Columbo moved to thoroughly embrace the modern era on 3rd April, 1989 when the Lieutenant was sent to investigate a crime of passion carried out in the seductive environs of a sex therapy clinic’s boudoir.
Starring Lindsay Crouse as both renowned sex therapist Dr Joan Allenby and her shadowy alter ego ‘Lisa’, Sex & The Married Detective is a titillatingly titled adventure that promises to break at least a few of the series’ taboo subjects.
But is Sex & The Married Detective a Bavarian chocolate cream pie of an episode, or more of a rice pudding? And how will the prudish Lieutenant handle sex talk with a candid and uninhibited younger woman? I guess we’re about to find out…
Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Dr Joan Allenby: Lindsay Crouse
David Kincaid: Stephen Macht
Dr Simon Ward: Peter Jurasik
Helen Hendrix: Marge Redmond
Cindy: Julia Montgomery
Dr Walter Neff: Ken Lerner
Charlie Lenz: Harry Johnson
Sergeant Burke: Stewart J. Zully
Tuba playing IDIOT: Pierrino Mascarino
Written by: Jerry Ludwig
Directed by: James Frawley
Score by: Patrick Williams
Episode synopsis: Columbo Sex & The Married Detective
When renowned sex therapist, author and radio host Dr Joan Allenby finds that her (absolutely dweeby) lover and business partner, David Kincaid, is cheating on her with assistant Cindy at their place of work, she cooks up a delicious revenge fantasy that she puts into deadly action.
Purchasing a range of sultry clothing items on an overnight trip to Chicago, Allenby arranges to play hookie from a fundraising event at the symphony to meet Kincaid at a seedy bar named Buckets.
Kincaid’s in for a surprise when they meet because Allenby has changed her clothing in the ladies’ room at the music centre and assumed the alter ego of a fedora-wearing woman in black named Lisa. Complete with a long, black wig, she’s almost unrecognisable from the doctor’s usual straight-laced appearance.
Lisa plays the role of a high-class call girl (or ‘courtesan’, to tie in with Allenby’s new book about female sexual desire), making a show of accepting a wad of cash from Kincaid before the two leave together and head over to the clinic where they work. Kincaid has to sign them in at the security desk, but the desk jockey there doesn’t recognise Lisa. Phew!
Now in the boudoir of the clinic (where Allenby had spied him romping with assistant Cindy), Kincaid settles back in an easy chair in anticipation of some seriously hot love. What he gets instead is a bullet through his cheating heart. Take that, love rat!
Lisa now smashes up the room, to make it look like rough love games gone wrong. She then beats it back to the music centre to slip back into something less comfortable.
There’s a fly in the ointment, though. As she returns, she’s drooled over (almost literally) by entitled, middle-aged male Charlie Lenz. The sexual predator is so enamoured with Lisa that he follows her to the ladies’ room and waits outside in the hope of wooing the wench when she comes back out.
Alas, he’s to be disappointed. Several dames do emerge from the ladies’ room – including Dr Allenby – but there’s no sign of Lisa. Joan, however, is now mingling with the other guests once more, completing the illusion that she’s been there enjoying the show all along. Clever gal! She ain’t a PhD for nothin’…
The next morning, after receiving the news of Kincaid’s death, Dr Allenby returns to the clinic. She shares an elevator ride with Lieutenant Columbo, who notices a clothing label still attached to her new camel-hair coat – a seemingly unimportant detail now, but one which will come to have a great bearing on the investigation.
The two survey the crime scene and the Lieutenant is perplexed to note that Kincaid’s keys are missing. So how did he open the doors of the office? The alternative is that the woman in black had keys to the office, but if that was the case then Allenby would certainly be able to identify the woman by her long, black hair. She cannot.
Columbo grills Allenby about the nature of her relationship with Kincaid, and is abashed by the frankness of response: “We had great sex,” – although she reveals how stung she feels at knowing he was cheating on her with ‘Lisa’. When she turns the tables and asks the Lieutenant about his own sexual relationships he makes a hasty withdrawal (no pun intended).
The detective instead heads to the music centre where he is unwittingly (and appallingly) drawn into a tuba-playing demonstration for a group of unrealistically excited schoolchildren. While he stomps about leading a tuba march around the foyer, who should scuttle in unnoticed but Dr Allenby?
She slips up to the ladies’ room to retrieve the Lisa disguise, which she had taped to the underside of the wash basin counter. Placing this in her handy briefcase, she’s about to slink away again when she’s collared by Columbo, who is inordinately fascinated by the quality of said satchel – although he stops short of plunging his hand within to inspect the interior.
The two are then met by Allenby’s pal Helen, who reveals the exciting news that a woman in black wearing a fedora was seen at the concert the night before! More revelations follow when he visits Buckets bar. The self-important barkeep remembers the woman in black alright, and confirms her first name is Lisa and that she collared Kincaid and left with him circa 9.15pm.
Back at home, Allenby is primed and ready to burn the Lisa disguise in her fireplace when there’s a ring at the door. Columbo is making a late house call to discuss the case. In the middle of the update, he’s distracted by the sight of the disguise-holding briefcase by the fire. He dashes over to prevent it from being scorched, then cuddles it close for the duration of the conversation.
Columbo doesn’t think it was a random encounter. He reckons Lisa was waiting for Kincaid at the bar and deduces that the two knew each other. Maybe Lisa already had a reason to kill him? And he’s puzzled why Lisa was seen at the music centre. She wasn’t there to watch the show, because she was meeting Kincaid at Buckets while it was underway.
He has found Kincaid’s keys, though. They were left at a valet parking lot and never had them with him at all. The lady in black must have had keys to open the office. But how could that be? Allenby offers no assistance and finally gets rid of him. However, she demures from burning the disguise – deciding to keep hold of them for now. Why? We’ll soon find out…
The clues keep coming for Columbo. A colleague of Dr Allenby’s mentions that on the night before the murder, he has evidence that the boudoir was in use because the bed was unmade and there was a red ribbon there the next day. Columbo also knows that Allenby popped in that night after her flight to Chicago was delayed, but she claims there was no one else there.
