The first episode of Mrs Columbo was about 90 minutes, but every subsequent episode has been around the 45 minute mark. This is significantly shorter than a Columbo episode, despite still showing us the murder first and then having Kate follow clues to solve it. That’s a lot to pack into such a short running time, and so far the pacing seems to be a bit off each week. This is probably the worst offender so far, because the build up to the crime is entirely necessary and works very well, but takes up over a third of the running time and still leaves questions unanswered. Inevitably, the only way to fit Kate’s investigation into the remaining half an hour is to make the clues quite easy to follow, and that has been another issue with this series.
In this episode, Claudette Nevins puts in an entertaining performance as Sybil, an incredibly rich woman whose husband is divorcing her, despite (or partly because of) a prenuptial agreement that gives Sybil control of all her finances. Her obviously younger husband Richard is played by Sam Groom, and he has been having an affair with Sybil’s young friend and business partner Patty (Trisha Noble, who also starred as Marcy in the Columbo episode Playback). Richard is planning to divorce Sybil and marry Patty, but Sybil has other ideas.
Once again, Kate is already involved in the murderer’s world before the crime takes place. Her journalism is the vehicle to get her in the right place at the right time, and that makes sense, but that doesn’t take away the element of coincidence, which is starting to wear a little thin. Kate just happens to be writing an article about Sybil and Patty’s business, and is helping out with serving food at a party to experience their world of high-priced finger food. This does at least speed up the process of Kate figuring out the details of the murder, because she has already learnt about the world she is investigating, unlike a typical Columbo episode where the lieutenant has to start from scratch. But this really is very easy because Sybil is so clumsy with her tactics. Particularly foolish (and hard to believe) is the way she tries to buy Kate off by giving her the expensive fur coat that is actually a key piece of evidence, because it was wrapped about the victim before she was killed and then went missing. Even more unbelievable is the way Sybil just accidentally leaves the murder weapon in the pocket of the coat: a pot of lumpfish caviar she used to swap for beluga caviar, thus causing Patty to have an allergic reaction. That placed the victim at the mercy of the killer, who was able to manoeuvrer Patty’s car into the path of a train while she was seriously unwell and unable to help herself. The way Kate figures out about Sybil’s excuse for being absent from the party at the same time as the murder is quite inventive, but other than that it’s a simple enough case.
Once again, Kate confronts the murderer with her evidence, although this does at least share an important detail with Murder is a Parlor Game that was lacking in A Riddle for Puppets: Kate makes it clear that the police have already been involved, creating a photo enlargement for her that forms a key piece of evidence. The final confrontation is superb, with Kate turning the tables on Sybil and revealing that she knew all along that the fur coat was a bribe. Their camaraderie was clearly a sham, a way for Kate to become a part of the killer’s life so she could investigate. This is becoming a theme of the show that is a useful tweak in comparison with the parent series: whereas Columbo basically pesters his suspect, Kate can’t really do that so easily due to her lack of an official status, so instead she uses an entirely different tactic: makes friends with the murderer.
On a couple of occasions, Kate becomes an accidental hero by interrupting Sybil just as she is about to commit murder for a second time. It’s so farcical that it’s almost played for laughs, but it does diminish the credibility of Sybil as an intelligent killer. How she thinks she can possibly get away with bludgeoning her husband to death with a poker, just seconds after Kate has left, is a mystery. When she tries again and nearly pushes him over the balcony, we are starting to get into Tom and Jerry territory, and all attempts at portraying the case as an intellectual challenge for Kate are in vain after the writers have shown Sybil’s behaviour to be irrational and absurd. I’m also not entirely keen on how the writers are explaining Columbo’s absence from the series by showing him to be a bad husband and father, almost entirely missing from their lives, failing to turn up for a lovely meal that Kate has lovingly prepared for him on a rare occasion when she thinks she is actually going to get to spend some time with her husband. At least Dog enjoys the caviar. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Mrs Columbo: A Puzzle for Prophets
Columbo not turning up in Mrs. Columbo may have been something of a downside for fans. When we relish the opportunities for the Doctor to appear in Sarah Jane Adventures, we can imagine the appeals of Columbo and Kate working on a case together, let alone finally appearing together at all as superb and enjoyable as the chemistry between Falk and Mulgrew could have been. If it was an intentionally missed opportunity for whatever reasons, maybe a movie version in the future could finally change all that. Who knows? Thank you, RP, for your review.
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