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Episode review: Columbo Grand Deceptions

Columbo Grand Deceptions

Grown men were playing with toy soldiers – repeatedly – when Columbo plodded back onto screens for the Season 8 finale on May 1, 1989.

After a distinctly underwhelming comeback season, could the sight of the Lieutenant getting to grips with an embezzling, adulterous, murderous former army Colonel give the series a much-needed shot in the arm? Or is it a flop that really needs to be humanely put out of its misery?

Let’s saddle up, people, and hope Grand Deceptions can buck the trend and be the first of its kind: a new Columbo adventure that proudly sits shoulder-to-shoulder with the best efforts from the 70s. Wishful thinking? Let’s see…

Columbo Grand Deceptions cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Colonel Frank Brailie: Robert Foxworth
General Jack Padget: Stephen Elliott
Jenny Padget: Janet Eilber
Sergeant Major Keegan: Andy Romano
Marcia: Lynn Clark
Tanzer: Michael McManus
Dog: As himself
Written by: Sy Salkowitz
Directed by: Sam Wanamaker
Score by: John Cacavas

Episode overview: Columbo Grand Deceptions

As well as running a military training camp allowing dangerously unhinged civilians to upskill to mercenaries, Colonel Frank Brailie is also channeling money from a philanthropic foundation to fund illicit arms deals in war-torn regions across the globe – and to line his own pockets.

And if that isn’t dastardly enough for you, Brailie is also having an affair with Jenny Padget – the wife of the foundation’s owner and founder, revered war hero General Jack Padget. Yes folks, Brailie’s a bad, bad man.

Columbo Robert Foxworth
Watcha hiding under that super-tall beret, Frank?

His wicked ways look to be under threat, though, when long-time underling Sergeant Major Lester Keegan threatens to rain on his parade. Turns out that General Padget has suspicions about Brailie’s conduct and asked Keegan to look into it. With help from his pals at the Pentagon, the turn-coat Sergeant knows all about Brailie’s shady business dealings – and he’s also found out about the love affair with the General’s wife.

Of course, Keegan won’t turn his superior officer in – as long as he gets a share of the illegally gained loot. Brailie agrees and begs for a couple of days to get his affairs in order. In reality, it’s the trigger he needs to put a murderous protection plan into place.

There’s a back-slapping dinner at the General’s house that evening to celebrate his birthday. The aim is to unveil a collection of rare war books and a detailed diorama of a Civil War battle to the old codger, courtesy of ‘loving’ wife Jenny. She’s entrusted Brailie with setting up the toy soldiers and filling the book shelf, and the clever Colonel plans to take advantage of this to go a-killing.

He’s diddled things to make it look like only the delivery of books has arrived, while the toy soldiers remain outstanding. In reality, the soldiers have been delivered and Brailie has placed them in a box marked BOOKS. He then painstakingly set them out on a diorama in the General’s pool house while pretending to be sad that they’re still AWOL.

In order to create an alibi, Brailie has all the military books put into a box emblazoned with the words MILITARY MINIATURES to fool folk into believing the toys have just arrived. He requests that the General’s party guests are kept away from the pool house while he sets up the battle scene, and after setting up the shelf of books in mere minutes, he’s able to scuttle off to the military training camp to open up a can of whup-ass on Sergeant Keegan.

Tonight, you see, also marks the final test of the latest wannabe mercenaries, who have three hours to make it back to base through woodland at night. There are a number of explosive charges throughout the route that Keegan is responsible for maintaining in order to keep the mercs on their toes – and it is one of these that Brailie plans to make use of.

Columbo Frank Brailie
Nin-JAAAAAAAAAAAA! *chop, kick, etc*

Cosplaying as a ninja, Brailie sneaks up on Keegan in the woods and pierces his blackmailing heart with a knife. He then drags the corpse by the arms to one of the explosive charges and leaves it there, chest-down, where it’ll later be blown to shreds.

Finally, he utilises Keegan’s quarters to remove his ninja disguise and reveal a full military dress uniform beneath. The ninja suit is binned and our man is back at the General’s pool house in the nick of time to unveil the battlefield model amidst much ‘ooohing’ and ‘aaaahing’ from a rapturous crowd. At the same time, the explosive charges in the woods are blown, butchering what’s left of Sergeant Major Keegan. Boo-ruddy-hoo.

It looks like a clean victory for Brailie, but he’s unlucky enough to be pitted against ace investigating officer Lieutenant Columbo. Although Keegan’s mangled corpse no longer shows any visible trace of the knife wound, Columbo isn’t automatically buying the ‘tragic accident’ idea. For one thing, he immediately spots leaves and mud under Keegan’s collar. Could he have been incapacitated elsewhere and dragged to the site of his death?

He’s soon given his first reason to suspect Brailie, too. The Colonel gives Keegan’s quarters a quick once-over and notices a splodge of wet mud on the floor. Did he leave it there the night before? In order to be safe, he hunkers down to clean it up – only for Columbo to march in and spot him. Although Brailie plausibly suggests he was doing it to honour the memory of clean freak Keegan, it’s an action the Lieutenant will remember.

Columbo does some nosing around Keegan’s pad and finds that the dead man had been cutting out ‘Help wanted’ ads every day from a local paper. Seems like he was looking for a new job – although the last of the ads he kept was from ‘last Monday’. What could it mean? What changed in his life on that Monday to put an end to his job search? But Brailie offers no help to the puzzled detective.

He does offer a suggestion as to how dirt and twigs ended up jammed under Keegan’s collar, though, simply (and sensibly) suggesting that the explosion would have been the cause – based on his own battlefield experience. It’s a hard argument to disagree with.

Columbo Grand Deceptions
All the General had really wanted for his birthday was a new Barbie

Following a summons from General Padget, Columbo soon uncovers some additional clues. While inspecting Padget’s new collection of war books, he finds a toy soldier hidden behind them. How could it have ended up there if the books were arranged before the soldiers?

The General has far more interesting news to share, though, as he reveals he’d requested Keegan look into Brailie’s ‘Special Projects Fund’ that had absorbed millions of foundation dollars. That conversation had taken place six days ago – the same day Keegan quit looking for a new job.

Padget also explains that it took several weeks and multiple requests for Brailie to finish and hand over a confidential report on the Special Projects Fund. This foot-dragging response was most unlike Brailie – and there’s nothing that’s going to pique Columbo’s curiosity quite like someone not behaving in their usual manner.

The Lieutenant catches a lucky break shortly afterwards when Keegan’s dry-cleaning is returned to his quarters. Among the items removed from the pockets of the garments prior to cleaning was a scrap of paper with the name L. Dunstan and an apartment address written on it. Columbo is duty-bound to investigate.

Turns out that the apartment is actually owned by, you guessed it, Colonel Brailie. It’s the secret love-nest where he manages his clandestine affair with Jenny Padget – and she’s on her way to meet him there just as Columbo arrives and starts asking questions.

Keen to see who Brailie’s planning to meet, Columbo overstays his welcome and refuses to take the hint that he should beat it. He even goes so far as to use the bathroom in order to rummage through the medicine cabinet – locating and pocketing a travel toothbrush in the process. There’s little doubt it belongs to the Colonel’s mystery lover.

Columbo Grand Deceptions
Columbo’s libido-lowering act was out in full force

The detective even drops a bombshell of his own on Brailie by letting him know that an autopsy has discovered a knife wound in Keegan’s heart. The man was murdered. How’s that for a libido-lowering surprise, Colonel?

Jenny does arrive during this prolonged interview, but after seeing Columbo’s old heap parked outside the apartment she puts the pedal to the metal before she can be recognised. Nevertheless, she receives a home visit from the Lieutenant that very evening – and he’s in confrontational mood.

Whipping out that travel toothbrush, Columbo explains that he’s had it dusted for prints – and hers are all over it. She can’t deny the affair, but she claims to have no knowledge of the Special Projects Fund – something Columbo takes her word for. He also agrees not to let the General know that Jenny has been a very naughty girl.