He then receives word from a sergeant that another eye witness who remembers seeing Lisa at the symphony. It’s that sex pest Charlie Lenz, who unashamedly explains to the Lieutenant how he waited for the woman in black to emerge from the toilets so he could prey on her, but she thwarted his ambitions by never coming out.
This sends Columbo into the bogs to investigate and after lolling about on the floor under the sinks for a while, he finds some adhesive tape on the underside of the counter: the inference being that something was stashed there! Curiouser and curiouser…
As a result of this find, he sprints back to Allenby’s office where only an Eastern European cleaner is present. He dashes about like a mad thing seeking info on where the office trash is emptied out. He eventually finds it and crawls in amongst wads of used Kleenex etc to find what he was looking for: the clothing tag he’d spotted on Dr Allenby’s new coat. We don’t know it yet, but it’s a deal breaker!
Now starting to feel the pinch, Allenby makes one last stand as Lisa to distance herself as a suspect. Ostentatiously hanging out at a variety of LA hot-spots, she bribes barkeeps into making calls to Columbo and leaving a number of messages to suggest Lisa is sorry for what she did, she was forced into it and now she’s leaving town for good. After this, the disguise is finally burnt and done away with for good.
No sooner is this done than Allenby receives a call from Sergeant Burke. Columbo has uncovered the real identity of the woman in black after leafing through files at Allenby’s office. Jolted into action, the good doctor makes a beeline for her business HQ – and finds the Lieutenant lying in wait for her.
He tells Allenby that Lisa may be going to pay them a visit and then asks her about the Chicago department store where she bought the camel hair coat. He’s been checking up on her purchases and knows she charged that coat to her credit card – but also that she cashed a cheque for $1500 at her hotel. What did she use the cash for?
Allenby declines to answer and makes to leave but is stopped in her tracks when she sees the silhouette of a woman in a fedora in the elevator lobby. Columbo follows the doctor, but when she turns from him back to the elevators the woman is gone!
She reluctantly agrees to return to the boudoir with Columbo to assist with one last enquiry and when she looks through the slatted doors what does she see but the full Lisa disguise dressed on a mannequin. The Lieutenant admits his stunt: the woman Allenby saw moments ago was a police officer dressed up. He knows Lisa won’t be showing up at the office tonight – because she’s already here! Allenby is Lisa, and he can prove it.
Clerks at the Chicago department store have been very helpful. They remember a lady buying a black fedora, a black wig and the black dress worn by Lisa – and that lady was a match for a photo of Allenby sent to them by Columbo.
Thanks to the eye-witness accounts, he can place Lisa at the music centre where he’s deduced she stashed her disguise. And he’s also figured out her motive: the ribbon left in the boudoir on the night before the murder suggests Cindy and Kincaid had been ‘at it’ and that Allenby had spotted them when she returned to the office to pick up paperwork when her flight was delayed. It’s a strong case against her.
Painted into a corner, Allenby has little choice but to confess. But she also explains how exciting and scary it was to play the role of Lisa and to carry out such a vivid revenge fantasy in real life. “For those few days, I liked Lisa better than I liked myself,” she says. “That frightened me far more than you waiting to arrest me.”
Columbo refuses to judge Dr Allenby and reassures her that he can understand her actions, as credits roll…
My memories of Sex & The Married Detective
I’ve no clear recollection of when I first watched Sex & The Married Detective and it really only came to my attention in the 2000s when I first owned the DVD set.
I do remember liking Dr Allenby and finding her cheating lover to be particularly irksome in that clean-cut, bad 80s/90s TV kinda way. However, I found the plot rather convoluted and, oddly for an episode about sexual desire, empowerment and fantasies, completely and utterly unsexy.
As with most ‘new’ Columbo adventures, I also had an axe to grind with some silly and superfluous scenes, namely the showy finale featuring Dr Allenby herself catching a glimpse the mystery ‘woman in black’ and the unforgettably bad sight of the Lieutenant parping a tuba.
I’ve never felt hatred towards this episode, though, more a cool indifference and watching it for this review was the first time in many years that I’d made a conscious decision to slam it in the DVD player.
From its first moments, when we hear a confident female voice on the radio talking about the link between sexual fantasies and fantastic sex, it’s apparent that the provocatively titled Sex & The Married Detective is taking the series in daring new directions.
Sex has often been an undercurrent of the show, with lust and illicit love affairs a backdrop to murder in many classic episodes including Prescription: Murder, Lady in Waiting, Negative Reaction, Etude in Black, Troubled Waters, Make Me a Perfect Murder and A Deadly State of Mind.
Valerie Harper even starred as a call girl in The Most Crucial Game, but as for getting to grips with – and opening up on – the taboo subject of actual S-E-X, this is the first Columbo to tackle it head on; something the creative team ought to receive due credit for.
Even more pleasingly, we’re given a thoroughly modern, self-assured and open-minded woman as our chief antagonist in what is certainly the most interesting piece of casting in Columbo’s comeback season. Having such a sexually uninhibited female lead would have been perhaps a shade too controversial in the 70s, but the time was certainly ripe for it here.
Lindsay Crouse – a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee in 1985 for Places in the Heart – is a compelling presence as Dr Joan Allenby, a wronged woman who lives out a revenge fantasy after witnessing her lover cheating on her with a young colleague.
But it’s not just the physical betrayal that rattles Allenby. It’s the emotional upheaval she goes through having seen and heard her sexual partner belittle her to his new lover that rocks her most. After all, David Kincaid was the man who had helped Dr Allenby gain the confidence to explore and enact her deepest desires and become a recognised expert in her field.
She trusted Kincaid implicitly, making his treachery impossible to bear. And that’s why, despite her inherent level-headedness, I can buy into the idea that Allenby would be driven to kill.
Her approach to commit murder under the alter ego of Lisa is also a novel twist, and one that’s handled well in the episode. The transformation from mousy blonde to voluptuous and mysterious brunette is very effective and it’s easy to see why no one who knew Dr Allenby would recognise her beneath the disguise.
