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Columbo Goes to College
TV Movie. 1990. E. W. Swackhamer
Two rich fraternity kids commit a murder and taunt lieutenant Columbo as he solves the crime.
This episode is often held up as the best of the not-very-well-received 1989 revival of the classic 1968-1978 series. Where Columbo Goes to College departs from the old series is puzzling, where it is the same is also puzzling.
1970’s Columbo is a Dostoevskian fantasy. Columbo is the eye of god, and the guest star spends the program first in denial and then in panic. Sometimes the murderers are transformed and reach absolution, sometimes acceptance, sometimes they are damned.
The murderers in Columbo Goes to College (and everyone else in the episode) never suspect Columbo isn’t an idiot until the very end. The show has to cut in Columbo doing non-idiotic things where nobody in the scene can see them so we don’t forget that he’s not just a fool. The episode actually hides an (obvious) part of the mechanism of the murder, so it can have a good-old-fashioned mystery-show end-of-episode reveal. The murderers never change.
In 12 years, we lost the ability to understand Columbo. How can we understand it today?