Instead, the now-contrite adulteress comes clean herself. She reveals the affair – but it’s OK, General, because she says she could never care for the mystery man the way she cares for him! Padget takes the blow nobly, only requesting that she never share the identity of the secret lover.

Attending Keegan’s funeral, Columbo has the fortune to meet one of the Sergeant Major’s Pentagon pals who tells the detective that he spoke to Keegan on the morning of his death. He doesn’t explain on-screen what their conversation was about – but it’s a safe bet it was to do with the Special Projects report, because Columbo heads over to the foundation to investigate further.

Using rarely displayed sleight-of-hand abilities that would impress even The Great Santini, he dispossesses Brailie’s ditzy secretary Marcia of an earlier version of the classified report and vanishes into thin air – and what he finds in it will blow the case as wide open as Keegan’s chest cavity!

Columbo Grand Deceptions
Oh Marcia, Marcia, Marcia…

Columbo, of course, hands the incriminating document to General Padget. The report details how Padget’s foundation has been funding illegal gun-running across the globe – and to say the army veteran is displeased is an understatement. He calls Brailie a ‘thieving bastard‘ to his face and promises he’ll see the fiendish Colonel behind bars.

Displaying ice-cold nerves under-fire, Brailie zaps back. If Padget blows his cover, Brailie will spill the juicy details about his illicit affair with Jenny. It’s the General who caves in. He returns his copy of the report – but mentions that Columbo’s copy is on his desk in the pool house.

Although not shown, we can assume Brailie gaily skips over to retrieve the report with a glow in his heart and a song on his lips. But his good mood won’t last because Columbo is lying in wait at the pool house – and he’s here to make an arrest.

He’s figured out that Keegan was trying to blackmail Brailie, so there’s a strong motive for murder. But can he break Brailie’s alibi that he was setting up the intricate battlefield diorama while the murder was committed? Well actually he can, through his dazzling maths (not math, US readers) skillz.

He knows that the books weren’t delivered in the box marked BOOKS – because its cubic dimensions aren’t big enough to accommodate them all. Instead they were delivered later in the MILITARY MINIATURES box. Brailie had switched the toy soldiers into the books box and took his sweet time to set them up on the morning of the crime.

His alibi, therefore, ain’t worth squat because it would only have taken him five minutes to set up the books on the shelf that evening, leaving the best part of two hours to kill Keegan and get back undetected.

Columbo Grand Deceptions
Good grief…

Faced with such irrefutable evidence, Brailie has no choice but to concede deafeat. Columbo reads the Colonel his rights while the camera pans across the battlefield diorama, finally stopping on a familiar-looking miniature in a scruffy beige raincoat, as credits roll…



My memories of Grand Deceptions

Columbo Grand Deceptions

I couldn’t tell you when I first watched this one (likely on TV in the 90s if I had to hazard a guess), but Grand Deceptions is certainly amongst my least-viewed Columbo episodes.

Having not watched this for the best part of a decade, my hazy recollections rather centre on the lack of charisma of central antagonist Frank Brailie and how thoroughly ungripping an adventure this was despite the military-themed backdrop. In fact I’d be hard-pushed to name an episode I remember being as dull as this one.

That aside, my mind was a blank canvas. I didn’t remember any of the secondary characters much less have an emotional connection to them, nor could I recall the motive for murder. On the plus side, I can’t call back any memories of stupid or flashy scenes that have blighted the comeback series so far – so maybe this’ll be better than I remember? Wouldn’t that be a bonus!

My take on Grand Deceptions

Rather like the good Lieutenant, I’m in the habit of beating around the bush a little before delivering a verdict. I’m not going to waste my time or yours keeping you waiting here, though: Grand Deceptions is screamingly boring television and depressing viewing for Columbo fans.

Watching this I’m left with two burning questions. Firstly, what has happened to the show’s ambitions? And second, was this the type of dreary fare Peter Falk had in mind when he agreed to resurrect the good Lieutenant? He must have expected better.

Columbo Grand Deceptions
Sadly Grand Deceptions doesn’t give Peter Falk many reasons to smile

When I watch Columbo I want to be gripped by the relationship between detective and a big-name killer, and by the cleverness of the murder. I want to care about the secondary characters and sub-plots; and to be dazzled by the setting and score. I want to see Columbo absolutely nail the perp with a thrilling final reveal, and I want it all to be fun without being condescending or stupid.

It’s a lot to expect all of those boxes to be ticked in a single episode, but normally we can expect several of the key elements to come together to boost the viewer experience. Grand Deceptions delivers none of the above.

We may as well start at the top and consider the cast, which is distinctly underwhelming. I’m absolutely not saying they have no talent, but there’s no box office appeal here. Falk aside, the cast list could be that of any bog-standard TV show from the era. It’s a real comedown from the hey-day of the 1970s when viewers could expect to see silver screen icons in every episode – even in relatively minor roles.

“Frank Brailie may be the single least interesting Columbo killer of them all.”

I have nothing against Robert Foxworth (whom I remember fondly from two episodes of Star Trek DS9), but his Colonel Frank Brailie is one of the series’ least charismatic and least memorable villains. He’s joyless to watch and there’s no spark between him and the Lieutenant.

I like there to be a bit of needle between the two leads, or for them to have some sort of common ground to base a relationship on. Viewers perennially treasure the confrontation between Columbo and the likes of Bart Keppell, Adrian Carsini, Ken Franklin, Milo Janus and Abigail Mitchell because there’s something to hang onto in every exchange between detective and suspect.

Colonel Brailie gives us nothing to get worked up about. Yes, he’s an unlikable chap who’s only out for himself, but he doesn’t garner any sort of emotional response. In fact he may be the single least interesting Columbo killer of them all.

Columbo Grand Deceptions
Oh, BORE OFF Brailie!

And even though Columbo claims that the two men ‘don’t like each other’ during the snooze-inducing finale, we don’t gain any of the pleasure we’ve previously gained from antagonistic confrontations against the Barry Mayfields, Paul Gerards and Mark Colliers of the world. Brailie is such a non-entity that it’s not even satisfying to see him taken down.

As for the rest of the characters, with the possible exception of General Padget I couldn’t give a monkey’s about any of them. Sergeant Major Keegan is a blackmailing tool who deserves his comeuppance, while Jenny Padget is the worst type of TV wife, one who romps sinfully behind her husband’s back, but of course deeply regrets it when the truth comes out.

When we find out that she and the Colonel are up to no good together, she swiftly establishes the nature of their relationship. “You know I don’t love you,” she nakedly whispers to Brailie from betwixt silk sheets. “What I love is being here with you, like this. Does that make me a bad woman?”

Before the Colonel can answer, I’ll step in. YES, IT DOES MAKE YOU A BAD WOMAN. And I don’t buy your later waterworks when the secret gets out. You knew what you were doing and deserve a damn good divorcing for it! Even your birthday gift to the General was a cruel joke because the wheelchair-bound bodger can’t even reach the middle of the battlefield model! I like to think Padget turfed her out immediately after the episode ended, but I rather suspect the soft-hearted old timer chose to forgive and forget.

Speaking of which, General Padget at least feels like a character with some depth and vulnerability – and not just because he’s in a wheelchair. It’s a good performance from Stephen Elliott, whom I only realised on this viewing is making his second Columbo appearance after starring as loathsome wife-beater Karl Donner in 1975’s A Deadly State of Mind. On both occasions his wife was having an affair, luckless chap.

His two Columbo performances are poles apart, so I have to give Elliott some credit. His Padget comes the closest to being a character to care about – although given the dearth of anyone else to give a damn about in this tepid adventure, that’s perhaps damning him with faint praise.

Columbo Grand Deceptions General Padget
I care more about General Padget than his wife seems to

It places more than the usual onus on Falk to elevate proceedings, and I’m pleased to report that he’s pretty good in this one. He’s been toning the theatrics down the longer the season has gone on, and here seems to be back in his stride and playing the character as less of a pastiche and more of a natural extension of where an older Columbo ought to be.

He never really plays the fool in this one and is pretty direct by his standards – notably when forcing Jenny to admit her love affair, his thieving of the confidential report and during the episode finale when he slams Brailie with fact after mathematical fact.