Married Detective also doesn’t make the mistake we saw in the first two episodes of the series of having the killer give themself away through needless carelessness or stupidly suspicious actions.
He gets some lucky breaks on the way, but Columbo largely resolves the case through sensible police work and sound deductions – a welcome relief after being handed the solutions on a plate in Guillotine and Smoke & Shadows.
If being ultra-critical, of course, one might grumble at the coincidental nature of Columbo first noticing the clothing tag on Allenby’s new coat, and later finding the same discarded tag in a giant rubbish bin and using it to pinpoint her purchases in Chicago.
This could have been far more effectively shown on screen by having love-rat Cindy notice the tag when she took the doctor’s coat off in the clinic reception and bin it under the nose of Columbo, who was also present. That would have given him a very real reason to remember it and to search for it later in the episode. Geez, do I have to think of everything?
Still, nothing’s perfect, and on the whole the mystery aspect to the episode is strong and the resolution logical. It’s a workmanlike performance from Columbo, who has to rely less on silly hunches and leaps of faith, and more on actual evidence and telling eye-witness reports. Why it’s almost like he’s a real police officer again! Bravo.
Falk’s performance here is (for the most part) more restrained and less plodding than in the season’s opening deuce of episodes. His relationship with Allenby seems authentic and respectful, while the fireside chat at episode’s end, when he assures her he understands her motives, shows off his kind and empathetic nature as well as we’ve seen since the take-down of Abigail Mitchell more than 10 years earlier.
We also get some rather cute moments when Dr Allenby’s questions about his own sex life and fantasies leave him endearingly embarrassed. While there’s nothing as good as his mortification at seeing the nude model in Suitable for Framing, his reaction is charming and in keeping with the character we came to know in the 70s.
Of course, some viewers can never get on board with Columbo discussing sex at all and I can sympathise with that viewpoint. After all, the 70s’ show always managed to artfully avoid blood, sex and action sequences – and was all the stronger for it.
I do feel a little uneasy whenever Columbo mentions the ‘s’ word, or when he hints that Mrs Columbo wants him to explore his fantasies (throw off that mac, big boy!), but I think Falk just about gets away with it.
Infuriatingly, though, much of this good work is off-set by some truly lamentable moments that must have been included in an bid to bring some levity to an otherwise dark and straight-faced tale. Let’s get the worst out of the way first and consider the INFAMOUS TUBA SCENE.
The majority of those who have witnessed this
sh*t cr*p drivel must surely agree it’s amongst Columbo’s most cringe-worthy scenes. Every aspect of it is abysmal and such is the litany of badness that it’s hard to pinpoint the ultimate worst moment.
Could it be the grinning idiocy of the lead tubaist? The needless revelation that Columbo can play the instrument at all? The throat-slitting dreadfulness of the synchronised outdoor fountains splishing merrily to the music? Or the absolute shower of b*llocks that is the suggestion that any child of any age could be remotely enthusiastic about witnessing such tedium?
It also ends in excruciating fashion with the players leading the excited school kids on a Pied Piper of Hamlin-style ‘tuba march’ around the building. There’s over 3 minutes of this garbage to sit through and every second feels like a century. How on earth was a scene this bad ever conceived, let alone given the green light? Watch if you dare below…
The ruinous tuba debacle is certainly the episode’s nadir (and probably the lowest point of Columbo’s 35-year screen career), but it’s pushed hard by a number of other questionable inclusions that serve only to weaken the central story.
First, Columbo is called on to advise three of Allenby’s sex therapist colleagues in quick succession on what they should do about ethical dilemmas regarding their feelings toward the Dr herself, or to victim David Kincaid.
On each occasion, Columbo mumbles some meaningless tripe about doing the right thing – and on each occasion his words are taken to heart as if delivered with the wisdom of Solomon. Wasting six minutes of screen time, this is dreadfully unfunny stuff and has negligible relevance to the plot.
There are a lot of mirrors / reflections going on here to underscore the two halves of Allenby’s character but they’re so artlessly delivered that it starts to irk, never more so than when she’s conversing with herself (Gollum-style) in two different mirrors when deciding to keep Lisa alive for now. The episode really starts losing me at this point.
And then we have the idiotic ‘trash’ scene, where Columbo gallops around Allenby’s clinic, waving his arms around and yelling enquiries to a Russian cleaner about where the office rubbish is emptied out. The confused cleaner finds him rooting around in a large, overturned bin having fished out the clothing label torn from Allenby’s new coat.
To celebrate this success, Columbo plants a smacker on the giggling cleaner, who waves him farewell like he’s her one true love – all while a traditional Russian folk ditty trills away in the background. It’s APPALLING. Absolutely ruddy appalling. Over a period of 20 years, Columbo has never acted like this. Why is he doing so now?
These scenes (particularly ‘trash’ and ‘tuba’) epitomise the biggest problem with the comeback episodes: a propensity towards padding them with what appear to be attempts at broad humour. The problem is, they’re usually not funny in the least. I don’t know who’s most to blame for allowing such scenes to stand, but they truly damage the episode.
The tone of Sex & The Married Detective is serious and straight. The clumsy attempts at comedy unbalance it. Compare it to Season 3 finale A Friend in Deed, which was a departure for the series at the time given its dark themes and almost complete lack of humour. Imagine how jarring it would have been if Columbo had starting busting out a tuba solo to screaming children in that episode. It would never have been permitted – so why do it here?
Again I ask the question that I’ve been obliged to ask during the viewing of each of the three comeback episodes: did the Columbo creative team no longer believe the traditional strengths of the show would cut it with the audience of today? If not, why did they feel such preposterous scenes as heads in guillotines and tuba mastery were the way to address the issue?
“The bungled attempts at jocularity here are compounded by yet another showy finale.”
I suppose we should be grateful that Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy was still two years away from release otherwise we might have been subjected to Lisa lip-synching to it using a hairbrush as a microphone during a montage-to-music of her dressing in her black outfit. I’m not even joking…
These feeble attempts at jocularity are compounded by yet another showy finale. Granted, Married Detective’s gotcha is subdued when compared to those in Guillotine and Smoke & Shadows – but it’s still stretching credibility.
