New Columbo episodes / Opinion

‘New’ Columbo: was it any good?

Columbo new episodes

I’m an unashamed Columbo purist. Give me a choice of any episode and I’d be diving straight into the 70s classics. In fact I’d watch almost any ‘classic’ Columbo outing before I delved into the ‘new’ ones. And by ‘new’, I mean any of the 24 episodes released on ABC between 1989 and 2003.

If you’ve ever read my article on my top 10 favourite Columbo episodes, you’ll have noticed that not one of them is from the new batch. That’s not to say I hate them. Dear me, no. There are several gems tucked away amongst them that really stand up to repeat viewing. But when comparing apples with apples, the quality of the new episodes compared to the old is almost always found wanting.

“There are several gems tucked away amongst the ‘new’ episodes that really stand up to repeat viewing.”

But why was that the case? Surely it’s not simply a case of rose-tinted glasses? After all, the oldest ‘new’ episode is now more than 25 years old; the newest, well over a decade. Enough time has elapsed to allow for a level playing field in terms of passing judgement.

And on the surface, much was the same. The Columbo formula, so well established between 1968-78, was largely unchanged. Falk reprised the role, of course, and he brought back with him the coat, the car, the cigar – even Dog. The essential ingredients were there, but the end result, reasonably often, was something of a let down. Again we must ask ourselves why?

I’ll tell you…

TV had changed: Time waits for no man, and the world of the late 80s and 90s, when the bulk of the new episodes were produced, was massively different from the late 60s and 70s. The original series provided us with a glorious snapshot of 70s opulence and fine living. Music, fashions, automobiles, it was first class all the way. By way of comparison, ‘first class’ in the 80s and 90s seems a lot more sleazy and a lot less, well, classy.

The production values were different, too. Gone are the sumptuous scores that graced each 70s episode, replaced by saxophone swill, overuse of the ‘This Old Man’ theme, and the occasional pop hit. And where are the cutting edge camera work and editing techniques that so defined the classic series? Conspicuous by their absence, that’s where, matey. Indeed, the newer episodes more often feel rather bland and workmanlike. Not necessarily bad, just normal, not standing out against other shows of the time, and not being nearly as inspirational or memorable. Had Columbo only existed in the 80s/90s I shouldn’t think anyone would still be talking about the show today.

Columbo era comparisons

Guess which episode was filmed in the 90s?

Falk’s portrayal had changed: As discussed above, Falk brought back all of Columbo’s idiosyncracies to the new series. Yet to me it doesn’t feel the same. Falk’s Columbo subtly evolved through the 70s episodes. The mannerisms and actions seemed natural and believable for the character. In the new episodes the character feels more forced, as if Falk himself is doing an impression of the younger Columbo – or even a parody. The subtlety, the believability, has gone.

Critics have also slammed Falk’s broader comedic turns in the 80s/90s episodes, and I tend to agree. 70s Columbo was sometimes very funny (Negative Reaction has some real rib-tickling scenes, for example), but Falk’s portrayal of the Lieutenant was generally on the level and restrained. He wasn’t really playing it for laughs in the same way he seems to be in some of the new episodes. Worst of all, some of the affected mannerisms just came across as him being an annoying old codger, like your Granddad acting the fool. That’s not what I want for the character.

“Had Columbo only existed in the 80s/90s I shouldn’t think anyone would still be talking about the show today.”

Calibre of the guest stars: Okay, there were some notable exceptions (Faye Dunaway, Patrick McGoohan, William Shatner, George Hamilton), but as a rule of thumb the standard of guest star killers in the new episodes was at a different stratosphere than we were treated to in the 1970s. It made it more difficult to connect with the killers, because it was harder to really dig the actors. Many of them, although undoubtedly talented, could have been cast in just about any other lesser TV show of the time.

Columbo new episode killers

I’d argue that it’s harder to dig these guys than it is to dig Cassidy, Culp, Gordon, McGoohan et al

These weren’t all intended to be Columbo mysteries: Two of the very worst Columbo episodes, Undercover from 1994, and 1992’s No Time to Die, weren’t originally written as adventures for the Lieutenant at all, and BOY does it show. These were adapted from two Ed McBain ’87th Precinct’ novels of the 1970s and bear little or no relation to the Columbo show we know and love. At best these are misguided efforts. At worst, they’re a betrayal of the character. I find it amazing they were ever made.

