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Look, we know what you’re thinking: This is by far one of our worst pun-based ideas. But Greg gets real pissy if we don’t let him just go to town roasting something, both literally and figuratively, every thirty days or so. And so we present: Columbo?
Well then. You’re either not living in an American-centric world, and this week isn’t a Designated Glutonny Day so you’re reading this at work, and/or you’ve already seen a thousand other posts about dry bird meat this weekend, and I don’t feel like piling on to either problem. Mostly though, I’m obstinately writing about the opposite of what I should be here. Defying expectations even when – especially when – it doesn’t make sense or makes this column actively worse, that’s the Meatwatch promise. It’s the main Bit I do here. Anyway, we’re going to talk about a show instead: Columbo.
Columbo, if you’re under the age of 40 and haven’t seen it, is the exact opposite of TikTok. Each episode is a lengthy TV movie from the 70s, and in its hour-plus runtime you will find zero car wrecks or dances. It is, straight up and unapologetically, an old person show. The main character, Columbo (we never learn his first name, it may as well be “Detective”), is laughably peak dirtbag. My man has got no drip, negative amounts of juice. He dresses exclusively in legendarily awful fits. He’s not even a dirtbag in the cool way, like Grinderman-era Nick Cave, he just comes off like an herb that doesn’t know what he’s doing. And yet somehow, the man has incredible swag. Peter Falk really was the GOAT.
I think the reason it works is that the entire time Columbo is mumbling his way through interrogations or fucking up lighting a cigar (the man made smoking look uncool, which is such a staggering achievement, my god), he’s actually Doing A Bit. Yes, this is a cop show, and Columbo works for the LAPD, which might be high in the running for the most dysfunctional and genuinely lawless police department on earth, which is somewhat problematic. Still, you gotta respect his commitment to the Bit.
Call it irony poisoning, call it having the Soul of a True Poster, but I can’t help myself. Doing something stupid on purpose and continuing to do it just to piss people off, that is the funniest thing, to me. That’s basically all Columbo does, his entire investigative style is acting like a stooge and being underestimated. It’s the rope-a-dope, laying in wait and letting your subject trap themselves in a corner, before springing it on them that you had them dead to rights the entire time. Something I like to do when watching Columbo is try and pinpoint exactly when He Knows. It’s usually early, when he locks onto a target and eventually death-rolls them directly into jail, but sometimes I wonder: as soon as he walks into the room and sees this mark, does he know then, even before they’ve opened their mouth to start lying?
For all but the very worst Bits, I still gotta hand it to the do-er for sticking to it. Meatwatch is a pretty good Bit, I think, but I lack the commitment to hold to more extreme positions, such as “any meat can compete in the modern lunch game” or “first-bite advantage is a solved problem”. Those are insanely good Bits to do. Unbelievable sicko energy, total divorce from reality wafting off of them. I respect anyone who can make that argument with a straight face long enough for the Bit to play out, but it’s not for me. I’m not powerful enough. Imagine looking at twelve thousand monthly words about the meta and popping back in every time, heedless of the circumstances of material reality, with “no it’s not”. I love it, I do. I truly adore the dedication it takes to do that. Re-skinning WarCom to be about Dragons, and changing the mouse cursor to be completely unreadable? Incredible. Slightly wish you hadn’t made your entire website difficult to click on, but it’s also pretty funny, so I support it.
At any rate, my deep appreciation for Columbo isn’t a Bit. I can’t even blame nostalgia for this – I didn’t grow up watching this show. It’s not the inversion of the whodunnit format that I love about Columbo. It’s not the slow pacing and utter lack of action. The only violence that ever happens in Columbo, the only time we see anyone moving faster than a slow stroll, is the initial murder (it is always a murder) in the first ten minutes. This leads to some truly outrageous pacing – I recently watched an episode that opens with a man playing piano before being shot dead within a minute, and closes with Columbo presenting the suspect with fingerprint evidence before instantly smashing to the credits seconds later.
Columbo is a lot of things, but he’s not a loose cannon. There’s no arguing with his sergeant and he doesn’t bend the rules even a little bit. He doesn’t get into car chases. I’m not even sure Columbo even moves, I think he appears when and where he’s least wanted, like the Tyrant in Resident Evil no-clipping through doors. Columbo never even carries a gun, let alone fires it, and the closest he comes to violating anyone’s rights is sticking a potato in a suspect’s tailpipe one time because he staked out the mechanic’s garage and I guess it was easier to make them take the car in than it would be for him to move his entire surveillance set-up? His process is to disarmingly present incriminating facts and dare the suspect to openly lie to him, ostensibly accept it, and then nail them to the wall after four or five iterations.
All of that is nice, who doesn’t want a leisurely hour and a half of talking to friends and doing crime, but it’s not the real appeal for me. Columbo rules because it’s one of the only places in popular American media where you get to see the ruling elite portrayed accurately. The crimes are always dumb as hell. Just obvious greedy schemes perpetrated by some dumbass who wants to get more money or cover up previous crimes. The culprit is always someone rich and powerful, and they’re shown as the venal idiot scumbags that sort of person always is, utterly out of touch with the world but entirely convinced of their mastery of it. It almost works for them, most of the time. They use all the privilege of their position to put together an alibi, and then lean on their connections to throw the cops off the case. They always seem clever but completely unlikable to start with, and it looks like they’re going to dodge the consequences of their actions, the way we know they always do. In the end, Columbo’s dogged determination to just not leave them alone is enough to reduce most of them to a raging mess. Howling like a petulant child who hasn’t gotten their way when he shows up at their palatial estate yet again to harass them. That’s what the elite do when faced with a problem of their own devising, is throw anyone they can under the bus and hope it works.
In the world of Columbo, if not the real one, it doesn’t take much to get accountability, turns out you can kind of just demand it and the clowns will fall into line. You get to watch CEOs and celebrities eat shit to a doofus cop. He’s a modern-day folk hero. It whips ass.
If you’re American, enjoy the long weekend, and if you aren’t, congratulations on not living in the worst and dumbest place in the entire world. Watch a show if you want.
Columbo is streaming on [checks rapidly-expanding list of paid streaming apps] Peacock? Thanks for sticking around, and making this column what it is: a little-read corner of this website that exists solely for me to waste your time and get yelled at. If you have questions or comments, let us know at email@example.com, or right here in the comments. Meatwatch is here to help.