Columbo’s stunt of shocking Allenby by having a colleague dress as Lisa and be seen in silhouette is both contrived and pointless. He’s already solved the case. There’s no need for the stunt other than to create a high-impact moment for the viewer – and you know how I feel about those, don’t you?
Of lesser importance, but worth exploring regardless, is just how unsexy this episode now appears more than 30 years since first airing. In terms of a rating, if Sex & The Married Detective was a dessert it’d definitely be the RICE PUDDING and certainly not the Bavarian chocolate cream pie.
Lisa’s open-fronted dress screams trashy ho’ rather than classy courtesan, and don’t get me started on how tacky the boudoir at the sex clinic was, red silk sheets and all! To me it’s like a grandma’s dressing room from the Plantagenet era – hardly the sort of place I could imagine folks wanting to get jiggy in under any circumstances. Ugh!
And is it just me, or are the men in this episode (the Lieutenant excluded, naturally) just horrible specimens? Aside from the wimpy Dr Neff, so infatuated with Allenby, consider Charlie Lenz, the deviant who follows women to bathrooms and waits outside for them for a whole evening. What a repellent toad!
“Is it just me, or are the men in this episode just horrible specimens?”
When Columbo takes Lenz to meet Dr Allenby later in the episode, the smirking perv proudly explains his meeting with Lisa, stating: “I have this obligation. Whenever I see an attractive lady I feel like it’s my duty to meet her.” He says this as if he’s some sort of friggin’ Lothario and not a middle-aged, balding pencil neck. It’s ghastly!
And as for victim David Kincaid? Well, he’s every bit how I envisage a lame 80s/90s love interest from a daytime soap opera to be: smooth, charmless and as sexy as a fish (no offence to Stephen Macht if he’s reading this). I recall with horror his intro to the episode (see photo below) where he blows a steamy kiss to Dr Allenby as she winds down her radio show. Someone hand me a bucket!
The idea that this wet could be in-demand with the opposite sex seems so absurd that I had to consult my own Mrs Columbo (who is a stunning judge of manliness) to glean the female perspective. She described Kincaid as “gross”, “a jerk” and “disgusting” within seconds of his appearance – although she did concede that he was sexier than Donald Trump. Take that as you will…
To sum it all up, Sex & The Married Detective rather flatters to deceive. In terms of its premise, its themes, its interesting villain and its superb, film noir-style score (Columbo veteran Patrick Williams again in fine fettle), it ought to be Season 8’s standout adventure thus far. However, that handful of clunky comedic set pieces (including probably the worst in Columbo history) do untold damage to the episode.
Had it been played straight throughout, this could have been a very memorable entry into the Columbo canon. As it is, it’s merely OK, and still a shadow of the show it had been from 1968-78. Surely viewers expected more from such a heralded return to the limelight for their favourite detective?
How I rate ’em
While the I recognise that the highlights of Sex & The Married Detective are better than I thought they were, the low-lights plunge the show into such disrepute that I just can’t care for it on any great level.
Despite the good work put in by Lindsay Crouse, my abiding take-out from this episode will forever be the STUPID TUBA SCENE, which serves as a damning indictment for what ‘new’ Columbo is starting to stand for. I nominally prefer it to Smoke & Shadows, but as a coherent whole Married Detective is still well below the hoped-for standard.
Check out any new episode reviews you might have missed via the links in the standings below.
- Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
- Sex & The Married Detective
- Murder, Smoke & Shadows
Remember, if you want to read any of my ‘classic era’ episode reviews (and see how I rank them), they can all be accessed here. And if you dig Sex & The Married Detective much more than I do, you can vote for it in the fans’ favourite episode poll here.
Now I open the floor to you. How do you rate Sex & The Married Detective? And what did you make of Dr Allenby as a villain when compared to Elliott Blake and Alex Brady from Season 8’s opening episodes? Hit me with your views in the comments section below.
The voyage through Columbo’s revival season will continue soon, when I tackle the military-themed Grand Deceptions – an episode I have very little recollection of. Will I be pleasantly surprised? Hope springs eternal…
Tuba scene, whatever. My problem is the scene with 30-odd seconds of fountains with goofy dumbass music, some sort of audio torture to accentuate that this show is gonna suck!. Ugggggh. How this escaped editing out is evidence of criminal negligence. The episode even has some slim watchability to it, accompanied with eightiesiest soundtrack perhaps ever which is entertaining in its own right, but this sequence is like a firing squad pointed at the viewer. At best a horrific stab at the suggestiveness of the episode, but realistically it is grounds for electrocution of entire production staff. A better name for this episode is One For The Rubbish Heap.
Around college age or recently thereafter I seem to recall a lot of buzz about Lindsay Crouse in “art house” films (House of Cards?) and had some doubt, perhaps because she wasn’t a “big star”. But its clear that she has the power to carry this episode. From her subtly but quick and guarded reaction as the dowager hostess compliments her “marvelous?” hat, to her line right before she shoots her lover, about “what dessert she would be”, where you can feel her hatred (upon being spoken of as “rice pudding” by him to his other lover), she is great. Another thing I’ve been watching for is the murderer’s reaction as the camera holds on his/her face after an otherwise light and friendly seeming interview with Columbo. Crouse does this very believably to me. As far as the “tuba scene”, don’t hate it, but glad it wasn’t any longer. Kids are always fun. The quality of writing, performing and whatever else counts, makes this easy to watch repeatedly, in my opinion.
Another fun episode ! Some filler as usual but it was mostly entertaining, and the tuba scene was really not that bad, the control booth scene was hundreds of times worse !
Seeing Lindsay Crouse and Ken Lerner sharing screen time was a bit special to me because they were both on Buffy.
I liked the music a lot, the only other episode score that stood out to me like that so far was Make Me A Perfect Murder.