Ludicrous situations: Allied to the top point about how TV had changed, the new Columbo episodes were often blighted by thoroughly ridiculous, nonsensical and needlessly showy set pieces. Even episodes that are perfectly entertaining are spoilt by some really ludicrous moments. Yes, I’m talking about you, Murder, Smoke & Shadows, with Ringmaster Columbo taking a bow at the end. And you, Sex & The Married Detective. with the Lieutenant blasting out a tuba solo, and then leading a Pied Piper of Hamelin-style march followed by a group of school children. It’s a scene so wonderfully awful it has to be seen to be believed. So take a look…

Another stunner is the denouement of Columbo Goes to the Guillotine – an otherwise watchable effort. I mean, would the level-headed Lieutenant really put his life in danger by switching the safety stickers on a lethal guillotine blade? It’s way out of character, and far too much of a risk. Consider how he handled a life-threatening situation at the end of Lady in Waiting in 1971: with wits, composure and a touch of compassion. That was the way the real Columbo would have dealt with a tight spot.

Columbo silly scenes

Busting out a tuba solo; hangin’ with Little Richard; risking death in a guillotine? How we laughed…

There are, of course, some very good new Columbo episodes. I’ll chronicle my favourites from the 1989-2003 run in a future article, but as a teaser I’d say that Columbo Goes to College is a really excellent addition to the canon, while Agenda for Murder, It’s All in the Game and Ashes to Ashes have much to recommend them. Rest in Peace Mrs Columbo was a successful departure from the usual style of presenting Columbo, while remaining true to the series’ roots. It’s a fine episode, too.

“There are, of course, some very good new episodes. Columbo Goes to College, in particular, is a really excellent addition to the canon.”

Many episodes are plain forgettable. Others are poor. Murder in Malibu, Strange Bedfellows, No Time to Die and Undercover are dreadful pieces of television. They sully the Columbo reputation and add no value to the series. Doubtless a future article on the worst ever Columbo outings will be packed with new episodes.

There was still merit in bringing the good Lieutenant back to our screens in 1989 and beyond. The biggest bonus is that it makes it even easier to appreciate the majesty of the classics. Indeed the new episodes will have introduced Columbo to a whole new generation of viewers who would’ve been too young to enjoy the 70s run. That’s why the idea of a reboot – a sacrilegious notion to many purists – would be a good way of raising more awareness of the original series. I write more about that controversial idea here.

“Watching the new episodes makes it even easier to appreciate the majesty of the classics.”

You can have too much of a good thing. From 1968 – 1978 we were treated to 10 years of TV gold. Those standards were never likely to be repeated in the new televisual age of the 80s and 90s, and so it proved. After a handful of series and a number of made-for-TV specials, the Lieutenant finally bowed out in 2003’s Columbo Likes the Nightlife. That was 5 years too late for me. The last really decent episode, 1998’s Ashes to Ashes, featuring Patrick McGoohan in fine form, would have been a more fitting end to the series.

Columbo Ashes to Ashes

Should Columbo have ended here? Arguably so

But Peter Falk didn’t want it to even stop in 2003. He desperately wanted to return to screens to film just one more episode in 2007, but networks rejected the idea. You can read more about that here. It would have been Columbo’s 70th and final adventure, giving definite closure to the series, but, with Falk almost 80 years old at the time, no one would give it the green light.

To some, that’s a pity. I think it’s probably just as well. I’d rather remember Lieutenant Columbo in his prime, going toe-to-toe with Nelson Hayward, Ken Franklin and the rest, rather than going out with a whimper in an era he never really belonged in.


I would love to hear your views on this subject. Am I being too harsh on ‘new’ Columbo? What do you think the merits of the later episodes were? Please put your comments below.

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Columbo Faye Dunaway

Still, the 90s’ episodes had some attractions, right Lieutenant?

