes with likable villains like “Try and Catch Me” or “Bye Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case” and I think a modern audience would really connect to that. I can real quickly list several murderers that can easily connect with the audience; an abused wife of a rich CEO, a veteran damaged by a corrupt officer, or a scientist whose funding has just been terminated. Columbo was also not afraid to get political, as seen in “The Conspirators,” so it would be refreshing to see a take on maybe police brutality or immigration. Again, the well for these villains is deep.
This segues into the big question, who would play Columbo? The great Peter Falk, God rest his soul, had passed away in 2011, and left a noticeable void in our heart. His death does make the show’s revival tricky as when you think of Columbo, you think of Peter Falk! The man and the character are one and the same!
And to a point this is true, but here’s the thing. Columbo was adopted from the play “Prescription: Murder.” This play had gone on showings long before Peter Falk took on the role. The play still continues to this there and there are other actors who’ve played Columbo since Peter Falk’s passing. They may not have the exact same mannerisms but they still pull of their own interpretation of the character. So the thought of someone else playing Columbo isn’t that surprising.
And if we really want to separate fans of the classic Columbo to our new one I think it would help to go off the beaten path and hire a female actor to play the lead role.
I want to emphasize that this is not “Mrs. Columbo;” this is “Lt. Columbo” who works in the police force. After all, Columbo is just a last name and we were never confirmed what Peter Falk’s character’s first name is. He always introduced himself as Lt. Columbo and everyone would refer to him as such. This new Columbo would be the same.
I honestly think this can open a lot of cool and unexpected doors for our new female lead. The most prominent of which is that underestimation that so many murderers have against Columbo. A female lead would honestly benefit from this (which is an unfortunate truth about our society). But can you imagine some douchey CEO who thinks he got away with the perfect murder and in walks this shabbily dressed lady who seems meek and polite? He thinks he’s got this in the bag! And then his whole world comes crashing down as she just brings him down, down, down, and down. God I would pay to see that.
I think another thing that might strengthen our new Columbo would be making her Latina. I can imagine her being the daughter of immigrants and growing up in a poor neighborhood. In all the vague story recollections and character interactions we had with Falk’s Columbo, we are given the impression that this Italian man feels for his people and for the downtrodden. He wants to make sure they are well and he understands their plight. Our Latina Columbo could do this in spades; she can interact with folks who can help her solve the case (maids, drivers, construction workers, landscapers, and etc.). Time and time again, Columbo has asked the help of the working class and the poor to help him and they oblige as his friendly and easy going nature really brings them to his side. Latina Columbo can easily achieve this, especially if the series took place in California again.
I think one thing this new series should definitely not change is Columbo’s mysterious personal life. I know it would be tempting to give her a backstory, and show her family, and give her goals and challenges but honestly? We already have plenty of that in other shows. The new Columbo show should really hold firm on her mysterious backstory. Focus on the murderer, the episode’s protagonist, and learn from them why we should care for them and even secretly hope they get away. The murderers are the actual driving force behind the story.
Who would play our new Columbo? Honestly, I wouldn’t know who to pick as I don’t really have an eye for that. Really, I think it should be a nobody, somebody that hasn’t big on any major television or movie roles. I think that may make some Universal execs feel uncomfortable with that but remember that a lot of the guest stars in the original Columbo series were relatively famous. They were really recognizable back then and some are still recognizable today like William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Leslie Nielsen, Janet Leigh, and Dick Van Dyke to name a few. I think it would be really fun if we had the likes of Bryan Cranston, Emilia Clarke, or Kumail Nanjiani play as guest murderers. The previous series had plenty of Oscar-winning stars guest star so it’s not a stretch to see that high level of fame for here too.
The potential for our new Columbo series would be amazing given our current circumstances. I think modern audiences would love the character relationships, the ingenious murderous plots, and of course, Columbo herself. What do you guys think? Would you like to see another Columbo series? Who do you think should play her (or him if you want)? Let me know!
Oh and one more thing, regardless of gender, Columbo needs to have her Misses Columbo. That’s gotta stay!