Columbo: Sex and the Married Detective

Columbo Peter FalkName two things that don’t fit naturally together. You might say wellington boots and sunglasses, trampolines and caviar, hospitals and popcorn, bicycles and leathers, libraries and raves, pineapple and pizza, swimming pools and face paint, or even tubas and detectives. But near the top of my list would be sex talk and Lieutenant Columbo. Shudder.            

The Motive

Dr Joan Allenby is a sex therapist who is so famous that she has her own radio show. She seems to be a woman who has everything, until she walks in on her husband having an affair. During their lovemaking, his conquest Cindy asks him, “if I were a dessert, what kind of a dessert would I be?”, to which he answers “Bavarian chocolate cream pie,” and then describes Dr Joan unkindly as a “rice pudding”. Surely there could have been more creative answers than those? Cindy is a poke cake, or a knickerbocker glory, or even a nutty tart. Dr Joan is a rhubarb fool, married to a spotted dick. As for the future he’s facing… death by chocolate.

The Murder

OK, so there’s no actual chocolate involved. It’s just a simple death by bullet, but Dr Joan sneaks out of a fundraising event, dresses up in a disguise as alter-ego “Lisa” and when she meets her husband David she convinces him she’s dressed up as a “courtesan” for a kinky fantasy and gets him to play along by handing over money. They head off to bed, but Joan shoots him, makes it look like there has been a struggle in the room, and then heads back to her event. She has an alibi of sorts, and witnesses will report David meeting with a prostitute.

The Mistakes

“Lisa” turns back into Joan in the ladies’ room, but not before she has an unwelcome encounter with a creepy middle-aged Lothario named Charlie, who even follows her to the bathroom. “Lisa” goes in, but never comes out. Eventually Columbo finds a piece of the sticky tape Joan used to attach her disguise to the underside of the washbasin area. The prostitute ruse falls apart pretty quickly, when Columbo notices that David’s keys are missing, and must be in the possession of the mystery woman, which makes no sense if she wasn’t somebody who was known to both David and Joan. But there’s one little clue that really seals Joan’s fate: a label still hanging off her coat. Columbo finds it in a bin, and follows the clue to the store where she bought the coat, and her disguise at the same time. The shop assistants there are very helpful in identifying Joan as the purchaser of Lisa’s outfit, as described by revolting Charlie.


We discover a hidden talent we didn’t know about: Columbo can play the tuba. There is a fun little scene which has virtually nothing to do with the main story, where Columbo is asked by a teacher to help demonstrate the tuba, and it turns out that he can play just as well as the teacher. The two of them go off on a parade, with the happy children following behind. It all goes a bit silly, with the fountain outside gushing water into the air in time with the music, but this is a much-derided moment by Columbo fans that I actually felt brought a bit of harmless joy into proceedings, and some much-needed light and shade to a story that didn’t have a huge amount going for it.

Just One More Thing

Last week we saw Columbo having contempt for his enemy, relishing the take-down. This time it’s more familiar territory, with the Lieutenant showing respect for the murderer. Part of the success of this show was often the humanity Columbo displayed towards his enemies, and the understanding that life is shades of grey (not necessarily 50 of them). Joan’s whole life was built on the foundation of her rock-solid marriage to the man of her dreams, and he was laughing at her behind her back. Joan tried to escape into a fantasy world as Lisa, and perhaps even felt one step removed from the murder by becoming a different woman first.

“I’ve enjoyed our talks very much and I think I do understand.”

The Verdict

Victory for Columbo is a little more earned than previous episodes this season, but it still all hangs on a lucky break. He notices the tag, which just happens to have been left on the coat by Joan, and just happens to be still lying around in a bin when he eventually looks for it, which just happens to be from the same store as the Lisa outfit, which just happens to be staffed by people who can identify her from a photo. As a former shop assistant, I used to see so many people that my brain would almost stop bothering with facial recognition at all; customers would say things like, “I was in a week ago – I expect you remember me”, but the reality was that I could hardly remember somebody from earlier the same day. You just see too many customers. I miss the cleverness of some of the 70s gotcha moments, which seem to have been replaced with staged moments, such as the mannequin with Lisa’s costume on, a trick Columbo uses that doesn’t actually achieve anything other than a striking visual moment for the viewers. If this story was a dessert, which dessert would it be? It tries to be a passion cake, but instead it’s more of a stodgy sponge cake with a soggy bottom.   RP

Read next in the Junkyard… Columbo: Grand Deceptions

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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1 Response to Columbo: Sex and the Married Detective

  1. scifimike70 says:

    After the quite despicable Alex Bradey, it’s nice to have Columbo go back to the kinds of adversaries whom he can feel friendship and sympathy for. Dr. Joan Allenby especially qualifies and especially thanks to the casting of a very respectable and distinguished actress like Lindsay Crouse. She has a particular gift for playing troublingly complex women as she proved with the film House Of Games and the Law & Order episode Promises To Keep. But as Joan she helps Columbo and audiences find much reconsideration for the realities, or fantasies, of self-fulfillment and the freedom to love. The understanding of how she liked being Lisa better than being herself and how much that frightened her, even more than Columbo arresting her, is a most powerful affirmation of how murderers and murderesses in the Columbo universe can still occasionally be identifiable people. And Peter Falk once again proves how Columbo’s humanism can prevail in the moment of the arrest. Thank you, RP, for your review.

    Interesting to see Babylon 5’s Peter Jurasik here as Dr. Simon Ward. Particularly in a scene where he seeks out Columbo’s wisdom.

    Liked by 2 people

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