There’s none of the usual fawning towards the chief suspect and Columbo even swiftly builds a strong and believable relationship with Padget, who appreciates his Civil War knowledge and trusts his deductive abilities. It’s another good example of how the real Columbo is able to effortlessly associate with prince or pauper – as long as they’re not a suspect.

There are signs, however, of softness setting in at the heart of the character and that worries me slightly. The Lieutenant has always been kindly by nature, but never soft. Think how he told Abigail Mitchell not to count on him being a nice man in Try & Catch Me – easily one of the greatest Columbo moments.

Here we see him simpering to Dog and burbling about how much he loves the scamp. No great sin, perhaps, but it’s a more tender take on the relationship between man and beast than we saw in the 70s. Back then, the love affair between the two seemed more charming and genuine precisely because it wasn’t overtly lovey. Another lovely subtlety gone west.

Columbo Grand Deceptions
Toughen up, Lieutenant!

Still, that’s a very minor gripe and this is certainly Falk’s strongest single performance of the comeback season. If only the episode weren’t so miserably dull! In fact, Grand Deceptions is as boring to behold as it would be to actually sit and watch a war enthusiast solemnly tinkering with toy soldiers for 90 minutes.

As now seems to be the series norm the episode is achingly slow to unravel, and with so much emphasis on a corporate report, a battlefield diorama and the cubic capacity of packing boxes, there’s literally nothing to get excited about.

This is particularly true of the gotcha scene. Even though it’s very damning evidence, having Columbo laboriously explain the mathematics that show how the size of boxes bust Brailie’s alibi is a whole new level of tedium. I’ve encountered several fans who don’t understand the ending at all, although I surmise that’s not because it’s complicated – it’s just so uninteresting they switched off. The ending’s as flat as all that comes before it.

Grand Deceptions is as boring to behold as it would be to actually sit and watch a war enthusiast solemnly tinkering with toy soldiers for 90 minutes.”

There are a few attempts to inject a little fun into proceedings, and while they’re not nearly as crippling as some of the appalling filler that blighted Sex & The Married Detective and Murder, Smoke & Shadows, the humour still fails to hit the mark – a pity, because this is an episode that desperately needed a little quality levity.

Attempt one sees Columbo interviewing a selection of the wannabe mercenaries about their experiences at the military camp. All are cliched loonies who offer nothing relevant to the plot whatsoever, while eliciting the sort of dumbfounded facial expressions from Falk that ought to have been accompanied by ‘sad trombone’ sound effects.

There’s also a dismal scene in the chapel during Keegan’s funeral where Columbo and Pentagon ‘ace’ Tanzer shuffle around and talk out of the sides of their mouths to each other for 4 mind-numbing minutes. To quote Adrian Carsini, “This… is… dreadful…“. Still, it’s more palatable than Columbo playing a frigging tuba, so that’s progress, right?

Columbo Grand Deceptions
Columbo ruins YET ANOTHER solemn occasion

I can’t allow the Columbo-model-on-the-battlefield nonsense to go unmentioned, either. Despite toning the gotcha waaaaaaaaay down compared to Season 8’s previous three outings, they couldn’t quite resist the urge to include a flamboyant final touch, could they? That stupid model! Yes, I’d like to own it, but it has no place in a serious detective drama and is another example of the questionable production decisions being made.

To compound all this, I can’t even take solace in the quality of the score, which I honestly believe is the worst of the entire Columbo saga to date. Composer John Cacavas is undoubtedly a man of great ability, having created film and TV scores from the early 70s into the 2000s (including 12 episodes of Mrs Columbo), but I don’t feel his efforts here hit the mark at all.

“I honestly believe the score to Grand Deceptions is the worst of the entire Columbo saga to date.”

Cacavas also scored Columbo Goes to the Guillotine and has fallen into the same trap of making the music far too light and jolly, and therefore completely at odds with the mood of the episode. It’s predictably military-themed, but a twee and jaunty take that immediately grates and never improves.

To my fury, This Old Man has also been woven into the score on three occasions, moving it fully on from what was once a charming ditty Columbo would hum to himself to what is now essentially (and gracelessly) the character’s official theme. The crowning ‘glory’ is the accordion-infused closing tune that would be better suited to a French farce or a night at the circus. It’s a shocker! See for yourself…

Just about the only aspects of this episode I enjoy are both atypical for the series: namely the violent killing, and the series’ first incidence of bad language being used.

The killing is enjoyably action-packed and shows that the ninja-licious Colonel Brailie is actually still a bit of a bad-ass, despite now being more of a paper-pusher. The cursing, when Padget refers to Brailie as a ‘thieving bastard‘, comes as something of a surprise given the show’s traditionally gentle scripting, but is certainly warranted and doesn’t feel like it was thrown in too gratuitously. A good move.

That aside, though, there’s genuinely nothing else that stands out. Grand Deceptions is a thoroughly forgettable and unremarkable story that does nothing to enhance the reputation of one of TV’s brightest ever stars. If anything, it exemplifies how far standards have dropped.

Grand Deceptions is the poorest component of a return season that had its moments, but all too often disappointed.”

In an interview in early 1989, series creator and Executive Producer William Link waxed lyrical about the continuing efforts to ensure Columbo mysteries remaining at TV’s cutting edge, assuring readers: “We are sticklers about the best material.”

Unfortunately for viewers, Grand Deceptions is anything but the best material. It’s the poorest component of a return season that had its moments, but all too often disappointed. If this is the best the Columbo creative team can come up with, the question must be asked: was it worth bringing the Lieutenant out of retirement at all?

Did you know?

Columbo first name

Grand Deceptions is one of the very few episodes that supports the premise that Columbo’s first name is Frank. If you look closely at the evidence bag he shows to Colonel Brailie (at approx 43 mins into the episode), ‘Lt Frank Columbo‘ can just about be made out.

This follows on from the name Frank (or Franck) also being legible on Columbo’s police ID badge in 70s’ episodes Dead Weight and A Matter of Honor. Despite this, however, Peter Falk, Dick Levinson and William Link always stipulated that the Lieutenant’s first name was unknown, so it’s up to you whether to accept it as canon or not.

Read more about the subject of Columbo’s first name here.

How I rate ’em

When an episode is this DULL, DULL, DULL you can bet it won’t come close to troubling the top of the leader board – and so it proves as Grand Deceptions plummets to the foot of the early standings. While I’m not directly comparing the new episodes to the classic era at this stage, Grand Deceptions would be in the D-List – way down with the likes of Dagger of the Mind and the similarly uninspiring Old Fashioned Murder.

It’s all the more disappointing when you consider that episode director Sam Wanamaker also helmed my very favourite Columbo outing – The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case from 1977. How the mighty have fallen.

Missed any of my earlier Season 8 episode reviews? Then simply click the links below.

  1. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
  2. Sex & The Married Detective
  3. Murder, Smoke & Shadows
  4. Grand Deceptions

If you want to check out any of my ‘classic era’ episode reviews, or see how I rank them in order, they can all be accessed here. And if you’re a relative of Robert Foxworth and want to boost his morale after this press savaging, you can vote for Grand Deceptions in the fans’ favourite episode poll here. Virtually no one has up ’til now…

Columbo Grand Deceptions shrunken head
At least this guy came out of the episode with some credit

Now it’s over to you. Am I being unfair on what you consider to be a hidden gem of the Columbo universe? Or are you just as underwhelmed as I am by this vanilla offering? All (polite) opinions are welcome.

And so we move on to Columbo’s ninth season, with my focus next to switch to Murder, A Self Portrait. Featuring a Bond villain as a moody, murderous, polyamorous European artist, it at least sounds fairly promising. Can it deliver? Fingers crossed…


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Columbo Grand Deceptions
If I back slowly away, maybe no one will remember I ever appeared in this…
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94 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Grand Deceptions

  1. I get that the books were in the miniatures box, and vice versa. But I don’t understand how they were delivered like that.

     
  2. Ooof. Can’t say I agree with CP.

    I’m all about taking entertainment on its own merits. The reboot Columbo not only had different circumstances, but it’s an evolution of the character as well.