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204 thoughts on “‘New’ Columbo: was it any good?

  1. Though my top 20 episodes are all from the 70’s series,there were some fun episodes from the later years that would be in the 20’s and 30’s out of all. The later years for the most part were sort of a Columbo “light”. They were not as well written or acted as the 70’s episodes and lacked the superb 70’s scenery, but many still entertained. I think Grand Deceptions is an under rated episode and several others are really good, but there are a few awful episodes (Murder In Malibu and a couple more) that should have never been made.

     
  2. The title of the upcoming James Bond movie has been announced: No time to die.
    I’m not the most superstitious of men, but if that movie turns out to be the worst Bond ever made, they sort of asked for it.

     
    • “No Time to Die” is an atypical Columbo segment and so can understandably turn-off fans of the series, but it offers several fresh items to the table: It shows Columbo WITH family members, both conventional family and police family; since the crime involves his family members we observe increased passion in the rumpled detective; it depicts him working AT the office, which is seldom, if ever, done in the series; it shows how he meticulously zeroes-in on a culprit through a process of elimination; and it illustrates the weight & respect he holds in the LAPD.

      Falk & the producers were no doubt bored with the formula and wanted to experiment with the series (and so borrowed this story from the 87th Precinct mysteries by Ed McBain). There is no murder at the beginning as usual, but rather a kidnapping; yet there is eventually a killing. The detective story starts as a Whodunit and eventually switches to a Howcatchem with “can they make it in time” suspense at the close.

      View it again as a unique piece and you might appreciate it more.

       
      • I think No Time to Die would have been OK if it had been half as long and had been an episode of some forgotten cop show from the 80s. The ending is good, I agree with you on that, but it takes way too long to get there. There was at most 45 minutes of story there.

        I can’t share your enthusiasm for the scenes with his relatives and colleagues. So much of the fun lies in trying to guess what’s real and what isn’t in the stories Columbo tells. I think of the end of Dead Weight when Mrs Stewart tells him she doesn’t believe he even has a nephew, and he immediately starts describing a nephew who has nothing in common with the stories he’d been telling. Or the end of Suitable for Framing, when Dale Kingston thinks he’s put Columbo in his place, then discovers that he is still in charge.

        Still I do think it has some merits, and I can understand objecting to a classification of it as The Worst Episode. Now, if you start defending Undercover, I’m going to have to laugh at you.

         
        • You’re right that Columbo makes up his backstory as it fits the needs of capturing the murderer, but not enough is revealed in “No Time to Die” to spoil the mystery. There’s his nephew and bride, that’s about it. Nevertheless, the episode adds a family element that was heretofore unseen in the series, along with the Lieutenant’s increased dedication to accomplish his mission.

          I didn’t get the sense that the installment was too long. IMHO it kept moving forward — and fairly briskly — as Columbo & team collected evidence and went through the process of elimination to target the kidnapper; and then (try to) save the bride. Moreover, the climax was way more suspenseful than the typical Columbo outing; until the very end we didn’t know who was going to live or die.

          But I respect your viewpoint; I didn’t much like the episode either the first time I saw it.

           
          • We’ve had this conversation before, about No Time to Die, and like I said then, I find your opinion refreshing. Still disagree though, I’ve watched it more than I should have and still can hardly find anything positive in that episode, no matter how hard I try.
            Adding to that I don’t think Falk & Producers were bored with the formula, just looking for new inspiration. If I remember correctly it was Peter Falk who had asked someone who the best current thriller writer was, and the answer was Ed McBain. resulting in him/the studio buying the rights to McBain’s Undercover and No Time to Die and subsequently the two worst Columbo episodes ever made.

             
            • Falk & Producers looking for new inspiration could be construed as being bored with the formula.

              Yes, “Undercover” is one of the lesser installments.

              Conclusion: One of their borrowed 87th Precinct stories worked (IMHO) while the other didn’t. Give ’em credit for trying something fresh with the series.

               
              • Nope, they both didn’t work and I won’t give them credit for trying something fresh, since the formula didn’t need it in the first place. And even it if were a good idea, the result was terrible. So I’m sorry, but my conclusion is a different one.

