I think Columbo is a really terrific show. What I also firmly believe is that the show is a useful resource from which much can be learned, notably by actors. Weird idea, I know, but hear me out as I explain why I feel watching this show is hugely beneficial.
If you are familiar with the show, feel free to skip to the next paragraph but if you have never seen (or even heard of) Columbo, let me briefly explain that each episode begins with a murder, where we see how it happens and who does it, then the audience follows homicide detective Lieutenant Columbo as he solves the case; what results is not a ‘whodunit’ but rather a ‘how they get caught’.
An actor’s job of playing pretend as believably as possible begins with understanding the story and the characters. I myself believe that part of good acting is an ability to ask a lot of questions and more specifically, a lot of good questions, and Lieutenant Columbo asks the very best ones. He enters a situation and analyses it in great depth from many different angles, questioning everything to find out the truth. He enters without any pre-conceived judgement and doesn’t just skim the surface or cling onto the obvious; he immerses himself in the details, giving them his utmost attention in a persistent pursuit of understanding absolutely everything about the situation and about the perspectives of all of the people involved. Speaking of people, the good lieutenant is a master of reading people. Through his questioning and observations, he very quickly understands who people truly are and their motivations. As well as his ability to know and understand others, Columbo knows exactly who he is and more importantly, he knows how to utilise his own personality in different settings to achieve his goals.
Acting is not just a craft but also a business; and an important part of the business side is how you handle your interactions with agents, directors, producers, writers, other actors and so on, some of whom might not always be easy to work with. Actors can also often be misjudged by these people, because of their looks for example. A voice actor may have a whole load of characters and voices in their pocket that other people just do not expect. Lieutenant Columbo is a real pro when it comes to dealing with difficult people. He encounters an incredibly large number of rude, arrogant people who continually put him down and underestimate his abilities because of how he initially comes across. Rather than getting defensive or angry with these people, Columbo allows such comments, attitudes and judgements to wash over him with an amazing sense of patience and grace. Moreover, Columbo carries out his work with great modesty and kindness; he is often very complimentary of his adversaries, for who doesn't want to help a nice person?
Columbo is an incredibly endearing and likeable man, a joy to watch. This certainly would not be possible without actor Peter Falk, whose work in this role could be argued as the finest ever performance of a television character. For every richly deep, superbly performed hero, there must also be a great villain; and in this show’s case, there are many of them: some who are pure evil, whilst others are people just down on their luck who had taken a wrong turn in life. The show featured many wonderful guest performances (villains and otherwise) from a large list of great actors including Patrick McGoohan, Robert Vaughn, Johnny Cash, Faye Dunaway, Janet Leigh, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and many, many more. The show was nominated for and won many awards – including Primetime Emmy Awards – for its acting. So if you are the kind of actor who believes watching good acting will make you a better actor, you would do well to watch this show.
Columbo is one of my absolute favourite television programmes and what I personally believe to be one of the most outstanding television shows ever made as well. For an actor there is always more to learn, so it is always worthwhile to take another class, read another book or in this case, watch another TV show. For any of the reasons I have stated or for the sheer entertainment the show provides, this really is one heck of a show to watch.
Oh err… just one more thing: the show also includes many fantastic lines of dialogue. You will often find yourself smiling whilst watching this highly enjoyable series. Plus, every once in a while, you will be hit with something that will really make you think, something that will inspire and motivate you, such as the quote below. Thank you so much for reading.