    It makes sense to me that Columbo begins hard boiled in Prescription For Murder and softens as he ages. Don’t we all? We even see the tiniest bit of angry Columbo here when he tells Jenny “don’t make me stop you,” so we know he can still get angry.

    I think there’s a lot to like here. This episode features the best detective work of the season – the cubic feet deduction, the work on the body, the stalling in the love nest, plus the trickery to get the real report. The rapport between Columbo and Padget is great. I agree that Padget shows great depth and I like that he and his wife reconcile.

    And holy smokes, the scene when Columbo tells Dog he’d get a cookie anyway because he loves him is solid gold- I actually went “awww” out loud when that happened! I love this. Absolutely one of my favorite moments of Falk’s entire portrayal of the character.

    Having just a watched the entire 70s run and now watching the revival shows, I view these as the same show but but filtered through an 80s/early 90s filter. They are broader and certainly do rely on Peter Falk’s comic timing more. And that’s fine! I can’t believe if given a choice between never getting more of this iconic character (even in a way one wouldn’t exactly prefer), versus not at all that we’d pick the former!

    Anyway for this season my ranking would be:

    1. Grand Deceptions – this is most like the Columbo of old.
    2. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine – this is the most *fun* episode of this season but not the best.
    3. Sex and the Married Detective- gets really slow, but I love the villain here- she’s great in this role. Best villain of the season.
    4. Murder, Smoke and Shadows – This one actually does rank near Last Salute and Old Fashioned Murder near the bottom. Absolutely atrocious setup for the murder that undermines everything and the ending reveal is ridiculous even factoring for the increase emphasis on comedy.

    On the whole though I can already tell I’m gonna be a minority report on the revival shows 🙂
    I’ve been mostly having fun with them- I do find myself laughing out loud more than I did in the 70s run.

     
  3. I had a good chuckle at the idea of Padget being unable to reach his ‘cruel joke’ birthday present !

     
  4. Is “murdererous” a deliberate typo? If so, I like it. 🙂

    I always think of Stephen Elliott first as General Padget from this episode of “Columbo,” then as the hapless Clive Thatcher, briefly chairman of Network 66 in the “Max Headroom” episode “Grossberg’s Return” (1987), then as Police Chief Hubbard in “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984). I had not realised either that he was also Carl Donner from “A Deadly State of Mind”! I have to re-watch that episode with this fact in mind!

    General Padget’s strange serpentine eyelids make me uncomfortable. I hope all was well with Stephen Elliott’s eyes in real life.

    This is a pleasant enough episode, though nothing special. I wouldn’t actively avoid watching it. I didn’t find it boring.

    I must be getting as soft-hearted as General Padget…I’m more forgiving of Jenny than Columbophile. I believed she was sincere in her grovelling when she confessed the affair to her husband, and like the commenters below said, I found the scene genuinely touching. That doesn’t mean she retroactively didn’t have the affair, but I liked that the whole thing turned out to have a happy ending. I can easily believe that from now on she’ll be fiercely loyal to her husband.

    I don’t mind a softer Lt. Columbo cuddling his dog, though I agree that there was some good affectionate humour to be mined from his struggles with Dog in the older episodes.

    Is it possible that General Padget painted a miniature to look like Columbo as a tribute to him, or have we just broken reality again, like the ringmaster outfit in “Murder, Smoke, and Shadows”?

    I agree that it’s bad when “This Old Man” gets overused in the soundtrack, though I absolutely love the smooth jazz version of it they did in the closing credits of “Death Hits the Jackpot.” I want that as an MP3! 🙂 According to IMDB the music for that episode is credited to “Steve Dorff,” who also did “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star” and 25 episodes of “Murder, She Wrote.”

    I’m a fan of Patrick Bauchau, so I look forward to reading the review of “Murder, A Self Portrait.” Of course, my liking the actor doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll enjoy them being the villain. I’m a fan of Ian Buchanan, too, but I didn’t enjoy watching him be snide to Columbo in “Columbo Cries Wolf.” I’m a fan of Andrew Stevens (apparently the only one around here!) but not of his character in “Murder in Malibu.”

     
  5. I certainly appreciated our main villain creating a second report of the ‘special projects’ report that included all his nefarious activities only to then ask his secretary to shred both. Sure… why not create an obviously pointless ‘real’ version of your shenanigans and keep it in the safe. What could possibly go wrong?

    And, yes, with parting words Columbo says he has no alibi. Damning. So we have: leaves, a flashlight and a hint of blackmail and Columbo thinks he’s going to get a prosecution?

    Boring is the word.

     
  6. Brailie mispronounces “ee ching”, too. I don’t know if it’s because he’s a dilettante, or the producers thought it’s pronounced “i ching”.

     
  7. I like where he interrupts Brailie’s tete-a-tete. Much worse than bland, Brailie is a smug, bloody goon, maybe the most morally repulsive villain of the series. Arms merchant to worldwide murderers; it’s like 10 Joe Devlins. And he gets his jollies by destroying his boss’s marriage. Columbo knows all this, and still manages to restrict himself to politely fumbling around, undoing Brailie’s sick little plans for the day. And, with a great deal of evident glee. It’s one of the best scenes of the second series.

    Also, the hapless Marcia. “You’re not even supposed to have this copy!” That scene is like a cavalry raid on a supply train.

     
  8. Speaking of Mrs. Columbo, do you think you’ll ever cover that? Maybe after covering all the new episodes? I know it’s not very well liked by most Columbo fans, but it would be interesting to hear what you think about how it measures up, both on its own merits as a mystery show and compared to the original show.

     
    • I may explore its murky history and shambolic short existence, although I would never actually bother reviewing the episodes. The only ones I’ve come across were the ones included as ‘bonus’ features on the Columbo DVD sets, but they were all dismal and I wouldn’t want to put myself through that again.

       
  9. I am a fan of a lot of new ones , particulary goes to college which aired yesterday on 5usa , as did uneasy lies the crown which is a perfectly watchable episode ,
    However i also watched ashes to ashes in full for the first time in ages and hated it , i lovecmcgoohan but not in this tripe , cp speaks well of it but i place it down there with too many notes self portrait and murder in malibu and goes under the guillotine .

     
  10. I agree that the revival isn’t as bad as some folks make them out to be. Sure there were some bad clunkers but there were some gems too like Columbo Goes to College, Agenda for Murder, It’s All In The Game, Columbo Likes The Night Life and my very first episode of Columbo I ever saw Columbo Cries Wolf which hooked me to Columbo right away. The 70s run I also agree wasn’t perfect and had it’s share of clunkers too but I think what most people compare it to is that it’s not that the 70s run was perfect all the time but that they had more hits than miss while the revivals had more misses than hits. I just love Columbo no matter what era he’s in lol

     
  11. I agree that the revival isn’t as bad as some folks make them out to be. Sure there were some bad clunkers but there were some gems too like Columbo Goes to College, Agenda for Murder, It’s All In The Game, Columbo Likes The Night Life and my very first episode of Columbo I ever saw Columbo Cries Wolf which hooked me to Columbo right away. The 70s run I also agree wasn’t perfect and had it’s share of clunkers too but I think what most people compare it to is that it’s not that the 70s run was perfect all the time but that they had more hits than miss while the revivals had more misses than hits. I just love Columbo no matter what era he’s in lol.

     
  12. Pretty lively review. I did agree about the well deserved end of the blackmailer and the character assassination of the wife. But I am one of those people who want to see as much Columbo as possible…there are exceptions…I won’t watch Mrs Columbo ever. I also am not overawed by screen icons. As long as the acting is good and Columbo is there, I am happy. By the way, the book fitting problem at the end reminded me of my time as an Operations research consultant. We had problems similar to solve. Maximum storage, minimum wastage. Certainly food for thought with these intriguing reviews.

     
    • “But I am one of those people who want to see as much Columbo as possible”

      Yeah, this is where I come down. I’m glad he came back, dang it. The revival shows were not as bad as people make them out to be and the 70s shows weren’t as good…or I should say, they weren’t perfect.