                 
                • This isn’t anything to go to blows over, my friend.

                  “No Time to Die” didn’t work for YOU. That’s fine. It didn’t work for other fans as well. But some recognize and appreciate its uniquenesses.

                  While you didn’t think the formula needed fixing — and I agree — Falk & Co. WANTED to experiment with it.

                  Creators must be allowed this freedom — if for no other reason than to get it out of their system — otherwise their output can become routine. Metallica’s curious album with Lou Reed, LULU, is a good example.

                  While the format changes obviously didn’t work for Columbo, the episode is entertaining and can be enjoyed as an interesting atypical segment for the open-minded (not that you’re not open-minded).

                   
                  • Of course not, I didn’t mean to go to blows. And you’re right, it didn’t work for me, and that’s exactly what I mean. Everything I say here is just my humble opinion. So where you say it’s an entertaining episode, I say it’s not, and I’m perfectly okay with that.

                     
  3. No, his character wasn’t quite the same. I agree. I often try to picture the younger Columbo saying and doing what the ‘older’ Columbo is doing, as a comparison. There is a softer, more mature, L-T doing the later ones, obviously. But, I do like a some episodes very much. I may be one of the few who enjoyed, Murder, Smoke and Shadows as well as Sex and the Married Detective. Sure, they have faults, but, I still enjoyed them. The two worst, in my humble opinion, was Murder in Malibu, and the Guillotine scene when he does risk his…whole head. That was a bit farfetched, but it didn’t negate the entire show for me. I get remakes don’t always rise to our expectations, but I was happy Falk was back in character again. Very happy indeed.

     
    • Good comments, I agree. With Murder in Malibu however I really do enjoy the detective work at the end, so if I watch it I start watching in the final 25-30 minutes. I had a friend who was a judge so said if a lawyer acted like Dabney Coleman did in his courtroom he’d slap a contempt charge on him so fast it’d make his head swim.

       
  4. Why in so many other articles including yours consistently bash ‘its all in the game’. It’s one of my favorite Columbo episodes all time. An episode in which he allows an accomplice to murder walk away becsuse of his personal empathy for the killer. However, I agree the riveting Columbo episodes were far and few after 1978.

     
  5. I’m on my 2nd or 3rd viewing of “A Bird in the Hand”, and paying half attention, but there is nothing dreadful or unwatchable here, and it has Tyne Daly. Plus, believe it or not, Greg Evigan does a creditable job. Maybe this could even qualify as a “gem among the later episodes”

     
    • As I continue to watch “A Bird in the Hand”, I realize that there are no startling moments, yet its still solid to me. I get that there are no hot babes in it (not a term I use) but I am anxiously awaiting any comments from other Columbo fans. I’m guessing I will hear “Yes, it’s OK, but nothing great. Still better than Last Salute…..

       
      • By the way, the late scene where Columbo shows Tyne Daly that the Evigan character closes his eyes before the explosion is spot on. I will leave Columbophile to analyze the plot quality. Ok no more addendums

         
        • Just to forestall a riot of comments, and now having finished this episode, I realize that there is so little Columbo involvement that the writers had to contrive a belabored scene where Columbo goes under a luxury car in a showroom to later explain that the bomb placer was probably left handed……….well, its still a good episode, if not much a Columbo we know and love.

           
        • “A Bird in the Hand” is a rather unique Columbo segment in that it features more of a freestyle filmmaking vibe than other installments and this is augmented by a few clever twists that stray from formula. Tyne’s face looks good & youthful despite her plumpness while Evigan makes for a handsome, but particularly conniving antagonist.

          The first hour is quite good if you can handle the freestyle approach, but the flick starts losing its mojo in the last 35 minutes. The creators needed to work out some kinks, but unfortunately didn’t have the time/money. It’s still a worthwhile segment for its uniqueness and other highlights, like the shocking explosion. The mullets are dreadful, but amusing.

           
  6. I just completed Seasons 8 and 9, aka the last two real “seasons” as after that “season” 10 actually played out sporadically over thirteen years.