I am sensing a huge anti 90’s bias in the reviews and most comments. So far I’m liking the 90’s episodes more. They are more self-aware but I think it a pro, not a con. And yeah budget seems definitely lower in the 90’s episodes, but to me that’s really not an issue, production values don’t matter that much as long as the entertainment (and the emotional/intellectual impact if I’m being very lucky) is there. Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s my impression so far, at least.
I haven’t rewatched this one yet but LOL at the Plantagenet comment 🤣
I’m sorry if this was already addressed in the comments but I have a problem with the tag being found in the cleaning lady’s trash can. There were at least 2 or 3 days from the time the tag was first seen to when it was found. Most office buildings are cleaned nightly so the tag should have been gone by the time Columbo went looking for it.
I hate things like the tuba scene, Hate the music in some Columbos and another that comes to mind, when Columbo is suddenly wearing a circus outfite in MSAS.
Lucky compared to movies elsewhere though, when the greatest ever car stunt was ruined by a cartoon slide whistle sound.
Btw: “For those few days, I liked Lisa better than I liked myself,” she says. “That frightened me far more than you waiting to arrest me.”
This is where she should have said “You’re tearing me apart Lisa!”…
Tbh, I don’t really have a problem with the tuba scene. It is a bit silly for sure, and it doesn’t add anything vital to the story, but it is not without charm. As a musician I tend to find bass instruments quite funny when playing without an orchestra, or being used as a solo instruments (double bass concertos are particularly amusing).
Far more cringeworthy to me are the scenes with Dr. Allenby’s male colleagues, f.e. the scene where they ask Columbo for advice. And then there’s the whole embarrassment that lies in the very subject matter. The tuba thing, in comparison, is just a novelty.
This one really surprised me at how good it was, especially after the entertaining but undeniably flawed first two comeback episodes. Lindsay Crouse is one of the best and most believable Columbo killers, right up there with Trish Van Devere, Johnny Cash and Dick Van Dyke. And, the tone is, happily, much more serious overall than in the previous two, and almost made me feel like I was watching a classic ‘70s episode. Also, I think the Columbophile is all wet regarding the tuba scene; I thought it was kinda charming, if not vital to the plot, and let’s get real, it’s no sillier or more superfluous than the fan favorite cooking show scene in Double Shock. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s still a damn fine Columbo episode, far superior to the preceding two.
I think the last image may be missing (“I’m just going to leave this here, ummkay…?”). Or is the caption in reference to the Buy Me a Coffee image, as a callback to an earlier image (“There’s a filthy caption opportunity here if anyone’s interested?”)? Either that or my browser is just struggling to load everything. 🙂
It’s an embedded video. Shows up fine when I try to view it but could perhaps be overloading your browser?
That explains it! Yes, those show up blank in my browser. Thanks for the clarification 🙂
I am very puzzled about the inconsistency of “Lisa” calling Columbo. Allegedly, Lisa and Allenby are different people. Thus, Lisa has no reason whatsoever to call Columbo, leaving messages for him. IN fact, it seels Allenby fate.
Joan has taken the trouble to create the alter ego of “Lisa”, so that everyone will know that “Lisa” committed the murder, and then think that she just left town without a trace. “Lisa” never spoke in front of the young man at the front desk, or directly to Columbo on the telephone, in case they recognized her voice. Her whole plan is based on everyone thinking that Joan and “Lisa” are two completely different people. Columbo knows this, but can’t prove it, so he manipulates “Lisa” into appearing in public, which as you say, seals her fate.
This episode is one of the best examples of how many of the 80s/90s episodes were written in an attempt to remake Columbo in 80s mystery TV style – particularly those shows with older leads (Murder She Wrote, Matlock, Diagnosis Murder). All of those shows dealt with murder but almost always within the context of overall episodes that were “light” and had plenty of comedic interludes. I think this was the team’s attempt to make Columbo relevant to a new generation in the style of popular shows that were similar. Then, they made sure all the Columbo trademarks were hit in every episode, which I think was an attempt to appeal to the original fans but came off as more heavy-handed nostalgia than anything, like your favorite band from college playing the obligatory 2 biggest hits as an encore 20 years later.
As for the scenes in which Columbo is asked for advice, I totally agree they didn’t add anything to the story, but these are perfect examples of comedic banter intended, I suppose, to make light of the often non-substantive advice psychologists give? I don’t know if it was supposed to have a dual purpose as both comedy and social commentary, but I think the entire point was that Columbo gave fortune cookie-like observations that professional doctors took as sage advice (which they thought was brilliant because that’s the kind of advice they are paid to give).
I said, closer to the end, that the episode has a “Moonlighting” feel to it… her clothes, the BMW, the sets. My wife was quick to point out that the staircase looked like it was Maddie Hayes’. Turns out it **was** the same house used for “Moonlighting”. In the end, it’s “Moonlighting” and “Silk Stalkings” with Columbo shoehorned in.
Did anyone notice she owned 5 hand guns ? 6 if you count the new one she bought. What the hell? Why would anyone, least of all someone like her, ever need that many pistols ?
It’s never explored !
He doesn’t even ask her if she owns a gun.
And Whilst on the subject, I know it wouldn’t fit in with his methods but it really does agitate me that Columbo rarely asks ANYONE for their alibi and/or if they own a gun!
I did not notice how many guns she owned. But while on the subject, it’s interesting that all of the murderers have a “motive“ but would that motive really push the average person to murder? So perhaps her owning so many guns is a window into her shadow self that took over, and that she had been hiding.
Along the same vein, is this guy even worth murdering? And a bigger question – she’s a sex therapist who wrote a book on fantasy, AND SHE NEVER explored a fantasy with her lover? Weirdo. But worse, a murderer.
Why do you think she never explored a fantasy with her lover? Surely, he was the one who helped her with the “research” for the book she wrote?
Because in the scene leading up to his murder he says, surprised, “where did you learn all this stuff?” and she says “I wrote the book “
Another good point. Maybe we are both right? Could it be that they usually just acted out a fantasy role in private, but now they are meeting in public, with Joan disguising herself (so that even her lover doesn’t recognize her at first) fooling the young man at reception, and then spinning the whole tale about “that’s my mother’s room”, etc?