      And “Columbo” is not a serious detective drama. It’s fun. It’s a great show. It holds up better than anything from the 1970s except maybe “Barney Miller” and “The Bob Newhart Show”. But it isn’t serious detective drama. If it *were* serious detective drama, Columbo would have a partner, he wouldn’t ever be called in to a missing persons case, suspects would short circuit that “just one more thing” bit by refusing to answer questions without their attorney, Columbo would not just tap away on a murder victim’s suicide note typewriter just to make a point, and Columbo would have to come up with real evidence that a lawyer could present in court, not “his shoes were tied the wrong way” or “he has to be the killer because he’s deaf so he didn’t hear the trash compactor” or “his partner wrote down a murder scenario just like this”. I love this show. But it isn’t serious.

       
      • I disagree that Columbo is not “a serious detective drama” and is just “fun.” No, Columbo is not Hill Street Blues or Law and Order — but it’s not Barney Miller, Monk, or Psych either. Columbo is squarely in the same category as Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, and Foyle’s War, albeit in set in modern times. Each is a bit stylized and requires a moderate degree of suspension of disbelief, but none plays it just for “fun.” The characters are all realistically portrayed. The cases are all plausible. The clues make sense. And Columbo’s solutions are always logical and credible. Columbo is the TV equivalent of classic detective fiction.

         
        • Barney Miller is one of the greatest shows of all time and there’s nothing wrong with being like that.

          But you do touch on a comparison that I think you’re wrong about…actually, “Columbo” is a lot like “Monk”. Or, rather, “Monk” was basically a riff on “Columbo”. Columbo was kind of an odd fellow, with the crumbling car and the dirty raincoat and the uncombed hair. Some things are just Columbo being odd (the car, the hair), and some things are obviously Columbo playing mind games with a suspect (“just one more thing sir”, all the boring stories about his wife or his nephews). But basically Monk is Columbo with his oddball character traits being hugely blown up into OCD. Monk is the knock-off and Columbo is easily the better show, but the framework is more or less the same.

          I guess we just have a fundamental disagreement on whether Columbo characters are realistically portrayed, whether the cases are all plausible (that’s *definitely* not true–Jackie Cooper murdered his campaign manager to keep having sex with his mistress? Really?), and whether the clues always make sense (tell me again how Janet Leigh having a 10-minute gap proves she was upstairs killing her husband).

          I don’t want to sound down on this show. I love this show! That’s why I comment here! I have the DVD box set! But a lot of folks act like the ’90s episodes are just some kind of disaster, when they really aren’t. There are a few that are disasters, sure, “Murder in Malibu” is a piece of garbage and the Ed McBain episodes are terrible. But I’m glad we got more “Columbo”, and this is a good episode (as are most in Seasons 8 and 9, especially). Even if the ending doesn’t make sense.

           
          • No, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being like Barney Miller — if you’re actually like Barney Miller. Columbo isn’t.

            Nor is Columbo like Monk. Monk is a comic character. Columbo is to Monk as Poirot is to Inspector Clouseau. Sure, they each have idiosyncrasies. But Columbo is presented as a real person. [In most respects, the oddities you list were Peter Falk’s actual manner.] Monk is not. Monk is presented as a caricature.

            As for plausibility, I also disagree with you. It is entirely plausible that a candidate will kill someone who knows “where all the bodies are buried” and tries to use that knowledge to squeeze the candidate in an unrestricted way. As for Grace Wheeler, Columbo had eliminated the theory that Henry Willis committed suicide behind a locked door. No one else in the house could have killed him. Grace’s alibi was the only source of doubt that she killed him. The 11-minute gap (15 minus 4) destroyed that alibi. Would it hold up in court? That’s irrelevant. For dramatic purposes, it was certainly plausible.

             
            • This is a good point that could ease a lot of anxiety about a lot of “Columbo” episodes, where the “gotcha” isn’t proof that the person *did* do it, so much as it is proof that their alibi, which they claim proves they *didn’t* do it, is false. After the gotcha, it’s established that they *could* have done it. Then (at least in the “Columbo” universe) the onus is on them to prove a negative.

               
          • Peter Falk often talked about how Columbo was similar to Porfiry, the detective in Dostoevsky’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Like CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, an episode of Columbo is presented chiefly from the viewpoint of the murderer. Like Porfiry, Columbo is a figure who comes out of nowhere, inserts himself into the murderer’s life as if he were an old friend, and keeps presenting the murderer with a variety of apparently irrelevant questions and apparently whimsical behaviors. Like Porfiry, Columbo uses a persistent goofiness to wear down the murderer’s inflated self-image, the image of a superman who is beyond ordinary morality, and once that self-image is gone, the murderer can no longer play the deceptive game.

            That’s where I think the seriousness is in Columbo. Not in the superficially realistic depiction of police procedures that you see in some shows, or in parts of shows, but in the idea that murder is a symptom of people taking themselves too seriously.

            I also think that’s why both pilot episodes featured sociopathic killers whose consciences never give way. When I imagine myself as a network executive hearing a pitch for a show modeled on CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, some objections come to my mind right away. Is every single episode going to end with the murderer confessing? Number one, that’s going to get monotonous. And number two, if it’s 1968 or 1971, Perry Mason is still fresh in everyone’s mind, and getting the killer to confess was his shtick. A shtick the whole country was laughing at by that time, so that really wouldn’t be a premise for a serious show. Your pilot episode has to prove that your version of Porfiry can succeed even with a killer who doesn’t have a conscience.

             
          • RE: “But a lot of folks act like the ’90s episodes are just some kind of disaster, when they really aren’t.”

            Amen. I grow weary of hearing how supposedly lousy or mediocre the 1989-2003 episodes were when it’s the SAME show, Columbo is just older. I watched the entire series in 14 months recently and I didn’t see any great drop in quality in the latter-day episodes. I think the whiners are just nostalgic of the 70’s run. They see it with rose-colored glasses.

             
            • “I think the whiners are just nostalgic of the 70’s run. They see it with rose-colored glasses.”

              “Whiners” is not called for. But you are correct in that many of the flaws we keep hearing about in these newer episodes were seen in the ’70s episodes.

              Honestly I think the truth is in the middle. The budgets in the 80s and 90s were lower. The guest stars were, for the most part, of a lower tier, the occasional McGoohan or Dunaway notwithstanding. (Although it sure was a hoot to see Matthew Rhys at the very beginning of his career in the last episode.) And the worst episodes of the latter run were just garbage, as I’ve noted above. But most of it was pretty good! It *was* basically the same show.

               
              • RE: ” “Whiners” is not called for. ”

                How about: incessant, tedious, inaccurate grumblers? Other than that, I’m sure they’re wonderful people. 🙂

                 
            • Having watched the first season of the new episodes, most of them for the first time, I think the main problems are the padding (to draw put the length of the episodes) and the ‘forced’ humour / exaggerated Columbo mannerisms. These were a problem in some of the 70s episodes as well, but they’re more pronounced in many (not all) of the new ones. The plots, scenarios, acting etc. are as good as ever for the most part – with some being a lot better than others.

               
              • Nicely put, Debbie. The newer episodes were designed to fit into a 2-hour framework (with commercials) so they naturally feature padding that the 73-minute episodes from the 70s didn’t have. (Of course there are several longer episodes from the 70s that contained about 15 minutes of filler as well).

                RE: “The plots, scenarios, acting etc. are as good as ever for the most part – with some being a lot better than others.”

                I agree.

                 
          • I do agree that Monk draws a fair degree of inspiration from Columbo (and it has several episodes that let us know the murderer from the beginning and are just about the cat and mouse game) and that’s actually part of what I liked about that show, but it’s still much more explicitly comedic. In fact, if you look up the regular writers for Monk, most of them have a background in comedy writing.

             
            • Oh, I certainly agree that Monk is more comic than Columbo. I was a regular “Monk” viewer, but “Columbo” was the better show. It was like the Monk writers took the Columbo formula and just foregrounded all the stuff that made him weird and wacky and made that the focus of the show.

