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Episode review: Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown opening titles

Devilish dentistry was under the proverbial microscope on April 28, 1990 as the fifth outing of Columbo’s ninth season aired under the witty title of Uneasy Lies the Crown.

Featuring a villain with a selfish streak a mile wide, who will both kill and frame to protect his way of life, Uneasy Lies the Crown was revived following nearly two decades on ice after first being penned by Steven Bochco in the early 1970s.

That’s quite a recommendation, but is this a truly toothsome televisual treat, or ought it to be extracted from our collective consciousness forthwith? Let’s crush those digitalis pills and get ready to mingle with some Y-List celebs at a poker party as we find out…

Dramatis personae

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown cast

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Wesley Corman: James Read
Lydia Corman: Jo Anderson
Adam Evans: Marshall Teague
Horace Sherwin: Paul Burke
David Sherwin: Mark Arnott
Columbo’s dentist: Raymond Singer
Nancy Walker: As herself (ooooooohhh)
Dick Sargent: As himself (ahhhhhhh)
Ron Cey: As himself (Cantonaaaaah)
Written by: Steven Bochco
Directed by: Alan J. Levi
Score by: James Di Pasquale

Episode synopsis

Dentist-to-the-stars Wesley Corman’s life of freeloading appears to be over. Summoned to the family dental practice, where he’s the junior associate to irascible father-in-law Horace Sherwin, Corman is essentially given his marching orders from the business and the family!

Horace can no longer tolerate Corman’s gambling addiction and speculative business buy-ins, which have left him over $200,000 in debt to the older man, nor his apparently bungling dental skills. On top of this, Horace’s feeble-hearted daughter, Lydia (Corman’s wife of six years), wants a divorce – something Horace is happy to facilitate as he seeks to rid his family of Corman’s cloying presence.

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown Wesley Corman
What’s a dentist’s favourite time? Tooth hurty *explodes with laughter*

Corman is given until the end of the month to leave the business and get out of Horace’s life for good, but he predictably has plans in place to safeguard his comfortable lifestyle. He knows that his wife has found a new lover in burly action movie star Adam Evans, a patient of Corman’s who is going to pay the ultimate price for this betrayal.

Engineering a scenario where Evans brings forward his dental appointment from 2pm to 12.30pm, Corman pretends the appointment has been cancelled and sends his staff off for an early lunch to ensure no witnesses when Evans arrives – other than the excitable autograph hunters in the car park and doubtless dozens of other on-lookers he passes betwixt there and the dental reception.

The wily tooth doctor has already procured some digitalis heart medication pills from his ailing wife, which he crushes into powder and mixes into a paste. Evans is in to have a cavity checked, but Corman pretends a crown needs attention instead. After extracting said crown, Corman drills a hole in it, which he stuffs with digitalis paste. The whole thing is then cemented back into the actor’s manly jaw.

Later that day, Corman pleads his case with Lydia to keep him but the cool redhead gives him the brush-off. While ostensibly departing for his weekly poker game, he listens in on a call from Lydia to Evans. The muscle-bound hunk will be right over to see her knowing that Corman will be out losing money until the small hours. Or will he?

Safely ensconced at the poker game (alongside such luminaries as Lydia’s wimpy brother David, former pro baseballer Ron Cey, actors Nancy Walker and Dick Sargent, plus unbelievably tedious impressionist John Roarke), Corman is setting a rock-hard alibi while his wife is seeing to Evans’ rock-hard needs in the form of margaritas and SWEET LURVIN’!

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown Lydia Corman
His ‘n’ hers matching tiny bathrobes were all the rage in 1990

The love turns sour, however, when, in the throes of passion, Evans’ heart packs in and he perishes right there in Lydia’s arms. In a panic, she hits the speed-dial for 911 (because it’s too hard to remember the number in an emergency, right?) and begs for help – but it’s all part of Corman’s fiendish scheme. He’s reprogrammed the phone so that the call will actually divert to the poker game, setting him and David off an a mission of mercy to save the damsel in distress.

Arriving at the crime scene, the pair find Lydia whimpering beside the corpse of her lover. David moves to call the police, but Corman stops him. Lydia is too fragile to handle this crisis scenario, which appears to be an exact repeat of the death of her former husband on their wedding night seven years earlier! No, instead the two men will move the corpse and make it look like a car accident.

As David cares for his sister, Corman puts the final pieces of his plan in place by pouring the remains of the digitalis pill powder into the margarita-making blender and cocktail glass, and planting a book of monogrammed Corman matches in the dead man’s pocket. Evans and his car are then taken to a secluded road in the hills and pushed over a precipice – looking for all the world like he had a heart attack while driving.

Despite breaking every law there is, Corman’s actions earn him the admiration of Horace Sherwin, who forgives his errant son-in-law for past misdemeanours and welcomes him back into the fold with open arms. What an emotional rollercoaster ride!

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown
Monogrammed matches? What won’t they think of next?

Naturally enough, one of the investigating officers on the scene the following morning is Lieutenant Columbo. And, just as naturally, he’s soon being bothered by little things, like why the car gear lever was in neutral rather than drive. He’s also handed the monogrammed matches by a fellow officer, sending the detective to Corman HQ, where he is welcomed at the door by the breakfasting murderer.

Corman’s reaction to the news of Evans’ death is straight out of the Riley Greenleaf school of faux grief, although he swiftly recovers his composure to answer questions. Despite the matches on Evans’ person, Corman says the actor hadn’t been visiting their house the night before as far as he knows, although his attendance at the poker match means he can’t guarantee it. He’s reluctant to have Lydia troubled with questions, though, as she was such a fan of Evans that her dicky heart mightn’t take the strain.

Columbo beetles off to see the medical examiner who has two stunning revelations for the detective. Firstly, Evans’ heart attack was caused by an excess amount of digitalis. Indeed, there was so much in his system that he must have died within a minute or two of ingesting it. Columbo is also told that the actor was in the midst of love-making at the time of death, that he’d been consuming booze, and there was a gash on the inside of his right cheek. What can the Lieutenant make of all that?

As a result, Columbo scarpers back to the Corman residence to question Lydia, who is in an enfeebled state out by the pool and being shielded by husband and father. Lydia denies that Evans was there the night before, and also rebuffs the suggestion that she spoke to him on the phone. Columbo, however, has checked the phone records which show five calls from the Corman house to Evans’ number in the preceding 24 hours.

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown Wesley and Lydia
Wesley’s Christmas sweater was the gift that kept on giving… headaches and nausea

Pushing harder, Columbo reveals that Evans was murdered, at which point Lydia admits that he had paid her a visit, and had merrily swug some margaritas. A subsequent check of the pool house throws up the dregs of the cocktail in the mixer and glass, which Columbo confiscates for lab analysis. He also receives confirmation that Lydia takes digitalis to control her own heart condition.

Lydia’s starting to look guilty as sin – especially when lab results prove there was digitalis residue in the mixer and glass. Columbo, however, starts to find reason to suspect Corman’s involvement. First, he finds out that Evans had been due for treatment at the surgery on the day of his death, supposedly ringing Corman rather than the receptionist to cancel. Secondly, if Evans had died in Lydia’s presence, outside help was needed in moving his heavy body.

His investigations next take Columbo to Corman’s poker mates, who are once again wasting a weekday evening by throwing good money away at cards. In betwixt some celebrity appreciation of Nancy, Dick and Ron, Columbo finds out about Lydia’s call to the house, and how Corman and David fled to her assistance. The plot thickens!

