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Clown Can’t Talk

Well, what can one say, except that this is certainly an episode of Mrs. Columbo? In “A Riddle for Puppets,” our heroine stumbles upon a mystery involving a ventriloquist (Jay Johnson) who begins to hear voices from his dummy. When those voices lead him to stab his mentor to death, it’s up to Kate Columbo to sort of stumble across some clues and make some leaps the audience doesn’t see to bring the killer to justice, with the help of a clown dummy.  Or, maybe he isn’t brought to justice? We don’t get to see that, either. The guest for this one is Abed Gheith, so we talk about a whooole lot of other things aside from this. What else? Oh, a Mrs. Columbo reboot for the CW; the Columbo-as-Antibody theory; the concept of television spinoffs; basic sitcom structure; Mama’s Family (???); the films of Jacques Tati; etc. Come on, we deserve some slack, as we’ve been here twice before. It’s about the journey.


  1. perletwo perletwo

    – Start with what I said on twitter: I’d’a loved to see this as a real Columbo ep, better script with real cop work, and 1980 Mark Hamill in the Jay Johnson role. Given MH’s long history of voice work he could certainly do something interesting with Noel, and the clever editing they gave Cassidy in the magic ep would cover the lips-moving thing.
    – …and then Jay Johnson kills Kate Columbo, who’s confronted him without backup or police involvement, and that’s the end of the series…
    – If you’re pitching the CW on a Mrs. C reboot, who’s your dream casting for Mrs. C?
    – My personal life experience is so narrow it seldom impacts my media watching but this is one of the few occasions. I worked on a small-town weekly tabloid newspaper, a step up from a pennysaver with 60/40 news/ad content, and the Guided Tour of the Crime Scene sequence – which rang a false note to everyone – was fingernails on a blackboard to me. Oh, if ONLY. And while the lead cop is giving the “real” reporters a guided tour, the pennysaver “writer” gets to wander unattended and handle EVERYthing?! auggh.
    – You touched on it briefly, but yeah, ALL the men were hot for Kate. Jay via Archy was commenting on how sexy Kate is to the kids at the birthday party. Conrad with a C was kind of side-eyeing her during the pool game scene. Also, she promised Conrad a homemade dinner if he’d interview JJ, which is why she had him sit down with them in the dog pill scene. So he could fill her in on that interview. Which of course he HAS to do, update the local pennysaver lady on an ongoing homicide investigation. *sigh*
    – Between this and the other 2 eps, I now say with confidence: Kate M. never seems like she *doesn’t* want to smack the daughter a good one. Which is kinda interesting to me given that the main theme of KM’s memoir Born With Teeth is her lifelong struggle with the emotional fallout of giving up a baby for adoption as a teen. Maybe she and Lili were just oil and water backstage? It happens.
    – Lastly, Kate Mulgrew’s memoir? Total blackout on Mrs. Columbo as an experience. Given that it was one of her first leads, you’d think it’d come up, but nope. Don’t remember, didn’t exist, moving right along…

  2. Chana Masaledar Chana Masaledar

    I have now watched “A Riddle for Puppets” twice, and I’m still mulling over how it managed to be that bad. As you mentioned, Jay Johnson did a fine job. Kate’s grumpy old boss was good. The basic idea of a ventriloquist losing his grip on reality is… well, not good exactly, but it’s something that could be promising. But the episode still manages to be a complete drag.

    The detective in this episode is a joke, of course, but he has to be for the plot to work. Any half-decent detective would have done a better job of following up on the guy who just coincidentally shows up at a crime scene and wanders around. But this guy doesn’t, so Kate has to do it. But how, and why, does Kate follow up? Because she’s a reporter? She doesn’t really seem to do much of what reporters normally do, which is talk to witnesses and bystanders. She just follows the guest star around until she piles up enough clues. (The same thing happened in “Caviar with Everything,” where she somehow managed to turn up at the right times for no good reason.)

    I’ve probably already spent too much time thinking about this episode in particular and Mrs. Columbo in general. Maybe at least I’m learning something about what needs to be present for a plot to be worthwhile, because whatever that is, this show didn’t have it.

  3. Jason Brown Jason Brown

    Eh…it’s on the box set as a bonus. Which is nice. And it gives us a gloriously free-wheeling episode of the pod.

    A far better (and more convincing!) ventriloquist episode with a tangential
    Columbo link was the sadly short-lived Danger Theatre, hosted by Robert Vaughn.
    Only seven episodes airing on Fox in July / August 1993, the concept being a spoof
    detective show in two parts (the first starring Deitrich Bader as The Searcher, a hopeless
    vigilante, the other usually being Tropical Punch, a Hawaii 5-0 derived show with Adam West
    as the ‘hero’). They’re all on You Tube. I loved it, though I was 19 at the time.

    Episode six, has the Searcher episode ‘Move My Lips’ with a dummy trying to kill it’s owner. Every bit as believable as this episode of Mrs Columbo…

      • Jason Brown Jason Brown

        One episode has a weaponised monkey programmed to kill Saddam Hussein, but they only got as far as the moustache…

  4. Chana Masaledar Chana Masaledar

    Incidentally, a book was just published called Cooking with Columbo. The recipes are mostly favorite recipes of the show’s guest stars. The JOMT podcast is mentioned in the Author’s Note.

    • Oh no shit! We’re interested in having the author on before we wrap up, so that’s promising news!

  5. TJ Meier TJ Meier

    You were asking about a spin-off that actually surpassed the popularity/success/longevity of the parent show. Dick Van Dyke’s Dr. Mark Sloan was a one-off character in an episode of “Jake and the Fatman.” “Diagnosis Murder” ran 11 successful years on CBS.

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