               
        • I don’t think that classic detective fiction is a relevant analogy for Columbo. Actually it’s the opposite of that in my view. Columbo’s strong feature is an interplay between the killer and the detective, which in itself requires a killer to be an interesting character. The best episodes are precisely those where the writers were able achieve this, not those with the most clever murder method or clues. Golden Age detective fiction is all about methods and clues (with “locked room” mysteries taking this to the edge of absurd sometimes), while the characters of suspects are very often cliched.

           
  13. As usual, I liked this a lot better than Columbophile did. The reduced budgets, the lower-wattage guest stars…well, that was just a hallmark of latter-day Columbo that anyone who watches is going to have to get used to. I still can’t help but suspect that many of the other flaws cited in these episodes were also present in the 1970s run. Columbophile complains that these shows run too long but always said the same of the 90-minute 1970s episodes as well.

    I will agree that the ending gotcha made little sense. The books were delivered in a box labeled Military Miniatures and the miniatures were delivered in a box labeled Books? Huh? How? Are we to assume that Frank took delivery of the boxes himself and switched them around? That would make more sense than a bookstore randomly pulling out a box labeled Military Miniatures. But if he *did* do that, then why didn’t the box labeled Books fit? Were they sent in plain boxes that Frank labeled himself?

    Of course, having written that, I have to say that such an ending is no less confusing or illogical than endings to the 1970s program like “The Bye-Bye Sky-High IQ Murder Case” or “Forgotten Lady”, two episodes where Columbo proves jack-squat but acts like he solved the case.

     
    • I agree with you, it’s not an amazing episode and I think the villain is very weak but I think the investigation work is solid overall (I really enjoy the scene of Columbo in Bailie’s “love nest”, he’s smart, underhanded and annoying in just the right Columbo way). I also enjoy the running joke throughout the episode that he keeps pretending to agree with Brailie that “it’s just an accident” and at the very end he says something like “isn’t it strange how we keep agreeing even though we clearly don’t like each other?”. I like it when Columbo shows his edge underneath this very bumbling persona.

      I did actually enjoy the character of the wife, she’s young and married to an old man in a wheelchair, she seems to genuinely care for him too but at the same time I can understand that it must not always be a very easy position to be in. I don’t really agree with the Columbophile’s indictment of her character.

       
  14. Grand Deceptions has pretty much nothing of any interest, after the nice little tune at the start and the toy soldiers. Presuming it is correct that Sy Salkowitz wrote the episode, IMDB lists this as the last thing he wrote about 2 years before he died. I’m not au fait with how Columbo episodes were created, but that strikes me as a bit odd. Like maybe he was retired and wrote the episode as a favour at short notice. Sorry if you’ve covered this, i haven’t had chance to read everything in the article yet. Thanks for the great work!

     
    • I also wonder about just how the writing was done. I know that on many TV series, the writer is expected to produce a script that combines a lot of ideas. The producer picks one of those ideas and rewrites the script around it. If the 89-02 Columbo worked that way, then Salkowitz did his job very well, but Richard Alan Simmons didn’t do his. A somewhat longer first act leading up to the murder could have given Braillie a single coherent motive, as opposed to a bunch of things that just keep dribbling out as the episode goes along.

       
  15. Reading your review, I agree with most points. I was hoping for a positive when you came to the musical scoring… I actually quite like it, it’s one of the very few positives I find from this episode. Similar to Murder, Smoke and Shadows in that I find the music used throughout the episode more enjoyable than the storyline.

     
  16. Well at least Brailie’s secretary Marcia was pleasant and easy on the eye. The mixing up of the Reports and Columbo making off with one was clever and amusing…

     
  17. Well, no matter the episode, your writing is entertaining. So, thanks again. Yeah, this is a rather insipid outing for the show, but it had its moments. I noticed your review says “drags the corpse by the legs” — but he dragged him by the arms, which left the boot tracks and caught the leaves in the colar. Agree with the whole box explanation at the end — maybe it pans out, but it pulls the ranking down for sure. Forced to rank the four from this season so far, I’d probably put this one last too.

     
  18. I divide the 1989-2002 episodes into two major categories: those that could be substantially improved with editing, and those that could not. I would say this is the best of the episodes that falls into the second category.

    The only sequences that I consider to be actually bad are two you mention: the supposedly humorous interviews with the would-be mercenaries (shades of the equally unfunny meetings with the sex doctors in “Sex and the Married Detective,”) and the disrespectful behavior at the funeral (a strange, sad echo of Columbo’s misbehavior at the funeral in “By Dawn’s Early Light.”) The interviews could be cut. The funeral sequence does give some important information, so while it may be possible to trim it a bit, I don’t think we can get rid of it altogether.

    As for the rest of it, the pacing is slow, and while each individual scene is pretty good, they don’t hang together very well. Editing can’t solve a pacing problem. English filmmaker Freddie Francis famously said that when you edit down a long slow movie, you end up with a short slow movie. If they had been trying to fill a 90 minute time slot rather than a 120 minute time slot, as the “short format” Columbo episodes of the 1970s did, perhaps the creators would have turned out a show that moved more briskly. And if it had moved briskly, perhaps it would have been easier to enjoy each scene in its turn, without wondering what it was all supposed to add up to.

     
    • I think it would have been easy to ditch the funeral scene and still have a meeting between Tanzer and Columbo. They could have been shown meeting outside the chapel at the end of the funeral, and have Tanzer simply relay the actual info he obviously provides off-screen. Instead of playing it for laughs (and failing) this could have made for a good, gritty scene.

       
      • Sure, they could have shot such a scene, and it might have been great. But they didn’t, so we can’t cut the funeral scene entirely from what we have.

         
      • I disagree. It is hard to see how they could move the scene out of the funeral without losing the whole hush-hush nature around the colonel’s illicit dealings. It is a clear attempt (to me) to communicate Tanzer’s uneasiness with revealing secret information while also, at the same time, revealing his eagerness to expose the crooked colonel to the justice Tanzer thinks he so richly deserves. With Keegan out of the way, Brailie is confident this incriminating information on his motive will never come out. I think it is a not an uncommon device, that Columbo has access to information that the perpetrator thinks is safely hidden away. For us to understand this, we must understand how secretive this information is. As far as the attempt at humour goes, I think it is more indicative of the attempts to typically portray Lt. Columbo as awkwardly interjecting his investigation into serious situations and play up the bumbling impression he gives off to his target. Brailie is an extremely intelligent and extremely talented man who we can certainly expect to underestimate our lieutenant.

         
        • Well Tanzer tells Columbo he can’t share the info there, but hints he’ll tell him later. Why not just show the later meeting instead of this unfunny tosh?

           
          • Havent seen GD for ages now but i even had it recorded on an old VCR tape years ago ( cant think why ) but I remember the most of it , I recall columbo pulling some sticks of straw or something of the sort out of a shaker and I think theres a recurring line about a mystical woman sitting on a well , Not sure are these supposed to be funny or not if they are god help us but I do like the line at he end , can we agree that we dont like each other and columbo saying a man as arrogant as you are but thats about as good as it gets for me Im afraid .

             
      • I don’t like this episode, but I have to stand up for the chapel-scene. The interesting thing in it, is that the “ballet” with Tanzer happens under the eyes of Colonel Braillie, who should guess important information is being given to the lieutenant, but doesn’t know which. He doesn’t know exactly what Tanzer knows, neither which part of it he reveals to Columbo, or what Columbo will reveal to General Padget. That information is the reason he killed Sergeant Keegan for. The problem is that the stress the “ballet” can produce on Braillie isn’t used at all in the episode.

         
  19. To me, the only thing notable about this episode is Lynn Clark who would play Jerry Seinfeld’s first girlfriend who he met at a party, staked out at the office building were she worked under the guise of waiting for Art Vandelay, and went to Vermont after getting a stock tip from George.

    Other than that…

     
  20. One aspect in which I’m in total agreement with Columbophile is in the murderer’s character lack of core. He seems to be non-existent beyond his work, there is no backstory. Even the affair with the General’s wife is related to this universe.