Things then take a dark twist, as we cut to Corman at home urging Horace to have Lydia committed to an asylum to keep her out of Columbo’s clutches. Apparently, Lydia spent some time under psychiatric observation after the death of her first husband. Horace is aghast at the idea, but Corman is floating the notion that only a sick mind would have put poison in Evans’ margarita, so having her locked up will be good for her. That’s some seriously tough love Wesley is dishing out!

Columbo rings the house requesting an audience, so Corman and uber-wimp David arrange to meet him at a frigging night club, which seems to be full of 40-somethings dressed badly and dancing worse. The Lieutenant challenges the pair about their concealment of Lydia’s call to the poker match, and they come clean, admitting moving Evans’ corpse to protect dear Lydia.

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown
The Lieutenant warms up for Columbo Likes the Nightlife

The Lieutenant finally collars the demure ginger on her own the next day and asks her why she rang her husband and not 911 when Evans perished. Lydia claims she did ring 911 on the speed dial, and when Columbo tests it, it does indeed go through to the emergency services. Even stranger, several of Lydia’s digitalis pills are missing from her bottle and she claims to have no idea why.

Rather than putting her under lock and key, Columbo’s belief in Corman’s guilt only deepens as he secures some telling circumstantial evidence. The stub of a parking ticket found on the windshield of Evans’ crashed car shows he had been at the building where Corman’s dental practice is on the day he died. While it doesn’t prove he and Corman met, it’s very suspicious.

The Lieutenant therefore tails Corman to the race track, where he and his pals are enjoying success on the gee-gees. In a classic unsettling move, Columbo ruins Corman’s afternoon by insinuating that the matches were placed in Evans’ pocket deliberately, and the car left in neutral deliberately to ensure police were able to trace the death back to Lydia.

He takes things further, however, by demonstrating Lydia’s innocence. According to the autopsy, Evans drank two margaritas before his death. But there was so much digitalis residue left in the second glass, it suggests a dose so high that he’d have died before finishing his first. Ergo, the digitalis wasn’t in the margaritas when he drank them – it was planted later.

Who could have done that? The same person who reprogrammed the phone to ring the poker match instead of 911 – and then re-reprogrammed it to ring 911 when next tested. And that person can only be… Wesley Corman! However, the detective admits he doesn’t have nearly enough evidence to make an arrest and the ultra-smug dentist sure ain’t confessing.

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown Wesley Corman
Corman’s Stan Laurel impression was a hit at weddings and bar mitzvahs

A trip to his own dentist provides Columbo with food for thought when he subsequently bites and gashes the inside of his cheek before the novocaine injection wears off. The wound is a match for the one found on the inside of Evans’ cheek.

Seeking further inspiration, Columbo enlists Horace to help unravel how Corman could have poisoned Evans at a secret dental appointment. They can’t figure it out until a chance discussion about the dissolving coating of pills sets off a light bulb in the Lieutenant’s head. That’s how Corman killed Evans – he coated the digitalis, hid it in a cavity, and the coating wore away hours later when Evans was lying in sin with Lydia.

The theory seems sound, but how to prove it? With Horace’s aid, Columbo sets up a trademark set-piece to draw out the killer. Summoning Corman to police HQ, the Lieutenant outright accuses him of murder by mixing digitalis with a time-release medical gel, which was subsequently absorbed through his gums, causing the fatal coronary. The body has been exhumed, and when traces of digitalis are found in the mouth, Corman will be convicted of murder.

To achieve this, Columbo needs to complete a brief chemistry experiment. He divulges that a tiny speck of digitalis will turn the porcelain enamel of a crown blue when catalysed by moisture at body temperature, and proceeds to demonstrate his point using a kiddies’ chemistry set.

When he tips warm water on a crown that he claims has been pre-prepared with digitalis, it immediately turns blue. “And you know what, doc?,” Columbo chides Corman. “When we pull that porcelain crown from Adam Evans’ mouth, you can bet your eye tooth that the underside of it is going to be stained blue.”

Horace eagerly steps forward, keen to extract the tooth that will seal his hated son-in-law’s doom. But before he can do so, Corman stops the sideshow. The habitually useless gambler folds like a concertina in a Frenchman’s hands and admits his guilt before being roughly dragged away by uniformed officers. A smirking Horace, meanwhile, leads a disgusted Lydia home.

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown
Columbo’s chemistry skillz evidently rival Sherlock’s! Who knew?

The medical examiner looks on in wry amusement. Digitalis on porcelain wouldn’t do a thing, he says. The only thing that would turn the crown blue is common laundry bluing. As he says this, Columbo reveals tell-tale blue marks on his own shirt. “Laundry bluing, is that a fact?” he utters, striking an innocent pose as credits roll…



My memories of Uneasy Lies the Crown

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown James Read
Smarm personified: Wesley ‘Douchebag’ Corman

I’ll be able to keep this short because I hardly remember anything about this one other than the smarminess of the murderer, the use of digitalis hidden under a tooth as a means of murder and the ghastly celebrity poker match.

I couldn’t recall a thing about the victim, nor Lydia Corman, nor her family members, nor even the gotcha moment. I’ve seen this episode only a few times (and not for several years) and it has made very little impression on me – usually a bad sign. Will Uneasy Lies the Crown pull a few pleasant surprises when viewed with fresh eyes? I certainly hope so…

Episode analysis

Before leaping into a full analysis of Uneasy Lies the Crown, it’s essential to consider the history of the story, which was created by no less a writer than Steven Bochco (he of Murder by the Book, LA Law and NYPD Blue fame) way back in 1972 with the intent for it to form part of Columbo Season 2.

Many ardent fans of the series are aware that the episode was rejected at the time and put on mothballs, but not all know precisely why, as varying reasons are given on the internet – including that Peter Falk didn’t think the script or killer was interesting enough. However, I have it on excellent authority from Columbo author (and Peter Falk confidant) Mark Dawidziak that the truth of the matter is quite different.

Peter’s mama Madeline put the kibosh on Uneasy Lies the Crown

He alleges that show creators Richard Levinson and William Link took Peter Falk and his mother Madeline out for dinner to celebrate the success of Columbo’s debut year, and to talk about what would come next. Keenly interested in what the future held for her son, Madeline asked for a run-down of what stories were in the bag for Season 2 – and it was she that gave Uneasy Lies the Crown the kiss of death.

According to Dawidziak, Madeline couldn’t conceive that the audience would buy into a dentist being a murderer. Her doubts convinced Falk to reject the script, which was quietly tucked away into the vaults at Universal. There would be a dastardly medic in Columbo’s second season, but it would be ice-cold killer surgeon Barry Mayfield in A Stitch in Crime, not wicked dentist Wesley Corman.

You can’t keep a good man down, though, and Bochco’s story would be resurrected, Lazarus-like, in 1977 when it was released under the title of An Affair of the Heart as part of the sixth season of McMillan and Wife (at which point Police Commissioner McMillan was no longer married – go figure!).

I watched this in order to write the review (you can access it on Dailymotion here) and to analyse how the original treatment compared to the Columbo version of 1990, and I can tell you it’s extremely similar; the key difference being we don’t see Corman (here played by Larry Hagman) tampering with Evans’ crown as McMillan didn’t follow Columbo’s inverted mystery formula.

That aside, it’s pretty much beat-for-beat the same in terms of characters, clues and plot – although McMillan did include a ludicrous attempt by Corman to kill McMillan via a home-made car bomb, which is so stupid it surely wasn’t part of Bochco’s original Columbo teleplay.

