DISCUSSION: Better Lawman: Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens Or Columbo?

This weekend I was watching an old episode of Columbo — “Troubled Waters,” in which Columbo solves the murder of a cruise ship singer while he and his wife are on vacation on the open seas, and don’t you dare judge me because Columbo is awesome — when a thought popped into my head: You could make a pretty good argument that Columbo is basically the anti-Raylan Givens. Whereas our hero on Justified lives by a life motto of “shoot-first, ask questions sparingly and usually between gunshots,” Columbo went with more of a “shoot never, ask questions forever and ever until the criminal trips himself up and sometimes smoke a cigar inside a hospital because, hey, it was 1975” plan of action.

And it goes beyond that, too: Raylan’s always running around with a new love interest, Columbo has been married to Mrs. Columbo forever; Raylan usually ends up with bodies, Columbo usually ends up with confessions; etc. The only real similarities are (a) they both always get their man, (b) they both have a signature article of clothing (Raylan – hat, Columbo – trench coat), (c) they’re both terrific and I could watch their shows in 10-hour chunks.

But this is the Internet and “Eh, they’re both great” is a totally unacceptable result for any discussion, so let’s have it out. I’ll lay out the case for each of them below, then you can chime in with your answer in the comments. Here we go.

Raylan Givens, Justified

CASE FOR: Badass. Quick with a one-liner and even quicker on the draw. Irresistible to womenfolk. Willing to put himself directly in harm’s way in the interests of justice. Definitely the guy you want with you if you’re, say, barricaded inside an abandoned school and counting down the moments until armed adversaries from all over the country show up to storm the grounds. Will go to incredible lengths to capture bad guys and/or keep his town, family, and loved ones safe. Cool hat.

CASE AGAINST: Yeah… about that “go to incredible lengths” thing. He’s kind of murdered people. And he often charges into precarious situations with no back-up, putting both himself and the entire investigation at risk, to the extent there even is an investigation, because a substantial amount of his day appears to be spent on non-Marshal business, settling scores and such. Troubles with women occasionally result in him getting shot in the jubblies from point-blank range with a BB gun. Awful employee, slightly less-awful coworker.

Columbo, Columbo

CASE FOR: Genius. Plays dumb to lure murderers into a false sense of security, then uses their inflated self-confidence to trick them into letting him get close enough to trip them up. Cases typically end in confession and arrest rather than a storm of bullets, cutting down on annoying paperwork and legal issues. Appears to be able to sustain himself on coffee and cheap cigars, giving him more time to investigate. Works well with others. (See above.)

CASE AGAINST: Investigations take weeks at a time due to his deliberate “get tight with the murderer and pick away at his story” style. One day a criminal could catch on that he or she is being played for a fool and shut it down. And what’s to stop all the people he arrested from blabbing about it in jail until word spreads throughout the criminal community. Furthermore, with today’s technology, suspects could just Google “Columbo” and see he has a 100% case closing rate, ruining his ability to play dumb. And, on a personal note, geez, Columbo. Would it kill you, just once, to get into a high-speed chase slash shootout through Los Angeles with a murder suspect, hanging out the window to shoot out the tires while you’re screaming past the Hollywood sign at 90 mph? Just one time?

So there you have it. Gun-toting Marshal who gets his man and the girl, or genius detective who lulls suspects to sleep then strikes like a cobra in a rumpled trench coat.