    Have to say, most of these episodes were pretty good. Some of the criticisms above are valid; there absolutely was a drop in the quality of guest stars, for example. But the stories, Peter Falk’s portrayal, pretty solid. I quite liked “Uneasy Lies the Crown”.

    But holy cow, “Murder in Malibu” was absolute garbage. That was just terrible television.

     
  7. Falk’s portrayal of Columbo became forced in the late seventies, around season 6-7. Grinning all the time, exaggerated accent, full of himself. A massive difference from the early seasons.

    When the show returned in 89, luckily, Falk’s acting once again went back to the original, more natural style, with only some exceptions.

     
    • Yes, the Columbo characterisation, particularly in Season 7, is very much more affected and theatrical, like someone is trying to do an impression of Columbo. It doesn’t prevent there from being some terrific episodes, but I must admit that I’d rather see Season 2 or 3 Columbo going up against Abigail Mitchell.

       
  8. I have not seen them all, but of the later Columbo episodes, I might opine that “Murder, Smoke and Shadows” could become my “Any Old Port in a Storm” of those. Only to be preferred after watching my older favorite three or four times in a row.

     
  9. Am viewing “Murder, Smoke and Shadows”, and I don’t want to hear any complaints about the romantic scene(s?) between the protagonist and his love interest with the cheesy music. Many years have changed the style of the Columbo series style. But this is a very well written story; well acted, not whacked out premise; and a solid piece of entertainment. The principals all appear to be sober (please see “Last Salute to the Commodore”). It may even be one of the “gems” Columbophile dared to allude to that exist among the later episodes.

     
    • I quite like this one, although I feel it’s let down by the ridiculous spotlight ending, the far-fetched murder itself and the tedious ‘light and shadow’ monologue Alex Brady gives the Lieutenant part-way through. I think Fisher Stevens is good in this, though.

       
      • The Ringmaster bow is obviously not reality and simply reveals that Columbo is the Ringmaster over the L.A. murder circus. Just roll with it; it’s only one episode.

         
        • I never considered it reality, I just consider it stupidly showy — a far cry from the majority of the gotchas in the 70s. Even Now You See Him’s ending, flamboyant as it is, is at least realistically presented without unnecessary gimmickry.

           
          • It’s just an amusing add-on (after the gotcha) showcasing Columbo as the L.A. detective Ringmaster. But I can see why some people don’t like it.

             
  10. Is flipping round guillotine labels any more risky than swapping round a poisoned glass? If I had been Columbo, I would have also had the guillotine modified so that either way round it went, it was safe. He just didn’t want to tell his adversary that, who will now be haunted for the rest of his life with the thought that if only he had gone along with Columbo, he would have killed him and got away with it.

     
    • While some find what the Lieutenant does at the end of “Goes to the Guillotine” unbelievable, it’s not without precedent. He operated in similar risky tactics at the end of “Lady and Waiting” (1971) and “Swan Song” (1974).

      Columbo is much more seasoned in “Guillotine” and has the confidence after studying hundreds of murderers over the decades of his career. He was willing to take the risk because he was certain of the results.

      If he was wrong, he figured he wasn’t young anymore and had a good run, not to mention it would be a quick death.

       
  11. Interesting post, and I agree with your points. Television was losing its class and its great names in the 1980s but …

    Assuming Falk and Columbo were the same age, just over 60 in 1989. Would he have retired, or would LAPD have gratefully encouraged him to keep going?

    That leads me to my question, the 1980s took place, Columbo is still working, what else could he do? As people age, they develop. So, how could he have aged more gracefully, wisdom developing his personality traits so that the best are enhanced, the worst are ironed out? How COULD the New Columbo TV series have developed the character so that the new episodes were just as memorable as the old?

     
    • They 70’s episodes had the gritty 70’s look with memorable guest stars. The “new” episodes lost all that and have that “Murder, She Wrote” feel to them which I don’t like at all.