There’s no elaborate charade to force Corman’s confession, either; instead, sensible use of dental x-rays prove Evans’ crown had been taken out and replaced, while traces of digitalis were found on it to seal Corman’s fate (although he does then try to escape after taking his receptionist hostage at gunpoint – another dubious inclusion).

McMillan and Wife An Affair of the Heart
Larry Hagman was the original Wesley Corman in 1977 McMillan and Wife romp ‘An Affair of the Heart’

Having now watched both versions, it’s safe to say that McMillan’s 70s’ setting helped greatly to enhance the aesthetic charm of the episode, while the cast was a darn sight better, too. However, it can’t disguise the fact that this just isn’t a great story for either of the iconic policemen. I actually find it mind-boggling that a Columbo that was rejected in 1972 was deemed strong enough to be exhumed 18 years later – especially after the story had already been televised on McMillan!

Uneasy Lies the Crown doesn’t even try to hide its connections to the past by changing character names. It simply boldly retells the same story with the same characters, making only slight cosmetic changes, padding out scenes to lengthen the running time, and adding in the tedious sub-plot about laundry bluing to make the gotcha much more confusing than in the original. That’s a pretty poor return in my opinion.

“I find it mind-boggling that a Columbo that was rejected in 1972 was deemed strong enough to be exhumed 18 years later.”

Still, let’s consider Uneasy on its own merits and start off by examining central villain Wesley Corman. I can’t say I rate James Read terribly highly in terms of charisma, but he does portray Corman’s odious qualities to a tee. This is a guy so desperate to keep his grubby mitts on his father-in-law’s riches that he’s willing to see his wife either jailed or packed off to the asylum! He’s a vile specimen of manhood who deserves everything he has coming to him.

Though he may be utterly repellant, the show made the error of making Corman too stupid to be a truly great villain. It’s hinted at that he’s a bit of a liability as a dentist (although that doesn’t explain how he maintains a client base awash with celebrities), but surely a man who conceives of such a brilliant plan as to place poison within a slow-release medical gel could have avoided undoing his good work by spiking the dregs of the margarita mix with so much digitalis powder.

Columbo James Read
“Whaddya mean my haircut would be more appropriate on a 15-year-old?”

I’m aware that he wants police to suspect foul play and investigate Lydia, but Corman is aware how little digitalis is required to kill, and therefore putting so much of it in the margarita mix is a gaffe of mammoth proportions. We’re told he’s not much of a chemist, but even the class dunce would realise that such an act could only blow a hole in his scheme a mile wide.

As a comparison, think of Stitch in Crime’s Barry Mayfield. He was such a brilliant baddie because he was so smart and so ruthless. It made his downfall ultra-sweet. Corman, on the other hand, makes it far too easy for Columbo to nail him, severely blunting the impact of a gotcha scene that really ought to have been punch-the-air satisfying.

Even Corman’s set-up of switching Adam Evans’ appointment to an earlier time of day so he could send his staff off for lunch and avoid witnesses is ridiculous. Hundreds of people could have seen the movie star take the elevator to the dental surgery and place him in Corman’s company on the day he died, despite the yarn that he’d cancelled his appointment.

It’s a risk of Titanic proportions for a murderer to take. Far more plausible (and so easy to include in the script) would have been to have Corman ask to meet him right at the end of the day after sending his staff home, when there would be less likelihood of witnesses. Not having Evans be a hugely recognisable movie star might also have been a sensible call. Why not just make him a handsome, wealthy businessman whom passers-by would never remember?

If I’m being charitable, I’m guessing we’re supposed to interpret Corman’s failings of being a second-rate dentist and abysmal gambler as reasons why he’d make the errors and take the risks that ultimately doom him. Still, you’d expect a betting man to put up more of a front at the end when he utterly falls for Columbo’s bluff and admits his guilt before Horace can extract Evans’ crown.

Odd time to break out the holiday snaps, Lieutenant, but it’s your party…

Everything we see of Corman throughout the episode indicates a man who doesn’t fold – even when the going’s tough. He has nothing more to lose by letting the tooth be pulled, yet he meekly submits – letting Columbo off the hook and delivering a gotcha that can only be described as tepid at best. In all these examples, the writing is at fault and the impression I get from watching is of a story that’s been rushed into production, rather than one that has been gathering dust for the best part of two decades.

There are other aspects of the story that disappoint, too, not least Columbo’s use of laundry bluing to trick his opponent. This appears to have been added in especially for Uneasy, and to put in bluntly, it sucks. I mean, who even knows what laundry bluing is today anyway? It makes for a clue that has dated terribly and only sullies the waters at the end of the episode when the damning evidence was already right there in a suitably strong form in the original treatment.

The Lieutenant inferring that both he and Evans’ bit their own cheeks due to novocaine injections is a suitably Columbo-like deduction to have led him to check dental x-rays and discern (with Horace’s help) that Evans’ crown was tampered with on the day he died.

From there, I’d have been quite happy for Columbo to simply have the crown extracted and find trace amounts of digitalis below it that force Corman to confess. Sure, this might have made for a less dramatic finale, but it would have felt a whole lot more realistic, made Columbo seem like a real detective instead of a show pony, and prevented there being such inconsistency at the heart of the Corman character.

Wesley, however, ain’t the only member of the Corman household that I struggle to take seriously. Lydia is a strangely written character who comes across as such an insipid husk that the idea of all-action hero Adam Evans falling for her after a chance meeting at a party seems rather far-fetched.

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown Jo Anderson
I’m… so… ronery… so ronery… so ronery and sadry arone…

The Lydia we meet in McMillan and Wife was much stronger, and in fine fettle both mentally and physically (Horace was the one with the heart problem there). Her past trauma and enfeebled state in Uneasy make Lydia a pathetic and pitiable figure against whom Corman’s actions seem all the more beastly, but as a character in her own right she’s completely bland – a criticism that can be levelled at much of the supporting cast, including Lydia’s laughably weedy brother David, whom I wouldn’t entrust to open a bag of crisps, let alone clear up a crime scene.

Speaking of the support cast, I guess now is as good a time as any to raise the horrendous spectre of the celebrity poker match that Columbo gatecrashes when checking up on Corman’s alibi. I’d forgotten quite how bad this scene is, but it’s a shocker that is both hammy to the max and agonisingly drawn out (albeit notable for Ron Cey becoming the first human to wear a full shell suit on network television).

“Watching the celebrity poker scene unfold is like having teeth pulled without the benefit of anaesthetic.”

Quite whose idea it was to dredge up this cavalcade of D-Listers (including former McMillan and Wife regular Nancy Walker – what a scream!) remains to be seen, but one can only assume it was a put-upon work experience lad who never worked in television again. The scene is boring, gratuitous and hopelessly unfunny, reducing the Columbo character to cooing like a star-struck teen, but with none of the charm of his meeting with, say, Nora Chandler in Requiem for a Falling Star.

Aptly for an episode with a dental theme, watching this scene unfold is like having teeth pulled without the benefit of anaesthetic. Let us never speak of it again…

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown Nancy Walker Dick Sargent
The Chuckle Brothers were double booked, so these two got the gig instead

Annoyingly, after seeming to have rediscovered his mojo in the preceding trio of episodes, Falk’s Columbo is back to showing strains of extreme silliness – a trait regular readers will know I’ve been sincerely lamenting since his comeback in Columbo Goes to the Guillotine.