     
  21. I’m rather surprised to see this episode panned so heavily, as I consider it the best episode of the season so far, if only by default. There’s nothing particularly special about it, but personally I much prefer mild dullness to OTT. Falk’s relatively restrained performance is a welcome relief after the ridiculous ending of ‘Guillotine’, the overdone theatrics of ‘Murder, Smoke and Shadows’, and the unspeakable tuba scene in ‘Married Detective’. I also found the reconciliation between Padget and his wife genuinely touching – I can’t think of another instance in the series where an estranged couple manage to reconcile their differences.

    My biggest problem with the episode is the gotcha, which is pretty lame – and yeah, I found it difficult to understand. I watched it over a couple of days so I’d completely forgotten about the boxes.

     
  22. There is only one notable thing about Grand Deceptions. It is the only episode in the Columbo canon where the murderer uses a knife as the weapon of choice.

     
    • I dont promote knife crime but thats one of the positivese of this one , the murder is hardcore and the writers were bold to include this its just the sludge that follows that leaves the episode down.

       
  23. RE: “Grand Deceptions is screamingly boring television and depressing viewing for Columbo fans.”

    I disagree. “Grand Deceptions” has always ranked high on my list of favorites of the latter-day series. Some people don’t like it because of the quasi-military setting and Foxworth’s supposedly wooden portrayal. But he’s no more wooden than Gene Barry in the very first Columbo flick, “Prescription: Murder” (1968). Both roles called for an arrogant, calm, overconfident and inexpressive person.

    Janet Eilber plays the general’s much younger wife and her character is genuinely winsome and noble, yet she’s taken a foolish path and feels guilty about it. This all leads to a convincing and potent sequence.

    On the periphery, Lee Arenberg is amusing in a bit part.

     
    • Yes, Lee Arenberg did a great job as the #1 wanna be soldier of fortune. He was also great as a repeat character on “Seinfeld” and was great on that show also.

       
    • Sorry, Wuchak, I disagree when you compare Foxworth with Barry, and thus Franck Braillie with dr Ray Flemming in Prescription: Murder. We should remind the (long and) interesting conversations (in that theater-piece) between Flemming and his wife, Flemming and his mistress, and certainly between Flemming and the lieutenant. Those conversations (and certainly the one with the lieutenant) are the essence of the episode. Gene Barry plays an arrogant, calm, overconfident and inexpressive person, as you say, but the script valorizes that character.
      Compared to that, the script of Grand Deceptions offers nothing to Braillie (or to Foxworth): a short conversation with Keegan, another short one with Jenny Padget, in bed, than one with Columbo and finally a menace towards the general. If there’s more, I already forgot it. It seems clear to me that the script never uses the potential of the plot, and replaces it by military music and basic military discourse.

       
      • Well, seeing as how “Prescription: Murder” is my favorite Columbo episode, I wasn’t saying “Grand Deceptions” is great like that premiere installment. Nevertheless, it’s a notable segment of the latter-day run (for me) for the reasons cited.

         
  24. While I’m not as damning as Columbophile in his review, I’ll concede this entry to be somewhat thrill-free. Nevertheless, as a whole, I find it a fair enough episode with Columbo in nice shape and a very good turn by Stephen Elliott. As far as the new batch goes, here’s my ranking:

    01. Sex & The Married Detective
    02. Murder, Smoke & Shadows
    03. Grand Deceptions
    04. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine

     
  25. As we continue to look at these revival episodes, there’ll continue to be all sorts of discussion about which 80s/90s eps were better than other 80s/90s eps. Alas, as the saying goes, we’ll just be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – no matter how much we re-order these revival episodes and pick out which ones are less disappointing than the others, with a couple exceptions, they’re just about all eventually gonna sink.

    I liked Vaughn’s analysis below: It’s like these revival eps have been done underwater. That nails it. It looks something like old Columbo, but not quite. It plots a bit like old Columbo, but not quite. Peter Falk seems like the old Columbo, but not quite. This wouldn’t be the first show that fell into this trap – I can tell you, as a huge TV Mission: Impossible fan, that the revival they did after the original run was pretty dreadful. It looked like M:I, it had plots kinda like M:I, it had Peter Graves, it had the same theme song…..but all together, it felt done underwater – all the sharp original qualities became blurred and fuzzy.

     
    • I loved 1980s “Mission: Impossible” when I was growing up! However, in general, I sympathise with people who can’t accept the new version of something, as that has certainly happened to me over the last 28 years. I’m now in the process of watching the original “Mission: Impossible” on MeTV and while the 1980s one is always going to be my favourite, I’m greatly enjoying the original too.

       
  26. I think this episode, though not great, is very under rated. I put it at the top of a very weak season. The characters were solid in this episode and the scene where Jenny confesses to her husband was quite good. I liked the scene where the nut jobs were telling Columbo about there military school experiences, i thought it was funny. Also the scene where Columbo shows up at Franks “love nest” was funny also. I’m surprised that CP puts this last but if everyone had the same opinions life would be very boring.

     
  27. My memory of “Grand Deception” was that it was the low point of the first reboot season. In fact, that each Season 8 episode got progressively worse. I don’t believe I ever watched it again. But in anticipation of this review I finally steeled myself to rewatch it. Maybe because of my rock-bottom expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. Then again, it couldn’t have been worse than what I expected.

    Robert Foxworth was a classic, cool-under-fire Columbo villain. Military men have an inherent leg up in that department (even in a bad episode like “Dead Weight”). Janet Eiber was excellent as Jenny Padget. (Jenny, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but most people’s fingerprints are not on file. Columbo got you to admit the toothbrush was yours by dangling that possibility in front of you, without ever saying it had your prints, and you fell for it.) And I liked the notion of a secret alliance between Columbo and General Padget. Has that ever happened before? Margaret in “Ransom for a Dead Man”? Artie Jessup in “A Friend in Deed”? The King in “A Case of Immunity”? We’re so used to Columbo working alone.

    I also liked the opening camera work on the miniatures (with John Cacavas’ very fitting martial music). [The final Columbo miniature was a typical self-referential Season 8 touch I could have done without, however.]

    The scene with Columbo in Brailie’s romantic hideaway was also very good: Columbo stalling in the hope of glimpsing Brailie’s paramour; Jenny spotting the Peugeot (a moment set up well beforehand). Watching it reminded me that cellphones hadn’t been invented in 1989.

    A lot of the clues were fairly credible. Not all the clues, but many. (Why couldn’t Keegan have dropped his flashlight? Looking for it would then explain why he remained in the area.) But I don’t understand the “gotcha” at all. Why were books sent in a box marked “Military Miniatures”? How could Brailie anticipate that the miniatures would come in a box with “Books” on the carton, and the books in a “Miniatures” box? (It couldn’t be, as the review surmises, that “Brailie had switched the toy soldiers into the books box”; if you watch the opening scene, Brailie is setting up the miniatures from out of the “books box.”) Was this by some prior arrangement with the dealer? When Columbo contacted the dealer to order a replacement set of books, why didn’t he simply ask about the two boxes? And how could Brailie anticipate when precisely each shipment would arrive? This timing was ultra-critical to his plan. Again, this was 1989. No Internet. No tracking information. Had both boxes come earlier, with Brailie himself later placing the “Miniatures” box on the doorstep, for the orderly to spot and report it to Brailie at the dinner table? Then why wasn’t this shown? And wouldn’t the shipping company have records?

    In fact, the crime’s entire time sequence is unexplained. Brailie knew General Padget was worried about the Special Projects Fund, but when did he learn Keegan had became Padget’s “eyes and ears”? Early enough to order (and stagger) the shipment of the two boxes? It’s all very fuzzy.

    And how about those want ads Columbo found? Limousine driver? Gun shop clerk? A Sergeant Major is a distinguished rank. Keegan would have aspired to more. His buddy in military intelligence could have helped him. I assumed Keegan was using these ads as a way to recruit paramilitary wannabes to his boot camp. I couldn’t imagine these were jobs he wanted for himself.