       
  12. I enjoy a lot of the 90s episodes, especially Sex and the Married Detective. Those scenes you mentioned are a bit much though. No Time to Die and Undercover (Columbo gets beat up), I never rewatch. But I do like a lot more of the 90s episodes but yes, tge 70s can’t be beat. It’s also a matter of what I’m in the mood to watch too. Sometimes I do get a mood to watch the 90s but I think the 70s will always be first choice. And I’ve noticed that when different TV stations reruns Columbo the majority of them are the 70s episodes. And maybe one the 90s eps. I don’t know if it’s a matter of rights or not. Or maybe they just know the 70s ones are more popular.

     
  13. Thanks for this post on the “new” Columbo episodes. I finished the original series and thought I would selectively pick a few episodes to watch from the later years. “Columbo Goes to College” is quite good, as is “Agenda for Murder” with Patrick McGoohan. “Rest in Peace Mrs Columbo” is an interesting departure, though the acting, the writing and even the plot itself are quite weak. All of them suffer from being too long.

    But certainly there are some weak episodes in the original series, especially the later seasons. “Last Salute to the Commodore” is truly awful (we can blame McGoohan for that one) and “Fade In To Murder” with William Shatner is painful also.

    Here’s a suggestion: How about a ranking (or poll) of just the “new” episodes?

     
    • The latter-day series is a good account of Columbo during his last five years or so as a detective (of course the series ran from 1989-2003). It features an older, wiser, more disheveled and risk-taking version of the character. Yes, the episodes are about 20 minutes longer than most of the 70’s segments, but that longer runtime can provide details that the shorter episodes couldn’t give. “Suitable for Framing,” for instance, was hurt by the shorter runtime as the antagonist showed his ire toward Columbo way too early on, which naturally made him the target of the diminutive sleuth.

      Anyway, for some good recommendations from the newer series see Keith Sinclair’s post below and my follow-up (Wuchak).

      The worst newer episodes are easily the atypical “Undercover” and the melodramatic “Murder in Malibu.” Yet even those have some worthwhile aspects.

      Let me close by saying that I totally disagree with the “purists” who say that the newer run was decidedly inferior. By the late 80s & 90s/early 2000s, Falk & crew — professionals that they were — knew how to make a quality murder mystery / howcatchem. The episodes are different, however, because they’re longer, its an altogether different decade and Columbo is so much older.

       
      • Of the 5 worst Columbo episodes ever made, only one comes from the 70’s run. For me those are Last Salute to the Commadore, Undercover, No Time to die, RIP Mrs Columbo and Strange Bedfellows.
        Having said that, I’m with you when you disagree with the people who don’t like any of the new ones, because for me there is so much to enjoy in so many of the 90’s run. Some that stand out for me are Columbo goes to College, Sex and the married detective, Agenda for Murder, Columbo cries wolf, Uneasy lies the crown, Murder can be hazardous to your health, Grand Deceptions (strangely underrated that one), Death hits the Jackpot and Ashes to Ashes (another great performance by Patrick McG). They all are still typical Columbo episodes, (almost) as great to watch as so many of the 70’s, though I do think that the overall quality standard of the 70’s run was some levels higher.

         
        • “No Time To Die” is actually a worthwhile atypical episode: The story starts as a Whodunit and eventually morphs into a Howcatchem with “can they make it in time” suspense at the close. It’s not the same old, same old. Plus we get to finally see Columbo with family members — not to mention police family — and therefore more passionate dedication from the rumpled sleuth when one member is facing a life or death crisis. “No Time to Die” also made you feel like Columbo was a Lieutenant for the LAPD who had some pull, resources and support, rather than a loner gumshoe. We even get to see the LAPD squad room for the first time.

          “Strange Bedfellows” has some interesting elements that keep it from being a dog IMHO, like Columbo aligning himself with organized crime and engaging in entrapment in order to apprehend justice: Columbo KNOWS who the real murderer is; and apparently so does the Don (Rod Steiger). They both want justice and the Don grants Columbo the grace to acquire it legally, which he can’t do without proper evidence and a confession. So they team-up to get it one way or another. In other words, justice is Columbo’s prime objective, not being 100% legally correct.

          As for entrapment, Columbo is known for resorting to these kinds of (unrealistic) shenanigans to break his opponent and obtain justice, which can be observed throughout the series (e.g. “Prescription: Murder,” “Butterfly and Shades of Grey” and “Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo”).