I object to the broader comedic characterisation re-employed at times here, which undermines the steelier Lieutenant of recent adventures. His introduction in Uneasy, where he can’t fathom how to rig up a plug-in police light for his car before galloping off to flag down a motorcycle cop, is particularly infuriating as it makes him out to be an imbecile.

I don’t mind Columbo playing the fool to downplay his threat level to a suspect. When he’s just shown to be a fool for no good reason, however, my blood boils. This arm-waving clown brings back unwelcome memories of the Lieutenant soothing a frightened pot plant in Guillotine, or running around yelling and rummaging in bins in Sex and the Married Detective.

Also of note (although less offensive) are some inconsistencies around Columbo himself. For one thing, he asks for coffee with cream at the Cormans’ house, when even the greenest fan knows he takes it black. He also states that he’s been on the force for 22 years, which would mean that he had literally just started his career in Prescription: Murder. Gimme a break! Either this is a nod to his 1968 screen debut, or no one updated Bochco’s original script, which would have (realistically) backdated Columbo’s career commencement to the early 50s.

Do little things like this really matter? I suppose not, but slip-ups like these shouldn’t happen to such a firmly established character and are indicative of either a slap-dash approach or a failed attempt at humour. Bah humbug!

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown
STOP! In the name of love!

To avoid readers becoming too depressed, I’ll gloss over the awfulness of the night club rendezvous (arrgh!), the extreme unlikeliness of Evans being exactly where Corman wanted him to be at the time of his death (yaroo!), and Falk’s appalling orangey hair dye job (aieeeee!) and seek, instead, the crumbs of comfort that can be found tucked beneath the episode’s gumline.

Firstly, the murder itself is clever and memorable, even if the most wasn’t made of it. Secondly, Wesley Corman is enjoyably sub-human in his motives, making him one of the least redeemable Columbo killers of all and someone whose downfall we can justifiably celebrate. Thirdly, Paul Burke was pleasingly vindictive as Horace Sherwin, and gave a lot more energy to his performance than Read mustered as Corman.

There’s a nice extended scene of Columbo haranguing Corman at the race track, which had the feel of one of his great tussles from the classic series about it. Elsewhere, 70s Columbo regular John Finnegan is granted a small cameo as a lurgy-ridden café owner (with woeful hand sanitation skills), while the episode title is a nice throwback to the witty titles of the past. That aside, though, it’s pretty uninspiring.

In spite of all my grievances, Uneasy Lies the Crown falls short of being a complete train wreck. If it had originally aired in the 70s, it could conceivably be considered a tolerable, if forgettable, entry to the timeline, perhaps on par with Lovely but Lethal or Dead Weight. That’s a big if, though. The sad fact is that this wasn’t deemed good enough for Columbo’s classic era. So, why was it deemed good enough years later when the story had already aired as a McMillan and Wife? It makes no sense.

I can’t overcome the feeling that Uneasy’s ship had sailed long before 1990, making its belated addition to the canon a decision that rather sums up the near-enough-is-good-enough approach all too prevalent in Columbo’s revival run.

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown
Columbo’s face here ably expresses my feelings toward the episode

How I rate ’em

While not exactly a disaster, Uneasy Lies the Crown is a toothless affair with plenty of pain points that really should never have been resurrected. It represents a giant backwards leap for Season 9 after three promising episodes and just goes to show that even a name as great as Steven Bochco’s can’t guarantee a hit.

Missed any of my earlier ‘new Columbo’ episode reviews? You’ll find them via the links below.

  1. Agenda for Murder
  2. Columbo Cries Wolf
  3. Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
  4. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
  5. Sex & The Married Detective
  6. Murder, A Self Portrait
  7. Murder, Smoke & Shadows
  8. Uneasy Lies the Crown
  9. Grand Deceptions

If you want to check out any of my ‘classic era’ episode reviews, or see how I rank them all in order, click here. If Uneasy Lies the Crown acts as sweet anaesthesia to your troubled soul, you can vote for it in the fans’ favourite episode poll here.

Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown
After a few shots of novocaine, Uneasy Lies the Crown is perfectly palatable

I’ll be most interested to hear your views on this one, as they may differ considerably to my own. Were you aware that the story had already been told on McMillan and Wife? If not, has it changed your perception of the value of this episode? Let the debate commence.

After getting all that off my chest, imagine my delight when I realised the next stop on my Columbo marathon is Murder in Malibu – an episode derided by the masses in which the Lieutenant says ‘panties’ far more often than can be considered acceptable. Has the promise of Season 9 completely evaporated? Check back soon to find out…


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Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown
The guy on the right is either sitting down or auditioning for The Hobbit
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55 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Uneasy Lies the Crown

  1. This question is out of left field (whatever that means) but I’m asking it here inasmuch as “Uneasy Lies The Crown” borrows a plot and a guest star from “The Rock Hudson Show”.

    Is there any chance one day of Columbophile giving us an article on Columbo’s stablemates in the “Sunday Mystery Movie” and “Wednesday mystery Movie” slots?

    I think that this would help put the entire “Columbo” series in context as the best cop show on TV. As I understand it, the other shows were originally created as vehicles for popular stars, as Peter Falk did not want to do a typical weekly series.

    Shows such as “McMillan and Wife”, “McCloud” and “Banacek” were very popular in their day, but in the UK we always looked forward the most to the show about the little guy in the old raincoat. And what was it that made Columbo stand out from these other shows? So much so that while the others have not been seen in the UK in decades, 5USA gives us 12 solid hours of Columbo every Sunday.

    Who remembers the Snoop Sisters? Faraday and Company? Cool Million? I always liked Columbo the best, but any “Mystery Movie” was always an event.

    I know of at least two shows with connections to Columbo: “Amy Prentiss” starring Jessica Walter (“Mind Over Mayhem”) as a chief of police and “Tenafly” starring James McEachin (“Etude In Black”, “Make Me A Perfect Murder”) as a family man private eye.

     
  2. I thought the poker game was a sweet gesture, honoring forgotten stars. Columbo’s reaction to their presence seemed to come off as delightfully impressed. I’ll be in a poker game myself someday in some way , I hope!

     
  3. My wife and i were just watching an old episode of Cheers 1982 titled “Friends, Romans, and Accountants”. There was a younger James Read as Norms (George Wendt) boss. Of course at the bar is Coach (Nicholas Colasanto).One episode, 2 Columbo murderers and a director of 2 stellar episodes.

     
  4. Although this is just an educated guess, I believe that the story for “Uneasy Lies the Crown” (1990) was likely resurrected primarily because of the publication of Susan Crane Bakos’ 1988 book, “Appointment for Murder.” Bakos’ book concerned a dentist-hitman named Glennon Engleman, who had planned and carried out at least seven murders for monetary gain over the course of 30 years. Engleman was a dentist that could kill without remorse, enjoyed planning murders, and liked the challenge of disposing of the bodies. His motives were almost always the same: getting money and perpetuating his lifestyle. Engleman’s first murder was accomplished by collaborating with his ex-wife. Engleman’s ex-wife married another man, increased his life insurance, and then Engleman killed him, with both sharing in the proceeds. Engleman used his financial resources and charm to manipulate women he was close to, including ex-wives, lovers and his dental assistant, in helping him to carry out his elaborate murder schemes. So, if you have any notion that a dentist couldn’t be a murderer, as Peter Falk’s mother appears to have had much earlier in the history of this story for “Uneasy Lies the Crown,” please put that notion out of your head.

