If only another actor had portrayed the Alex Bradey villain in this episode, we'd have had one of the better latter-day Columbos. Imagine, if, as replacements for Fisher Stevens, William Shatner had over-acted and Johnny Cash had under-acted--- as they had in past Columbo antagonist roles, then this episode would have succeeded. Steven's weak performance plunges this episode into confusion. The actor seems as if he is constantly trying to upstage Mr. Falk. Mr. Falk, acts like a driver who sometimes, suddenly gives a reckless driver a lot of room in which to have an accident. Deplorably and perceptibly, Mr. Stevens requires the prompts of eye contact, gestures and auditory signals by Mr. Falk who by both yielding to the younger actor's odd histrionics, is managing to hold each scene together; Mr. Falk here and there, is directing the insipid thespian to take a beat that ought to have been taken lines earlier. It is as if Mr. Stevens thought that he was doing a part in a musical comedy, or in a B-melodrama. I have decided that Mr. Stevens was either fraught with influenza, or, had purposely chosen to disparage the show through ham tactics--- that is, if he didn't lack the significant talent for playing this role. Without a scintilla of cheating-back, or pulling away, he shamelessly tries to overwhelm the other actors with his attempts to chew the scenery. It seems as if the actor playing his secretary would like to raise her hand in order to do her line. The scene where Ruth 'Ruthie' Jernigan's character changes a romantic scene by turning on a dime to oppose her the evil director-character, is also so choppily acted by these two "thespians" that their apparent or purposeful lack of "acting" would seem touching, if it would not also simultaneously seem to be infuriating to note that they are running an otherwise fine episode of a great t.v. show into the ground. When her Molly suddenly informs Bradey that she has recognized his depraved indifference to the death of his friend's sister, their modulation from the romantic to combative, is so poorly accomplished that one wonders if the director had used one of Stevens' or Jernigan's insipid screen tests for the final shoot. She runs through her lines with too great a speed for the listener to understand her motivation for turning against her lover. The writing is an odd mixture of witty dialogue and illogical premises. Columbo is his usual brilliant and ironic self. However, the resolution of this episode fails because Columbo doesn't really solve this case, albeit the show's director James Frawley would have us believe otherwise. At the conclusion, we are asked to believe that Columbo has planted confederates in both the studio and its cafeteria to undermine the director's ploy to misdirect the detective using a conversation that was held between two stock actors, (a chat written by the director to pretend to his innocence). Columbo, upon overhearing the actors' conversation during lunch all but tramples over a security guard to stalk these actors in an attempt to continue to eavesdrop. During the gaudy denouement (complete with Spotlights and orchestra) it is revealed that one of these actors had been planted there by Mr. Columbo, and thus that the "misdirection" had been inflicted upon the director, all along. Columbo, moreover, tells Bradey that the waitress at the cafeteria had been played by Jernigan, incognito. The confederates' efforts prove that Bradey had tried to mislead a murder investigation. But the writers of this episode never depict Columbo establishing that the confederate's role was significant for the purpose of using Bradey's contempt for the investigation as proof that he had shown depraved indifference toward the death. The significance of Jernigan's confederate waitress is also never explained for its supposedly crucial part during the `sting.' Moreover, it is never explained why the exposed misleading of a murder investigation also proves the suspect's guilt. The possibility that a potentially-innocent Mr. Bradey was performing the misdirection only to get the detective off of his back, is also never explored. In conclusion, after listening to an hour and a half of Stevens trashing his lines, his voice venturing momentously between shrill highs and raspy, basso lows (much in the way that Jiminy Glick speaks), I would like to have called 911 on this episode! I am one of the biggest Columbo fans that you'll ever find. But I have sadly, finally found a dog in the Columbo library and I am tempted to blame its entire canine status on Fisher Stevens--- perhaps just for the fun of doing so.
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