          Anyway, I agree with all those quality newer-series episodes you cite and more, e.g. “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star.” I also favor “Grand Deceptions” and don’t see why it is rated so low by critics. But surely “Murder in Malibu” ranks with the worst segments, newer or older.

          There are other weak episodes in the 70’s run besides “Last Salute.” What about “Dagger of the Mind,” “Short Fuse,” “A Matter of Honor,” “A Case of Immunity,” “Old-Fashioned Murder,” “Murder Under Glass” and “The Conspirators”? Of course I’m not saying that you can’t glean SOMETHING good from these installments.

          People grew up with those 70’s episodes and rewatched them ad nauseam and so there’s a nostalgic factor which the newer installments lack. Like I opined, I don’t think there was any overall drop in quality. It’s just that Falk was so much older, the segments are 20 minutes longer than most of the older ones and the decade is altogether different, plus the lack of iconic stars from the 60s-70s. These elements turned some fans off. But I like the newer series pretty much just as much as the older; it’s just different and you have to adapt accordingly to enjoy what Falk & Co. have to offer.

           
          • Thanks for your elaborate answer. I really like your views, it’s refreshing to read about the way you see No Time to Die. No matter that I disagree, it’s lovely that we can and have this conversation. I think that episode suffers from bad acting by the woman victim, not helped by a script that makes her say all of her thoughts out loud. And the fact that we actually get to see Columbo’s relatives takes so much away from the mystique (is that a word in English?) surrounding the character.
            Besides all this, I kind of agree on your opinion of Short Fuse and A Case of Immunity, but not on the other examples of so called weak episodes from the 70’s. I know many will agree with you but I like all of them so much. The Conspirators is one of my absolute favourites, for the life of me I can’t think why any Columbo fan would say it’s weak. I also like Dagger of the Mind very much, another one suffering from too much unfair criticism, in my opinion. Having worked in the world of theatre for 17 years now, I think as a pastische it’s spot on and I’m glad to say that all of my British friends absolutely love that one as well (they cantake a joke), so it’s not just me being insensitive to some hurt feelings of the British. A Matter of Honor is a marvelous episode, because of the unique motive involved and the very intelligent way Columbo solves the crime.
            Again, thank you for your refreshing views, from a Columbo fan who also loves (most of) the 90’s episodes.

             
            • Earlier this winter I rewatched the entire latter-day series and then started the original run and am up to the end of the 2nd season. The forthcoming episode is the one with “Spock,” which is one of my all-time favorites. So I’ll eventually get around to giving all those segments you cite a fresh viewing. Who knows? Maybe I’ll change my mind, which I sometimes do. For instance, I didn’t appreciate “No Time to Die” on my initial viewing, but changed my mind a few years later when I gave it another chance.

              Also, remember what I noted: Just because an episode is one of the lesser installments doesn’t mean there’s NOTHING good in it to appreciate. Even “Murder in Malibu” has its points of interest. Heck, “Last Salute to the Commodore” features Susan Foster in sweet form-fitting jeans, which is worth the price of admission.

               
  14. I have been working my way through a “Columbo” DVD set and I just got to the first new episode, “Columbo Goes to the Guillotine”.

    I dunno, it seemed like pretty solid Columbo. The nature of the gotcha aside–that sure was one hell of a risk Columbo ran when he really could have disabled the guillotine in some other way–it was a strong outing. Curious to see how the later shows play out.

    Agreed that the lesser guest stars are unfortunate. Myrna Loy, Roddy McDowall, Ray Milland, Ida Lupino, Johnny Cash, all a cut above the nobodies that were guest stars on the revival.

     
    • I really liked some of the ‘new’ episodes. The ones I liked were:
      Butterfly in Shades of Gray
      Death hits the Jackpot
      No Time to Die
      Ashes to Ashes
      Death of a Rock Star
      Colombo Cries Wolf

       
      • Glad to see someone else appreciates the atypical “No Time To Die.” The story starts as a Whodunit and eventually morphs into a Howcatchem with “can they make it in time” suspense at the close. It’s not the same old, same old. Plus we get to finally see Columbo with family members (not to mention police family) and therefore more passionate dedication when one member is facing a life or death crisis. This episode also made you feel like he was a Lieutenant for the LAPD who had some pull, resources and support, rather than a loner sleuth. We even get to see the LAPD squad room for the first time.