    As for the quality of the episode, standing alone, “Uneasy Lies the Crown” doesn’t rank among the best. But it’s still good enough to engage and entertain even discerning Columbo fans. In particular, I found that actor James Read turned in a fine and credible performance as the Dr. Corman character. And, for me, the most interesting aspect of the Columbo “formula” is the interaction between Columbo and the murderer. Here, the interactions between Columbo and Dr. Corman are well written and the performances of Peter Falk and Dr. Corman are both first rate. The following scene is just such an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osKX_A5ky-0&t=5s

     
    • PS: I just realized that I had posted a comment about the YouTube scene I referenced above. I wrote more than a year ago that “James Read as Dr. Corman is terrific. Smooth, assured, arrogant, and charming scoundrel. The perfect foil to the good Lieutenant.” Watching the clip today, my opinion hasn’t changed.

       
  5. I like this episode, although I agree that it’s ridiculous for Wesley to claim that Adam cancelled his appointment, when they go to the trouble of showing us two screaming lady fans getting his autograph when he arrived at the building. I think you are being a bit hard on the celebrities at the poker game though. Remember, this is only 1990 and both Nancy Walker and Dick Sargent would be fondly remembered by anyone who’d seen TV in the 1970’s.

    And it is a hoot actually to have Nancy Walker from “The Rock Hudson Show”, a nod to Columbo’s Mystery Movie stablemate, McMillan & wife, as well as to the episode of that series that this story was based on. They needed to establish that Wesley was a dentist with lots of celebrity clients, and the alternative would have been to make up fake celebs that Peter Falk would pretend to recognise. That’s fine for Adam Evans, the victim, but it’s much better if the audience recognise them for who they truly are as well.

     
    • Hi Great to see another review up and about , this came out last Sunday just as Uneasy lies the crown was being aired on 5 USA which i watched
      I agree with most of the review but from the point of view of a viewer who wasn’t aware of any other shows that this episode replicates its perfectly good viewing
      i actually find this episode very watchable and in my opinion its a tad underrated and I am going to be honest I am surprised that CP rates this lower than Murder smoke and shadows because I think the murder plot ie the poisoned crown ,Margarita , the telephone call etc is far better technically than Alex Brady luring Lenny to an eclectic fence on a deserted film studio and I just also think uneasy lies the crown is far better in general , I do admit that the poker match scene when columbo interrupts scene is very unfunny and drawn out but has a pay off as it gives columbo a major clue and to be fair all the new episodes have a longer running time and their fair share of padding so It dosent damn the episode too much for me , I think that James reads acting is fine in this so I am a little astonished to see it rated so low but I do suppose it wont end up too near the bottom once there all reviewed there are plenty episodes less watchable and than this and I am hoping Cp places Next up Murder in malibu
      bottom under Grand deceptions in the chart because that is a dreadful episode in my Opinion .

       
  6. This is not one of my favorite episodes, because I don’t really like the dishonest cheats that Columbo sometimes pulls in order to win, and because I have a sneaking admiration for the killer. Our dentist may be a loser and a gambler, but he is also a husband and a member of the family. His wife is cheating on him, and set to leave him, and his family is in the process of withdrawing all of the support it formerly provided. What he says at the end is essentially true “What I did to you is no worse than what you had planned for me.” In other words, his life would have been over. I was actually quite happy to see the adulterers suffer, as lover-boy dies in the act as it were, while the insipid and professionally helpless woman was set up to take the blame for his death. Of course, I knew that it wouldn’t end that way, but a large part of me wished that it would have. Occasionally I wish that Columbo wasn’t assigned to the case…

     
    • Well, that’s two of us against the world. Mind you, we have to have Columbo, tricks and all.
      I am fond of gamblers. They provided me with luxury cars, trips around the world, beautiful watches etc.
      Mind you, most were leisure gamblers, very few real gamblers and even fewer compulsive gamblers.
      It was more about the social side, getting away from your spouse to have a smoke, passing dud cheques…quite a few of those and the very high return percentage plus the great game, the most popular in the country…devised and programmed by big mouth here.

      Yes those last words….

       
  7. Ummmmmmm, I like this episode.
    I like James Read(even his hairstyle and wardrobe-don’t tell CP 🤫).
    I like seeing Nancy Walker(she was on TV as the Bounty paper towel spokeswoman from 1970-1990 in the US and she was on the show “Rhoda”).
    I like when people do impersonations.
    I never watched Bewitched and I didn’t know Ron Cey but I thought the poker scene was fun.
    The lurgy-ridden diner host Columbo visited was difficult to watch during a pandemic. He could’ve started a pandemic with his exceedingly poor hygiene habits. Good grief! Fun read.

     
  8. Another classy review with even more information than can be expected. Peter Falk’s mother interfering with her son’s series – I have never before heard of that. But if she was so fond of doctors, why wouldn’t she have destroyed the “Stitch in Crime” plans as well? In fact, the murders of both doctors would have been quite similar, as both of them were using a method to delay the time of death by a self-dissolving medical material. Two scripts of that kind wouldn’t have fitted in the same 1972 season.
    The review didn’t only cause hunger for a Columbo rewatch, it made me even more curious to rewatch “Affair of the Heart”, the penultimate McMillan case. I rate both versions as “good but far from outstanding”. In the McMillan version, unfortunately the best scene from the Columbo version is missing: the humorous “I know that you did it but I can’t tell you how you did it” conversation between Columbo and Corman. At least, the worst scene is missing as well in the 1977 version: the celebrity poker scene.
    I’m looking forward to the November review of “Malibu”, hopefully someday joining the Z list.

     
  9. An okay episode by the standards of the new series – I actually thought the impressionist at the poker game was pretty good – but I had no idea of the history of this episode and that it was done as a ‘Mcmillan and Wife’ episode – that does knock it down a few pegs for me.

    This prompted me to look up ‘Mcmillan’ – don’t know if this was ever shown in the UK – and the plots of some of the episodes sound a bit bonkers- was it a send up? The DVD boxset is very expensive but it ran for 6 series so I assume had something going for it?

     
    • If you enjoy the NBC Mystery Movie format for its 70’s atmosphere, you will like “McMillan & Wife”. Rock Hudson as the Chief Commissioner and Susan Saint James as his pretty wife, who somehow always gets involved in his cases and helps him out with smart combinations, make for a charming pair in the first five seasons. The wife was killed off (by a plane accident) in 1976, so in the final season, the series was named “McMillan” only and in “Affair of the Heart” (the Corman case), he is kissing another woman. I’m glad to have the DVD’s in my collection and meanwhile I saw each episode at least twice.

       
      • In those last seasons of “McMillan And Wife” Mac and Sally had a baby! I guess this child also perished in the plane crash, as there is never any further mention of him? I think it was a boy?

         
  10. To be honest I thought the treatment to be administered to our dentist fiend by the family was pretty harsh. Lydia was so hopelessly miscast that it would have been rather satisfying to see her dragged off early and then let the episode unravel without her, finally establishing her innocence in a more convincing ending.
    I understand CP taking umbrage with this particular episode. His insight is testament to his devotion to Columbo.

    Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed the episode apart from Columbo giving his usual fawning performance at that poker game. He will be hard put to top that, although he did fail to mention Mrs Columbo.
    I have an interest in the addictive personality because I occasionally came across it in my business as a slot machine manufacturer. Most of them would accept the refusal of credit, some would damage the machines others became malicious. One lady got so upset, she laid all sorts of false charges against the club casino owner.