I don’t think she owns any guns before the murder. The scene with all the guns is in a gun shop, where she is choosing which one to buy.
You would think she would want him to suffer more! His last days and hours were all pleasure filled and we don’t even know if he really understood the dessert reference!
Oh, he understood all right.Her idea was to give him all that pleasure, and then to suddenly take everything away from him in one horror filled moment of realization.
But I think it would have been better if she had said “rice pudding” just before she shot him.
Yes, a solemn “rice pudding“ would have been effective. Also it would’ve been good if he had a better expression of understanding before the shot was fired. Additionally, I prefer rice pudding to chocolate mousse, so I have to deal with that.
Thank you Ann. I will concede that a look of surprise, then understanding, and finally horror would have worked better. I’m an Angel Delight and Instant Whip man myself.
1) he had the look of surprise
2) she asks “what kind of dessert am I?”
3) he shows a look of understanding and says regretfully “rice pudding”
4) she looks at him coldly, and then the camera focuses in on his expression of horror before he dies
Not bad, but I think it would have gone:
2.”What kind of dessert am I?”
3. Horrified look. “Wait! I can explain!”
4. Coldly: “Rice pudding”. and she shoots him.
Agree. Perfection. Lets get these notes to the writers.
Ann, you are a very nice lady.
I was expecting her to say “rice pudding “
Not one of the best. Very predictable and boring dialog that is supposed to titillate, I guess, but just sounds corny and silly. I liked Crouse in House of Games, but not here. This episode not even in the same league as the better earlier Columbos.
Am I the only person that finds 80s revival Columbo entertaining in it’s over the top presentation?
Hi, my first post here, always enjoying the commentary and many thanks to CP for hosting this wonderful site.
I particularly liked some of the music when Lisa was in the scene, chilling and ominous riffs.
Is no one else bothered by burning the clothes in a gas fireplace?
I was thinking the same
Such a fine actress, Lindsay Crouse
The episode is saved mainly by the dynamic between Allenby and Columbo. A lesser actress wouldn’t have been able to do it. My biggest complaints?
“Lisa” leaves fingerprints on everything, including the cigarette, the matches, etc., while committing the homicide. Also, wouldn’t a prostitute steal the guy’s wallet, watch, etc? And let’s not forget that it’s simply not probable that Marge Redmond (the great actress who is wasted in her two or three small scenes), her co-conspirator at the fundraiser, doesn’t recognizer Allenby as Lisa. I was also frankly, just plain astonished that every time Allenby raced into the bathroom, there was never anyone in the way preventing her from doing her change-a-roos.
I quite enjoyed the tuba scene.
Caveat: I played tuba in high school.
I know it had nothing whatsoever to do with the episode, and knew it would grind our Columbophile’s gears to no end. But I enjoyed it.
The “trash scene”? Not so much.
For me what makes this an enjoyable viewing experience is Lindsay Crouse. Columbo stories live and die based on the skills of the actor playing the villain, and Crouse is terrific as Dr. Allenby. As for “Lisa”, she’s a fantasy character, and why she wouldn’t be the most believable as a 1980s courtesan, she’s very believable as a 1980s sex therapist idea of what a courtesan could be.
Tip for anybody who enjoys Crouse in this episode as much as I do: check out the movie “House of Games,” written and directed by her then-husband David Mamet.
Great movie and performance
I was racking my brain to remember where I’d seen Lindsay Crouse before.
Buffy the vampire slayer
It seemed like there were hints of Allenby losing it when she started talking to herself as Lisa, which made me want to see her just go off the deep end Shatner-style and actually have two personalities. We could have gotten a better episode with more Lisa escapades instead of the padding.
But as far as the padding goes, the hate for the tuba scene is way over the top. It’s goofy, but it’s fine. The cleaning lady scene was way more offensive, with the dumb cliche of the immigrant somehow not understanding that the person they’re talking to doesn’t understand their language, and not speaking English at all.
The dissapointing thing was the murder itself. I was expecting something more creative than a simple gunshot. Maybe Lisa could have suggested some bondage play that ended with David “accidentally” choking to death? Now THAT would have been payback.
The alternative murder scenario you describe would probably not have made it past the censor, at least in 1989.
And, in my opinion, it’s a misconception that William Shatner’s Ward Fowler character has a split personality. He feels a deep sense of relief at having finally rid himself of his tormentor, and is having the time of his life (playing games and matching wits with a real detective) by using the many actual names and identities he has used.
The ABC era was just awful. None of the episodes are in the league of the few poor episodes of the NBC era and it’s too bad. This episode which I watched tonight displays all of the issues. The tuba scene is dreadful. Leading the children away with his tuba is nonsensical. So is his embarrassment at the sex talk. He’s seen it all over the years and being so prudish about sex does not really work, even as a ploy. NBC was serious and respectful in its reboot of Perry Mason, which was the inspiration to reboot Columbo, I’m sure. ABC was contemptuous in its handling. The overemphasis on music, silly scenes in many episodes wasn’t charming or witty, it really drug down Columbo and made it no better than the worst of cop shows.
Totally disagree about this typically boring writing off of the ABC episodes
At least a half a dozen, including this one, are not only better than the worst of the NBC era – but better than average overall. Four are in my Top 20 the entire series
Yes. There are more terrible ABC ones as a percentage NBC – but all of them get trashed because generally the series isn’t as good
However, to me, they are no worse on average that Columbo became from after ‘Forgotten Lady’ to the end of the NBC era
Are you really saying that they are all worse than ‘A Matter of Honour’ or ‘How to Dial a Murder’ or ‘Dagger of the Mind’ and about another ten below average NBC ones
Sorry you’re bored, but not so bored but that you couldn’t respond. There are very few NBC episodes that are legitimately poor. I liked Dagger of the Mind but understand people’s criticism. The only truly unwatchable original episodes for me are the “Farewell to the Commodore”, which generally everyone agrees is terrible, and I don’t like the bullfighting episode because I hate the entire concept of bullfighting. I’m very critical of them all because I think they are terrible, but in fairness I’m watching them again to see if I’m perhaps wrong. Thus far, I don’t think I am. I think that they are all worse than the majority of the NBC episodes. I’ve watched them all and don’t find much that is redeemable in them. I think these episodes are presented in an intentionally different way than they were on NBC, that’s why there’s a greater emphasis on music and I think there is also a lot more silliness like the tuba scene. I’m rewatching them currently to see if perhaps I am wrong but after 3 episodes I don’t believe I am. The ABC era is dramatically worse than the NBC era and I don’t think that a single episode from ABC would make anyone’s top 20. and that’s not a good thing.
