August 15, 2016

Mondays with Columbo: LADY IN WAITING

In the late 1960s/early 1970s, many television shows pursued "relevance"...or "writers attempting to deal with topical issues". (Hey, that's one of the reasons why I love early Ironside). So Lady in Waiting - written by Steven Bochco for Columbo's first season, looks very interesting - an effort to deal with how an heiress becomes empowered after the murder of her domineering brother.

It's not bad, per se....but the script has a very strange feel, almost like it required another rewrite.

So let's review the plot - an heiress to an advertising agency (Susan Harris) is consistenly badgered by her overprotective brother (Richard Anderson). Adding insult to injury, the brother discourages her relationship with an attorney (Leslie Nielsen), claiming that the man is only in love with Harris' character for her money. So one night, the woman arranges an "accidental" shooting of her brother....and Columbo gets involved.

It's during the course of Columbo's investigation that things get a little....unusual. During the course of his investigation, we see Harris' character blossom - becoming more assertive, more confident, even to the point of encouraging her family's agency to "market itself more." (As someone who's worked for several marketing agencies, this aspect is one of the more dated - many agencies aggressively market themselves). Ironically, Nielsen's character turns out to have purely noble intentions - he's no gold digger, but truly loves Harris. (In fact, Nielsen's character plays very well off of Columbo's efforts to thrown him). In the end, though, several small details (including one involving a light bulb) end up revealing the nature of the crime.

But it's the nature of the narrative - where we see the transformation of Susan Harris' character - that makes this Columbo a bit odd. (Not only did the Just One More Thing podcast highlight this in their discussion, they actually provided a photo demonstration). Lady In Waiting feels as if it's trying to do two things at one: make Susan Harris' character sympathetic, and at the same time suggest that her brother served as a emotional counterweight to her independence.

At the risk of throwing around terminology that may not fit, Lady In Waiting feels more like an effort to understand early 70s feminism than a mystery.

It's not bad - you wouldn't see bad Columbo episodes until the 80s revival, but Lady In Waiting feels awkward.

For alternative views, click on the Just One More Thing link above or check out The Columbo Podcast

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