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2023 Viewing (Q4)

Long overdue: the viewings for the approx last quarter of 2023. Previous viewings @ here.

Haven’t felt much like blogging for some time (hardly anyone reads this thing & the Internet in general has become something I really dislike—a rant for another time, mebbe!), but this is a tradition now. Onwards.

The Rockford Files seasons 1-3 (DVD)
Starsky & Hutch seasons 1-2 (DVD)
Columbo seasons 3-10 (DVD)
The Deputy season 1 (download)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series 2 (DVD)
The Return of Sherlock Holmes series 1-2 (DVD)
The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes series 1-3 (DVD)
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes series 1 (DVD)
Reacher season 1 (download)
Tulsa King season 1 (download)

Some commentary…

Yes, we watched a bit of recent TV stuff! Admittedly, it’s a couple of old fart boomer shows with absolutely no PC or woke content, but, y’know, that’s kinda like watching old stuff, before everything went ultra-political in the funkiest way.

Reacher

Reacher was a lot better than I thought it’d be. Mr Reacher himself, Alan Ritchson, while possessed of modest (but reasonably effective) acting ability, is a terrific heroic figure who looks exactly like he was drawn by Neal Adams. How could that be a bad thing?

We skipped through all the Columbo shows quite fast—although it spanned 35 years, they only made 69 of them. I love the show, and Peter Falk, but it had its ups-and-downs for sure. As early as season 2, we see a run of mostly strong episodes plagued by quite stupid and implausible “gotcha” endings, for instance.

Dawn (1974) and Identity (1975)
Paddy & Pete in “By Dawn’s Early Light” (1974) and “Identity Crisis” (1975).

Patrick McGoohan’s episodes as the killer are always highlights: “By Dawn’s Early Light” (1974), “Identity Crisis” (1975), “Agenda For Murder” (1990) and “Ashes to Ashes” (1998). He also directed the latter three eps, plus he directed two more in which he didn’t appear—“Last Salute to the Commodore” (1976) and “Murder With Too Many Notes” (1998). These two are very divisive amongst fans—they definitely up the weird factor massively.

2023 Viewing (Q4)
BFFs in “Agenda For Murder” (1990) and “Ashes to Ashes (Funk to Funky)” (1998).

Of his four “killer” eps, I love the first three. All classics, with very little to fault. 1998’s “Ashes” is something else. Patrick himself is superb in this, the script is half-decent, and personally I don’t mind the patented “weird” elements… but Falk is missing the mark.

Partly I think it’s because he was 70 years old and just a bit too old for the role. But also, I do believe in this one, and in “Too Many Notes”, Paddy is influencing Peter’s performance. Back in 1976’s “Commodore”, McGoohan was even then encouraging & urging Peter to try different things and go “off-model”, so to speak, during a period where Falk was growing a little bored and restless. The result was much more eccentric and sometimes quite… flaky? Watch it and see for yourself. I think a similar thing was happening in the 1998 eps, but unfortunately, coupled with his age, the effect is even worse. At times he is quite twee—it makes him seem like a silly old duffer, rather than the sly fox who sometimes plays dumb to lull the suspects.

Interestingly, when Falk returned for a final special in 2003 (“Columbo Likes the Nightlife”), although five years older he plays the cop with a much more professional & focused quality—a solid performance. To no avail, alas, for want of an interesting perp to pursue (Matthew Rhys is very ineffectual)… but a dignified exit for the character.

Death Lends a Hand (1971) and Try and Catch Me (1977)
Robert Culp (1971) and Ruth Gordon (1977) doing impressive work on Columbo.

The 1970s episodes always have the best ratio of excellence, and not just because of the scripts—the gallery of rogues was such a wonderful showcase of first-rate character actors, frequently doing their best work. As well as McGoohan there were unforgettable appearances from the likes of Robert Culp (three times), Jack Cassidy (ditto), Ray Milland, Janet Leigh, Roddy McDowall, Vera Miles, and a very spry 81-year-old Ruth Gordon in “Try and Catch Me”, amongst many others.

When the show returned in 1989, the first four-episode season (8) boasted very little in terms of heavyweight opponents for Columbo, while Falk himself was fumbling a little to find the character again. But the following season (1989-90) was much stronger, I think, with Falk, still just about young enough to make it all work, absolutely nailing the character. His opponents were not always first-rate, but with McGoohan’s fantastic turn in “Agenda” providing an Emmy-winning highlight (for him and Falk—the third one for Peter!), it was surely the show’s final peak.

It's All in the Game (1993)
Columbo’s final triumph? Faye Dunaway in “It’s All in the Game” (1993).

After that, ABC sadly cancelled their “Movie of the Week” format after only its second season (also putting the kibosh on the newly-revived Kojak and the Burt Reynolds vehicle BL Stryker)—Columbo continued in increasingly occasional specials. The last really great episode, I feel, was 1993’s “It’s All in the Game”—the only episode written by Falk, with an excellent sympathetic killer showcase for Faye Dunaway (another Emmy win for the show).

Anyhow…

We also got through all of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes run—which, for obvious reasons, ends in a quite sad fashion. But what a brilliant show at its best. I might write more on this at another time.

Jimbo
Everyone loves Jimbo. Should we do a blog about the great Mister G?

And we made a big start on the James Garner classic, The Rockford Files (almost done with season 6 as I type this). I should write more about Garner, too, at some point, but I’ll keep it short here, except to say—who doesn’t love Jimbo?

The first quarter rundown for 2024 is imminent, so I’m outta for now.

2 thoughts on “2023 Viewing (Q4)”

  1. Mad Magazine suggested Columbo had never been promoted (at least 35 years at the same rank?) because so many of his arrests were based upon evidence which would fall apart under cross-examination. As for Falk’s more “flaky” moments under McGoohan’s direction, perhaps it reminded him of the low-budget movies he made with John Cassavetes at the helm, which do lean towards the idiosyncratic.

    1. Of course, the career of Jack Warner’s George Dixon is almost as static: first seen in The Blue Lamp (1950), in which he was shot dead, then out of one box and into another for Dixon of Dock Green (1955-76), he was a police constable for more than 26 years. Still, you shouldn’t expect too much from a zombie.

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