You don’t like “A Matter Of Honor” because you hate the concept of bullfighting, but apparently you are fine with the concept of murder? I don’t like bullfighting or murder in real life, but for the purposes of an entertainment (in which no actual bulls or people were killed) I’m fine with it.
I find it boring anyone would write off the entire series, but since your last post you’ve changed your tune, i.e. now you’re saying that “I think that they are all worse than the majority of the NBC episodes” – which in fairness isn’t the same as “None of the episodes are in the league of the few poor episodes of the NBC era”
My take on the series quality
40% of the NBC episodes are better than average for me, i.e. in my Top 35
5 of them make my Top 20 – which when you consider they are roughly half the number of episodes of the old series, shows that for me some are of great value
Two make my Top10. But only just, showing that, yes, the vintage quality of say my favourite ‘A Friend in Deed’ is never met. But then again, apart from ‘Identity Crisis’, from Season 5 onwards none ever dislodged the ones out of my Top 5
The NBC series admittedly has some very poor quality (relative to the rest) episodes, 5 out of my bottom 7 are from this era
Note; For me none are as bad as ‘Dagger of the Mind’!!
I was with you right up until your last sentence. “Dagger” is in my top 3!
I really don’t mind “Dagger.” It holds a special place because not only have I done community theater, but I share the same first name as the killer. Indeed the first time I watched it, I went, “Holy sh*t. What are the odds the Columbo killer would be an actor named Nick?”
It’s not superior quality, nor is it in my top 10, but I still enjoy it. My wife can attest that even when I’m not doing a play, I tend to be “on” as Basehart is in some of his scenes.
I thought Basehart and Blackman were a hoot as two lesser-quality hams who have forged some semblance of a living as stage actors. Plus you get Bernard Fox, Wilfred Hyde-Whyte, and “Dial M For Murders” John Williams to boot.
Oh, that’s another reason I like it. I played Tony Wendice in “Dial M” locally, so it’s a hoot seeing the original play, and the film’s, Inspector Hubbard in “Dagger.”
The tuba scene is symbolic, especially as it occurs just as Dr Allenby arrives to cover up her crime. It shows us that Columbo is an innocent. He may be an avenging angel to the killers (even to Dr Allenby, for whom he clearly has some sympathy) but to the innocent at heart, such as the children and the tuba player, he is a kind and gentle man.
The same is true of the sex talk scenes. He’s not a prude, but he is a happily married man. He likes to flirt slightly with pretty girls, but he is always the gentleman and only too happy to get back home to his wife.
It is symbolic, but symbolic of a different production approach. They didn’t want to present an “NBC Mystery Movie” clone, so they tried to add more comedic elements and music and bring more of an 80s sensibililty to the party and it didnt really work. A good comparison is the “Perry Mason Mysteries” that NBC did. Those were very formulaic and a lot of those weren’t especially good, but they always paid respect to the character of Perry Mason and didn’t make a buffoon out of him as was done with the tuba scene.
I don’t think that Columbo is a “buffoon” for playing the tuba. He’s not just a cop, he’s a human being. A nice man who likes to make kids happy.
I remember many, many years ago I was watching Sesame Street and Burt Lancaster was doing push ups, counting up to 10 and smiling throughout. My dad said “That’s a bit of a come down” but I thought “He’s teaching kids how to count! What’s wrong with that?”.
Spot on. It doesn’t make Columbo a buffoon at all. I think this scene is badly misunderstood by some here.
I tend to agree re the tuba scene. It seems to be way over analysed here, it’s just some lighthearted entertainment. I found it OK. The worst scene for me was the ones with the various nerdy doctors requesting Columbo’s advice, bad acting by the supporting cast there.
All in all, I found the episode reasonably good and is better than some of the worst episodes from the 1968-78 series, such as ‘Commodore’ and ‘Dagger’.
I think the title is a hint that they really did try
some racier material, that the network later
This may account for all the ‘dreadful’ padding
that did make it.
That may be a stretch. The title could simply be a takeoff on the title of the 1962 bestselling book (and 1964 movie) “Sex and the Single Girl.”
Question – where did the Lt. get the clothes for the mannequin when Allenby burned them earlier in the episode? Did I miss something?
Probably just used witness descriptions to buy similar items as part of the stunt.
Columbo had noticed the Chicago store label on Dr Allenby’s new coat when he first met her in the lift. He explains that he checked with that store and found that she had bought the “Lisa” outfit there, and had them send him duplicates for the policewoman and the mannequin.
I have said elsewhere that the only times that Columbo is aided by a policewoman are by “Sally” in Suitable For Framing and by the very nice redhead in Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star. But of course, there is also a policewoman here, wearing a copy of the “Lisa” disguise.
We never get a good look at her (and I assume that she is also played by Lindsay Crouse) but she’s there all the same.
Surprised that Columbologist didnt pick me up on that.
Oh, I have just thought of one other example where Columbo is aided by a police woman, but as it is not overt, I won’t give away the twist for those who have not seen it. Those who have seen it will know which episode I mean.
Columbophile, I just want to tell you I love your writing for every episode, and your review of this one had me cracking up! (As a female, I appreciated your ‘Mrs Columbo’ input, also). I heartily agree the classic era cannot be matched, but you make it fun to read about the later ones, even if I skip seeing most. Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm for our beloved Lt!
He commented that the department had bought replicas from that same store.
For almost every episode, each viewing I learn something new that I didn’t catch or understand the first two, three, four times I’ve seen it.