    Keep up the good work CP. if I was still the millionaire I used to be, plenty of coffee for you. Sadly, thanks to legislative changes, corporate greed and government greed I am temporarily suspended from my former lifestyle. One day, it may be different.

     
  11. I agree with all of CP’s criticisms of the episode, but I still like it. James Read is just a pleasant person to have around, even when he’s playing a character as evil as Wesley Corman. The other actors are likable too; even that embarrassing gotcha is partly redeemed by the way the medical examiner delivers the line “Digitalis on porcelain- that won’t do anything.” I grant you that isn’t much, but it’s far more than “Murder in Malibu” has to offer.

     
    • I’m with you Acilius. Struggling to explain why I enjoyed such an obviously flawed episode, but it had a lot to do with the easy-going Read. Oh he’s an A-one jerk all right but personalitywise an interesting change of pace from the usual stuffy, conceited, angry Columbo villain. Smarmy? Yes. But not arrogant. He may have been stupid, but he seemed pretty aware of his own stupidity, second-rate dental skills, lack of gambling/investment success, etc. He knows he’s a loser. Yet he remains congenial, hoping against hope for that one big score that will make him a winner. One can almost understand why a few celebs might want to play poker with their friggin dentist (as long as he keeps losing, of course). Corman mostly treats Columbo with respect, only finally tiring of him at the racetrack after being incessantly hounded during his favorite hobby. Even then, he remained polite, staring down the gas chamber with a smile on his face.

      And as another poster noted, this episode also benefits from teasing out the plan machinations gradually. As opposed to Etude in Black, for instance, where we see the entire plan unfold up front along with the carnation giveaway, here we get to wonder why he’s disposing of a body for the wife he wants to frame, what happened with the 911 call, how the wife’s past comes into play, etc.

      In the end all that amounts to smoke and mirrors that can’t carry the day, but at least we had fun getting to the disappointment. Similar in that sense to A Most Crucial Game, where Robert Culp and Peter Falk give us many great scenery-chewing moments but the plot and gotcha fall short.

       
    • Acilius, I also loved the M.E. character in this episode, but I like his previous line better: “Oh wow, are you bananas?” Only then do you realize that he’s watched the whole setup with a bemused expression, but never said a word.

       
  12. Marvelous synopsis. I enjoyed reading it more than watching that episode. I did have to look up 6 words and most appreciate the clear articulation!

     
    • I’m United States-side myself, so I always get a kick out of learning some of CP’s Aussie/British linguistic slang.

      Today’s words/phrases are: weedy…….beetles off…..scarpers back…..and – my favorite – lurgy-ridden.

       
      • Har-har, I love a good lurgy! Most people here in Oz haven’t got a clue what I mean when I reference lurgies, but I continue to use it in the hope of bringing into the popular lexicon.

         
  13. Isn’t it ironic that Columbo is tricked in Columbo Cries Wolf by Tina Hunter’s deliberately deceptive use of cream in her coffee while impersonating a person impersonating her–yes, I meant to say it that way–while the producers and script editors of this episode botch the Columbo coffee-with-cream incident? How could this happen?

    One suspects that Falk himself was less aware of the nuances of his character than we ourselves are. Does that make us all pathetic? Or does it suggest that Falk was “phoning it in” at this point? Maybe both.

     
  14. Giving string bets in the voice of John Wayne makes the practice no more forgivable. And does that guy go through each one of his impressions every week? Who’d ever invite him back?

    The idea that Ron Cey would regularly hang out with Nancy Walker, or vice versa, makes very little sense. Dick Sergeant’s pathetically desperate extended plea for Columbo to finally recognize him was paaaaainful.

     
  15. Despite its flaws, clearly stated by Columbophile, Crown is still an enjoyable episode, with a worthy step-up, the most interesting aspect of it. In that sense, I’m not as damning as our host, though, as it presently makes the 6th place in my list of reviewed episodes.

     
  16. Another fantastic review by CP.
    I loved the idea of this murder, but was let down by the gotcha. The race track scene was grating. And the guy doing all the impersonations at the poker game was infuriating, and it didn’t age well. I’d venture to say that most people outside of L.A. or 80’s baseball fandom don’t know who Ron Cey is.
    The killer was perfect for this role, in my opinion, with his smugness. My problem was with the other three actors: his wife, the victim, and the father-in-law. I thought they were awfully acted.
    Still, an enjoyable “new episode” as a whole, despite it’s several shortcomings.
    When compared to the next episode “Murder in Malibu,” “Uneasy” is a masterpiece. Overall, though…..I’d say it cracks the top 10 of the “new” episodes, but not the top five.

     
  17. Hey, some of the other people at the poker game can be dismissed as “Y-list celebs” but not Nancy Walker. She had a long and distinguished career. She starred with Peter Falk in the 1976 movie Murder by Death, so it’s good they made enough of a connection that they wanted to work together again.

     
    • Instantly recognizable actors Nancy Walker and Dick Sargent were never Y list in their lifetime- in the US, anyway. I enjoyed their scene.
      In agreement on “why would the tv star be attracted to Lydia?” head scratcher
      It’s funny you put it on par with Lovely and Dead; to me, solid and entertaining episodes. As always, funny article.

       
      • source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A-list

        LOL! Unless “Y-List” is satirical code for “invisible obscurity” the rating would probably be assigned to professional “Extras” at best. Like those in Perry Mason’s courtroom gallery for example, who made it a habit to fill in recurring positions without being notices. In fact there is actually a PM trivia page (and MeTV shout-out) which tries to identify them when possible!

        Back to Nancy Walker and Dick Sargent. Hardly comparable. Except that Sargent was always the “other guy” in Bewitched. And probably never forgiven for it. Who seemed satisfied to get any gig at all. While Nancy Walker was a well trained stage, screen and television actress with select credits in her wiki resume. Seemingly to choose roles of substance over volume. Perhaps most easily remembered as MacMillan & Wife’s intrusive housekeeper or as nosey Ida Morgentern in Rhoda (42 episodes!).. Simply capitalizing on her own very “supporting character” obnoxiousness!!

        source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Walker

         
        • PacificSun, it’s funny you mention Dick Sargent and his possible inferiority complex; I had a thought that it would have been hilarious if Columbo had looked at him and simply said, “I liked the first Darrin better.”

           
  18. What a pity Larry Hagman himself never ended up as a ‘Columbo’ villain… if this episode had been made in the 1970’s, maybe he would have played Corman… and that would’ve been a-okay with me!!!

    And as for Mrs Falk not thinking a dentist could be a suitable villain being the reason for the script being shelved… c’mon… dentists have been making people terrified since time immemorial… they’re a uniquely terrifying profession!

    Not that I’m an anti-dentite or anything ;-).

     
  19. Another brilliant review, CP. I couldn’t agree more.

    Taken together with the episode’s history, there’s something rather sad about “Uneasy Lies the Crown.” What does it say about the series’ storehouse of brilliant story ideas that it had to resurrect a script which not only had long been rejected as a Columbo, but also one already relegated to one of Columbo’s NBC wheel-mates (renamed “McMillan” in its sixth and final season because Susan St. James had left the show)? Add in the next offering, “Murder in Malibu,” and the state of the Columbo idea cupboard in 1990 didn’t look very promising.