    Nor was the actual murder credible. How convenient that areas were marked in white for an entirely pointless, after-the-fact display of faux mortar fire. But why?

    So, while pleasantly surprised, I wasn’t won exactly over.

    P.S. Did you notice the three times they slowed the film/video down to allow the viewer to take in something shown too quickly at normal speed? The first time was when Columbo found the note in the envelope returned from Keegan’s dry cleaners and placed the toy soldier on top. The second was when Columbo was showing Jenny the four stars on the wine glass. The third was when Brailie picked up the I Ching stick on Padget’s desk at the beginning of the final scene. Just an oddity, that’s all. But it happens quite often in the ‘90’s episodes.

    P.P.S. “Maths”? Where does the “s” come from? Ah, I know. I comes off the end of “sports,” inexplicably called “sport” in the UK.

     
    • Good write-up. I agree that they should have gone into a bit more detail in the final clue. Was it established that books and miniatures came directly from the shop or were they stored elsewhere and brought to the house from there? In the second scenario, it might have been possible to just mislabel the boxes for him, but it still would be risky because he couldn’t be sure that nobody else looked inside the boxes.

       
    • Another strange thing about the boxes is that books are VERY heavy, and lttle soldiers aren’t at all. Anyone who would have carried a box of soldiers with “books” written on it, or a box of books with “soldiers” written on it, would have been surprised. The box with the books we see must be that heavy it’s more something for an Exercise in Fatality.
      (The scene in the love nest and Jenny seeing the car was pretty, I agree.)

       
      • Would it make enough difference if the soldiers were lead miniatures? Lead is supposed to be heavy

         
    • You know, I hadn’t thought about it before, but now that you point it out… Brailie had to set up that whole “switch-the-boxes” thing well ahead of time, before being confronted by Sergeant Major Keegan. So why was he planning to kill him before being blackmailed? Things that make you go “hmmmm…”

       
      • I believe Brailie tells Keegan that he was aware that Keegan was following him and had found out about his secret love nest and identity. It’s not too big a stretch from that to deduce that Keegan needed to be silenced.

         
    • Good point re: the gotcha. I thought I understood it at the time, but now I’m not sure! 🙂

      FWIW, I think both sets of boxes arrived on time and correctly labelled, but Brailie switched the contents and concealed the arrival of the miniatures.

       
  28. An episode so forgettable I literally forgot it existed!
    Season 9 is middling for me. I loved Columbo Cries Wolf and Agenda for Murder.

     
  29. I agree that this is among the most forgettable Columbo episodes. I really struggle to say much about this one at all, but I still found it an enjoyable watch. I do think Robert Foxworth is fine (in fact, despite the constant complaining about there being few big stars in the revival episodes, most of these episodes still have strong actors in the murderer role and that’s all I care about), it’s just that the character isn’t particularly interesting. I also agree that General Padget is the best character in the episode.
    I put it between A Matter Of Honor and Dead Weight at #59 in my ranking. On the plus side, it will be until the notorious Murder In Malibu that we get a weaker episode than this.

     
    • I agree grand deceptions is a low ranker, its basically the 90s equivelant of dead weight which was military themed , flat , plodding un funny and totally forgettable. Stilla better watch than murder in malibu though.

       
        • I Dont all out hate Grand deceptions and dead weight ,There are a handful worse from both eras , Murder in Malibu , No time to die and Undercover and murder with too many notes are lesser episodes than grand deceptions and from the 70s Last salute , Dagger of the mind , Old fashioned Murder , Murder under glass and possibly short fuse ( cant make up my mind on that one ) are ones I would rate lower than dead weight.

           
  30. Just one comment for now. Coumbo is a serious detective show? Really are you sure? That’s news to me .

     
  31. I agree with you, but console yourself with the fact that season nine has a lot of fine episodes like Agenda for Murder, Rest in peace Ms Columbo and tah Mu4der a Self Portrait!

     
      • Not to remember Murder a Self Portrait is the best thing you can do, Columbophile. Even Vito Scotti is lamentable in it. The only good thing in that episode must be what they eat at a dinner, prepared by Louise (Fionnula Flanagan). It looks good and has a nice name.
        (Sorry for those who don’t agree with me.)

         
        • I even like Strange bedfellows better than Self portrait , After watching it a couple of times on ITV4 last Xmas found it rather entertaining Rod Steiger is the best aspect of it George wendt is passable and there is a car chase scene through the Californian desert .
          However dosent come close to Agenda for murder , goes to college , Murder can be hazardous to your health or death hits the jackpot Though .

           
      • I love Agenda for murder Mc goohan and columbos rapport Makes this one a treat and very memorable , Dont want to burst any bubbles but I Dont like Murder a self portrait and put it amongst the disappointments of the new batch , I haven’t seen it for Ice ages now but I do remember it started off okay and then after about half an hour turned into a load of nonsense and I dislike the dream sequence its un columbolike and I normally like Vito scottis performances but not in this , his character is a negative for me in this and I Have never actively chosen to watch this episode , I hope CP likes it more than me we will have to wait and see .

         
        • I liked Murder a self portrait for the way an arrogant egomaniac was brought to justice analyzing hi victim’s dream sequences, unsettling reminders of Hitchcock’s Spellbound’ s dream scene, obviously if one can compare the two things. An interesting experiment

           
          • I agree with that. Not a highlight episode, but definitely an interesting one. The dream sequences are fantastically executed (even if the meaning behind them is at times a bit on the nose).

             
  32. I rate this episode much higher than you – I thought the murder quite a clever setup and if it is a little dull at times, coming after the absurdities of the previous 3 episodes, dull’s not such a bad thing.

    I think you’re being a bit unfair on poor old Robert Foxworth – he’s no Robert Culp (imagine how much better this episode would have been if he’d been Colonel Brailie) but at least he’s an actor I recognise (he was on Falcon Crest for a few years I seem to remember).

    Also while it is true the acting, music score and production values generally are poorer than the classic era that is true of every episode of ‘new’ Columbo – I don’t want to anticipate your future reviews but there are some truly dreadful episodes ahead that will make this one look not so bad after all.

    I would rank this episode as first rather than last of the revival season but while we can debate which order to put these first series episodes in I think we can all agree the series overall is disappointing – I’ve a feeling the next season will be slightly (if not spectacularly) better, but glad you’ve got your reviews of this first season out of the way.

     
  33. This is one of only three “new” Columbo episodes I have seen (the others are ‘Death Hits the Jackpot’ and ‘It’s All In The Game’ – I look forward to your take on that one).

    I remember reading a book about Laurel and Hardy. When it came to the dire films they made with 20th Century Fox and MGM in the 1940’s the writer said it was “as if they are doing their stuff under water” – the characters and situations had become blurred and fuzzy. For me this applies to the revived Columbo. The sharpness and spark have gone, the production values are noticeably cheaper (were they recorded on tape, not filmed?) and so are the casts – the pleasure at seeing actors like John Payne, Don Ameche and Myrna Loy was a real feature of the 70’s episodes.

    The sad fact is, it’s just not enough to have a character called “Columbo” as your detective. There has to be intelligence and quality behind the writing. Based on what I have seen, the writing has become lazy and no thought has been given to creating any suspense between Columbo and his target suspect.

     
    • The Columbo DVDs look better than some shows from the day, but you’re right, it does look cheaper than the original run.

      The episodes were filmed, but there was a long run of American TV from about 1985 into the late 1990s when the first edit was transferred to video for all subsequent edits or the addition of visual effects or titles. It was a cost-saving exercise that’s meant that all sorts of programs from the period have deteriorated and require a huge amount of re-editing work if they’re to be remastered for Blu-ray. There’s a lot of talk about it on Star Trek forums because fans of that show hope to see Deep Space 9 released on HD one day, but it affects just about everything.

       
      • So that’s why the reruns of “The Next Generation” I’ve been seeing on TV are all messed up. They’ve evidently re-lettered the credits because the quote marks are wrong. They also seem to have George Lucased the special effects, sadly

         
  34. In French, the word “deception” means disappointment.
    Never a Columbo episode merited better its name: “Grand Disappointments”.
    🙂

     

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