In SATMD, I noticed – near the end- that Columbo plays a little “game” with Dr. Allenby. Not really a game, but a “I’ll one up you” with this, sort of thing. Tell me if you agree or if I’m mistaken:
Dr. Allenby goes around to a few L.A. bars dressed up as Lisa and makes it a point to let many patrons and particularly bartenders see her. She even requests (via a monetary tip) to have the bartenders call a “Columbo” on the phone and leave a message saying “Sorry about what happened. Signed, Lisa.” This is to not only establish that there is really a “Lisa,” but I find it to be Dr. Allenby taking a jab at Columbo.
In return, the sly Columbo has Sgt. Burke call Dr. Allenby and leave a message with her FROM Columbo that says “Lt. Columbo asked me to tell you that there’s very good news: He’s found the lady in black. It was in your research files. The Lieutenant wants you to know that.”
Very clever, in my opinion.
Yes, he did something similar the previous episode when the young director tried to something clever. Telling the bartenders to call him was going too far. With all the cops looking for Lisa, all she needed to do was just go out on the town and she would have been noticed. That would have worked better.
Regarding the tuba scene:
Let me say that I am NOT a fan of this scene. It adds nothing and is corny.
However, you must fill in those 3-4 minutes (networks have nearly precise running times) with something else.
It’s easy for us to shout “CUT OUT THE TUBA SCENE!”
But, we must replace it with something.
The question then becomes: What do we replace the tubs scene with?
For me, I’d like to know a little bit more about Cindy’s character. How long have her and David been sleeping with each other? Does she have remorse for what she did to Dr. Allenby? Could she have been questioned more by Columbo?
I don’t mind people complaining about this scene. I just find it hypocritical when there are scenes in virtually every Columbo that add nothing and so it’s then down to personal taste and shouldn’t be used to judge the episode by itself
For instance, I dislike the cooking scene in ‘Double Shock’, but it doesn’t stop me rating the episode highly. Yes. It’s one of the things that stops it been in my Top 20 – but they really are not that important
I think that the “unimportant” scenes are not “padding”. They might not advance the story of Lt Columbo solving the case, but they tell us something about Lt Columbo the man. The Columbo series is almost as much sitcom as it is murder mystery.
Totally agree. So him playing the tuba is fine, as it’s what he would do
Thanks. Yes, this scene reminds us that Columbo is a very nice man, who likes kids.
It is also a good opportunity for him to provide some positive PR to the next generation.
I know that a lot of episodes, both “old” and “new” are criticised because of “padding”, i.e. scenes which do nothing to advance Columbo solving the case.
But I think that we should place the Columbo series in the context of the original “Mystery Movies” in the 1970’s.
These were always event television, mystery stories with a lot of humour, or in other words, light entertainment.
Although some shows were maybe a bit more serious than others, there was always plenty of humour in Columbo’s long running stablemates, McCloud and McMillan & Wife. It all adds to the charm of the heroes that we are meant to be rooting for and tuning in again for next time.
I think that this tradition was simply carried over into the “new” Columbo’s, which (with the possible exception of No Time To Die) were not meant to be police procedurals.
With this in mind, I contend that there is no such thing as “padding” in any episode of Columbo.
I propose a new saying:
Instead of using the phrase “jump the shark” to reference the moment when something good takes a turn for the worse, we now say “plays the tuba.”
At least all of us Columbo diehards would know what it means!
I second the motion!
Love this episode and love it even more having watched it for about the 10th time and only just realised how good the gotcha actually is
It’s as good as virtually any since the start of Season 6 – those moaning about needless ‘filling’ etc have a point, but most episodes since then have been flawed in some way. The much heralded ‘Try and Catch Me’ has a preposterous plot, where the killer has little say ‘controlling the uncontrollables’ – vital for plot credibility and even worse than some of the padding we get
Dr Allenby is yet another in the long line of great female villains who give such so much reality to their deeds, you overlook the obvious errors.
That’s why this episode, ‘Make Me A Perfect Murder’, ‘Lady in Waiting’, ‘Requiem For a Falling Star’ and ‘It’s All in the Game’ will always be amongst my favourite as opposed to the slapstick killers that the late great Jack Cassidy portrayed
There are some exceptions – but they are always females playing ‘cold killers’, i.e. ‘Ransom For A Dead Man’ or ‘Lovely But Lethal’. I’m fine with the cold killers, but they have to be very good, as otherwise we lose sympathy and interest too quickly
My problem with this episode was the murder itself. The reason I love Columbo so much is that many of the murders are very intricate, then it takes a good detective to figure it out ( e.g. Now You See Him, Johnny Cash).
How could people, who knew her well, after hearing her voice, not recognize her at the musical show? In my mind that would have caused a PHD to abort.
Then the keys, which turned out to be the most telling of clues, how could she have missed it?
After that cheap Donald Trump unnecessary put down, I now regret that I ever purchased you a cup of coffee. Like Columbo, please refrain from politics.
Fran, I like this episode mostly because the killer adopts a secret identity, and nobody, but nobody recognizes her, not even by her voice. This is much like my beloved Adam West version of Batman.
As to the comment made by CP (and Mrs CP) about Donald Trump, I don’t think it had anything to do with that gentleman’s politics. Mr Trump is well known for his put downs.
The point is that these are not perfect killers. And if it’s a crime, more or less in the heat of the moment, even less so
The fact that they leave obvious evidence is natural and for me the charming thing about Columbo, i.e. there is some grounding in reality
It’s the cold killers who plan their deeds months in advance, are supposedly intelligent and still make a mess of it (hello ‘How to Dial a Murder’!!) that put me off
As Columbo explains in “Prescription Murder”, it doesn’t matter how clever the killer is, they are always amateurs with only once chance to get it right. Whereas, the police are professionals who do this a hundred times a year. Many is the time that a suspect has tried to make the murder look like the work of a contract killer, but I don’t think there is ever an episode where this is the case, because if there were, the killer would be on a plane back to Chicago or Las Vegas and Columbo would never catch them. (The only exception I can think of where a hit man is used is in “Publish or Perish”, but that’s not how it turns out).