    The only thing that would justify dusting off this old script is if, one night, Steven Bochco woke suddenly, sat bolt upright, and shouted: “I’ve got it! After almost 20 years, I’ve finally cracked the ending to that dentist Columbo!” But something tells me that didn’t happen. If this ending was a new creation (it certainly isn’t in the “McMillan” version), it’s not a particularly satisfying one. Worse than that, it is one of the few Columbo solutions that diminishes my view of Columbo as a detective.

    I generally don’t mind when Columbo uses a fabrication to trick his prey into confessing (by word or deed). I didn’t mind it with Ray Flemming, Brimmer, Roger Stanford, Nora Chandler, Mark Halperin, Paul Galesko, or Mark Collier. [I did object in the case of Marshall Cahill; I drew the line at knowingly arresting an innocent person to force a confession.]

    Then why does this ending bother me so much? Is it any worse than what Columbo did to Nicholas Frame and Lillian Stanhope?

    Most Columbo fabrications are always a few steps removed from inventing direct proof of guilt. Columbo dangles a piece of bait, but the killer has to make the necessary leap to grab it on his or her own. This one, however, falsifies a smoking gun.

    After all, Columbo doesn’t show Brimmer a contact lens and claim it’s Lenore’s and was found in Brimmer’s shag carpet. He doesn’t have Daniel (or David) Morris say he saw Mark Collier when he didn’t. He shows Nora Chandler a Shriner’s ring in a phony envelope, fiddles with Artie Jessup’s file, and doctors Frances Galesko’s photo, but doesn’t create direct evidence placing Nora, Hugh or Mark, or Paul at the murder scene.

    Here Columbo lies blatantly and directly. He maintains that scientific proof exists which will identify the former presence of digitalis in the victim’s crown. He then conducts a completely bogus “science” experiment to illustrate this “proof,” when he knows there is no such scientific test. (Giving this latest fraud the aura of science makes it slightly worse than his “Dagger of the Mind” bead gambit for me.) No, he doesn’t tamper with the victim’s crown directly, but he comes about as close as he possibly can.

    Plus, after staging this complete lie with a chemistry set, Columbo doesn’t even get Wesley’s confession. All he gets is: “Forget it. Just forget it, will you? There’s no need. Just leave it be. … What I did is no worse than what you and your father had planned for me.” That’s not a murder confession. Try and convict anyone with that.

    I guess, by 1990, Mrs. Falk no longer was available to exercise quality control.

     
  20. Columbo Fans are indeed fortunate to have the Columbophile so earnestly reviewing episodes. What a great way to exchange conversation and make (especially) the re-watching more entertaining! Thank you for all the work that goes into the reviews! The reviews are never presented lightly or without deeper analysis!

    😉

    Just a note as to perspective.

    In today’s world we’re offered television in serialized form. Whether it’s done in the grand scheme of a period piece (like Game of Thrones) or not, they are often episodes intended to build upon themselves. We’ve often become indulged with strong story arcs playing out over sequential seasons. These can cause us to expect more than would’ve happened in previous decades. Although Dallas popularize that kind of presentation during Primetime TV in the 1980’s. Sure, there were a few (obvious) hiccups where characters were actually changed out (due to death/illness) but mostly stayed true to its continuity. Dallas actually had a complete storyline prefabbed from it’s initiation to conclusion, which was carried through just before Mr. Hagman’s death, when the final years played out on the TNT Network. Fortunate indeed for decade old fans!

    By contrast regarding other Shows, it’s our intense fandom that makes us watchful over so many details. The discovery and discussion about them extends the viewer’s appreciation! But most Shows in the day (much less per episode) didn’t count on the longevity of a Series that we’ve so taken for granted. Three seasons was considered successful! Five tremendously so. But spanning decades was a special phenomena and very unusual.

    It’s fun to have these details pointed out now, like who’ve would’ve noticed how Columbo takes his coffee, or thought much about the variation of doing do. In other words, how episodes stacked up against one another was never a prime concern of the production company. Which is a complicated process in and of itself being that different aspects of development actually overlap. Like soliciting new scripts, working them from story into teleplay. Editing for running time. Coordinating personnel logistics. Set designs, location shooting, sequencing individual schedules, all of which meant that the focus on minor details of a particular episode couldn’t be a singular effort. Of course the main concern was staying on budget, and the critical nature of getting every Show into the Network schedule! So what we have fun with in the spotting as continuity contradictions now, couldn’t be of equal concern back then.

    If you look at the totality of the Series it was probably mostly Mr. Falk and the reliability of frequently recurring producers who did as much as they could towards consistency (in terms of maintaining credibility). So the brilliance of the series that we see of today, was a hard won effort, and a nod to well-earned general quality and as much oversight as they could afford!!

     
    • Part of the Columbo brand was Quality. Continuity in character and stories is part of maintaining Quality. New Columbo seemed to give it an effort, but too often did not have its eye on the ball for Quality.

      If you made similar comments on a Star Trek message board, hundreds of thousands of heads would simultaneously explode.

       
      • As we see it now, correct. So naturally there’s disappointment when the “high bar” is missed. But the productions that just seem like an hour long version a TV show were the equivalent (in some cases) of made for TV movies! Such as Star Trek, Man from UNCLE and Columbo as it evolved. The attention is going to be paid on the characters’ performances. And general backstories (history, personalities, etc.). And when there’s a revolving door of writers, directors, and various department assistants, some continuity research is going to suffer. Although responsibility of continuity is actually a job title.

        It’s true, we’ve had these discussions on the MeTV platform. Star Trek was a particular exception that also had the luxury of being in the world of science fiction, to explain a lot of variations and contradictions (timeline). And in the beginning the only real “cannon” was in Gene Roddenberry’s head and through his direct delegates. It was those ardent, very intense original fans who started tracking everything. The real effort behind continuity (think about it) is the consistency of scene per scene. Which involves lighting, angles, blocking, very small nuances of performers that most viewers don’t think about. Position of hands, expressions and body posture (as synced with dialogue!). One scene (as everyone knows) is shot from multiple angles. And there are a hundred elements to monitor in the process. That’s time equals budget. And just another reason why the cost of labor and talent is so high. Each person is expected to be a master of their own craft.

        However, where the raincoat creases, or a difference in coffee preference, can be a matter of incidentals.

         
    • CP’s review is chocked full of very insightful observations and analysis. Among them, his comment about how Columbo takes his coffee is fairly minor — a notch above a throwaway. It hardly deserves this level of scrutiny.

      Columbo has a certain level of continuity, but by and large is a collection of separate, discrete inverted mysteries, best judged (and ranked) according to the cleverness of the killer, the crime, the clues and investigation, and the solution (among other episode-specific elements). I doubt that many people rank episodes in a continuing saga because each episode is a building block that cannot easily be segregated from the series as a whole.

      Nor do I believe that, if Columbo has taken his coffee black in this episode, it would have been any better a final product.

       
  21. I’d seen snippets of “Uneasy” before and knew that it was an unused Bochco 70s script. but thank you CP for filling in the backstory of this screenplay. If only we had gotten to see a pre-Dallas Larry Hagman baddie giving off stony stares and trading barbs with Peter Falk!

    Steven Bochco played a crucial role in bringing Columbo to life. “Murder By The Book” set the table and the standard for what was to come, and if that were his only contribution to the show, his storied place in Columbo history would still be assured. He was always strong in characterization, fashioned generally solid plots, and rarely succumbed to overly broad humor. However, he did have an Achilles heel – unfortunately, another Bochco trademark in a number of his 70s scripts was the shaky Gotcha. “Lady in Waiting” muffs the timing of Peter Hamilton’s big reveal that he heard the gunshots before the alarm and not after; Columbo suddenly pulls out last-second phone records of the Paris twins; nobody notices the flower on the floor that Benedict comes back to grab in “Etude in Black”; “Mind Over Mayhem” simply phonies up a case against Dr. Cahill’s son to squeeze a confession. These did not provide stirring conclusions to what were otherwise generally interesting and sturdy plots. If we want to acknowledge Bochco’s legendary status, we also have to acknowledge that he had a hard time sticking the landing of his scripts.

    Which brings us to “Uneasy”, unfortunately. As it is so often in New Columbo, the Gotcha is weak. Here, it’s that superfluous and completely unnecessary confession by Dr. Corman. Consider that Columbo only has a theory about the murder. Nobody has seen the victim’s porcelain crown! It’s a theory! Why not just sit tight for a minute and see what happens when the tooth is pulled? Corman has precisely nothing to gain by blurting out his mea culpa, and precisely everything to lose. Confessing at that point won’t even earn him any brownie points with the prosecutor. As CP notes, this speedy surrender is totally out of character for Corman. As I always say, a Columbo Gotcha doesn’t have to be outstanding (though of course it helps), it just has to be competent enough to be a satisfying wrap to the episode. This one’s a writer’s cop-out.

    As written, Corman’s motivations seem all over the map. His father-in-law has already angrily lambasted him and kicked him out of the practice for his shady dealings and general douche-itude, but Corman surmises that all will be wiped clean with this murder-frame-coverup scheme? When this indeed happens, it has the feel of a writer’s convenience. And how will this help Corman’s gambling debts? Daddy will go back to paying them off? That hardly seems likely.

    As an old script, I was interested to see if this episode had the feel of Bochco merely touching up his 70s work. But it appears more likely that someone in the New Columbo writer’s room hacked away at it mercilessly. As a Year 2 script, the bit where Columbo wants to use his police light was probably a small comic touch typical of the early classics. Here, having been on the force for decades, it is embarrassing (which, it should be noted, doesn’t get better by Falk making the performance decision to helplessly throw up his hands and run to the cop on the scene). The poker scene reeks of someone thinking it would be cute to have a meta moment where Columbo recognizes Nancy Walker as being from McMillan and Wife of the NBC Mystery Movie rotation. Hmmmm…..can Columbo tell us the other detectives that were featured?

    On the plus side, I liked the gradual revealing of Corman’s plan without battering us over the head with exposition. The viewer is unsure exactly what Corman is trying to accomplish, and we patiently pick up on the clues that he’s planting to create the frame and the phony “coverup” to “protect” his wife. In a broad sense, this tricky red-herring con job is also what drove “Columbo Cries Wolf”. The difference is that “Wolf” clumsily made Columbo look like a dimwitted detective dupe for most of the episode. Here, Bochco has Corman leave clues (both designed and accidental) that our smart lieutenant does indeed sniff out as bogus or pointing in another direction: the validated ticket, the matchbook in the shirt pocket, the car in Neutral, the margarita level in the blender. That’s a bit of decent, subtle plotting by Bochco.

    It’s a small moment of virtue in his script. Overall, meh. But at least it’s no Cop Rock (kids, go ahead and google it).

     
    • The scene at the race track and in the bar following were vintage Columbo. Columbo at his pesky best with his target visibly shaken into a mocking, defiant mode. It salvaged an otherwise mediocre episode. I take sack episode as stand alone entries and ignore lapses in continuity like Columbo srating his 22 years on the force. The poker game didn’t bother me.

       
    • Good comments Glenmn, and you’re write about rock-solid gotchas being a bit of an Achilles for Bochco. And you actually give him credit here for what I believe is an amendment from his original story with regard to the margarita levels in the blender, although you’d have had to have seen the McMillan episode to know.

      I believe that his original treatment (as shown in McMillan) featured the spiking of a decanter of brandy with some of Horace Sherwin’s digitalis pills. The entire decanter was taken for analysis revealing the high levels of digitalis in it. The Columbo episode makes Corman out to be far more stupid for putting SO MUCH digitalis in so little cocktail mix.

       
      • I don’t really understand Columbo’s reasoning behind the blender/glass clue. OK, sure enough, the amount of poison was so high the guy should have dropped dead after the first glass. But what makes him think that the blender was poisoned right away? A possible alternative is this: they prepare a drink, the victim downs the first glass, only after that for whatever reason Lydia poisons the blender, the guy pours his second glass, drinks, drops dead.

         
  22. Yes this episode had some flimsy aspects, the gotcha could have been better, the part where the ambulance driver had the victims matches in his pocket and gives them to Columbo only when mentioned was quite ridiculous, The corny poker games were ….well …corny. That being said i always really enjoyed this one, and it is easily in my top 10 of the new series. Sometimes scenes like the poker games are so corny, they are good, i also think James Read did a fantastic job as the sleazy killer, and was almost Fielding Chase like. Always found this to be a simply fun episode.

     
  23. Your comment of the episode is much better than the episode itself, CP. And I think you will surpass yourself on “Malibu”.
    However, Dr Wesley Corman may not be the cleverest vilain, he is the most vilain of all the vilains of the 69 episodes. His plan is the most perfidious of all. With a smile.

    I think I can understand Peter Falk’s mother, rejecting the story. What would happen if we all stopped trusting our dentists?

     
  24. I think the frustration here is that the set up for the murder was as good as any we’ve seen – but then everything collapses from then in, including arguably the worst gotcha ever

    Worryingly it’s only slightly below average for the ‘new’ series – thank goodness some of the next few episodes are for me the best of the reboot

    Incidentally, Ed McBain – who of course has two of his 87th precinct episodes covered by Columbo (ironic, that my favourite writer should be partly responsible for arguably the two worst episodes) wrote a story called ‘Poison’ in the mid-80’s which uses the same dentist, er, techniques to murder someone. I wonder if McBain got his inspiration from Bochco

     
  25. Interesting to read about the early seventies genesis, because I was just thinking how some of the stylish verbal interplay between Read and Falk reminded me of the classic Columbo duelling with the likes of Cassavetes, Culp, etc. You know the sort of thing, eg, “That’s very interesting, lieutenant, but I think you need something called evidence. And I don’t see any, do you ?”

     
    • Yeah, the scene at the race course when they were having just that type of conversation was arguably the episode highlight as it had the flavour of those classic verbal jousts.

       
  26. You sound a little steamed up over this episode!! I agree with what you say, great article! I found Columbo following the evil dentist around the horse racing stand very grating for some reason, certain aspects of this just seem to rub a person up the wrong way! I remember watching the poker part with different eyes, i recognised, from my childhood, the guy who was in Bewitched and felt a little wave of nostalgia, but apart from that, it did seem a little odd. Maybe my allowances for not expecting to recognise American ‘stars’ let me off the worst of this part of the episode 😬 I do still watch this episode, it’s not one I actively avoid, but it isn’t believable at the end, it all seems a little shoehorned together. Thanks for the enjoyable read! I’ll be pulling out my beloved Columbo Dvd collection later today 😀

     
    • These later Columbo episodes just never had the same elan of what you rightly called the “classic era.” These are just OK TV, like “Murder She Wrote,” “Matlock,” “Diagnosis Murder,” and those routine “Perry Mason” reunions. Funny how dated the late 80’s fashions, hairstyles and home decor look today, while the 70’s Columbos have an almost retro-charm.

       

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