        Let me add a few quality installment from the later run:

        Columbo Goes to College (my favorite from the newer run)
        Grand Deceptions (Foxworth is no more “wooden” — as critics say — than Gene Barry in the very first Columbo flick, “Prescription: Murder” from 1968. Both roles called for an arrogant, calm, overconfident and inexpressive person.)
        Columbo Likes the Nightlife (thrilling & realistic murder sequence)
        Uneasy Lies the Crown (a script written during the 70’s run)
        Agenda for Murder (ranks with the better McGoohan installments)

        Also, I liked “Murder with Too Many Notes” despite the muddled ending, which simply made you use your head and read between the lines. I liked the ambiguity.

        Two other notables:

        Sex and the Married Detective (The quality score displays some sweet sensuous sax throughout)
        Murder, Smoke and Shadows (the locales and themes revolve around moviemaking, which keeps things interesting)

         
  15. I agree that “Undercover” (1994) was a weak episode and failed experiment, but “No More Time to Die” successfully creates suspense: Will Columbo & his team find out who the kidnapper is and where he’s located in time to save his nephew’s bride in time? It’s easily the most suspenseful segment as far as saving someone’s life.

    Actually, beyond the missing cat-and-mouse between Columbo and the murderer, “No Time to Die” isn’t far removed from the Columbo formula; it just replaces the murder with a kidnapping. And people who miss the opening murder should be satisfied by the closing execution.

    Anyway, I like the way Columbo & Co. meticulously gather data to discover who the kidnapper is. This is how Columbo always discovers the murderer — via the details. Like in “Sex and the Married Detective” (1989), the gumshoe obtains a list of people who were at an event and he works thru each individual until he finds that for which he is looking.

    On top of this we get several things that you won’t see in any formulaic installment: (1.) We finally get to see the Lieutenant hanging out with family members, not to mention police family. (2.) Columbo takes charge of the available personnel and orders the investigation forward. In too many episodes you get the feeling he’s the only one investigating given the little support he receives from the force. This episode, by contrast, made you feel like he was a Lieutenant for the LAPD who had some pull, resources and support. (3.) Columbo has a gun and pulls it out, although he doesn’t fire it. (4.) we get to see the squad room at the LAPD where Columbo works. This only happens again two years later in “Undercover” (correct me if I’m wrong). (5.) Columbo shows more passionate dedication than any other segment because this case concerns family. And (6.) our beloved rumpled detective appears from beginning to end.

     
    • Good points from you WUCHAK – as I also think that “No time to die” was not a bad episode – different yes – but all the way interesting to watch how Columbo finds out who the kidnapper is and where the bride is located – and that they reach out there in time – so “No time to Die” – is in my opinion a good episode .

       
  16. Death hits the jackpot was by a million miles the best new one what a great script , funny acting music directing and a great end scene.. in contrast murder with too many notes is plain awful . i also dont like columbo cries wolf , murder a self portrait nad its all in the game.

     
    • Dead on. “Death Hits the Jackpot” is one of my guilty pleasures and I agree with your points. Rip Torn is so over the top he’s believable. Another point about the episode is there is NO ONE to root for, including the victim. Just GIVE her the money and you still have 15 MILLION dollars!

       
  17. watched columbo goes under the guillotine and I think its so far from the originals with the murderer coming to a murder scene trying to essence paranormal activity and columbo putting his head in a guillotine and so on I mean its trash although I do prefer it to its all in the game and murder with too many notes .

     
  18. its easier to rate the worst new ones as there was so many duds 1)murder in malibu2)undercover3)murder with too many notes4)its all in the game5)no time to die6)ashes to ashes7)murder a self portrait8)butterfly in shades of grey9)columbo goes under the guillotine 10)strange bedfellows

     
    • forgot a couple I should have had in the best new ones I should have had caution murder can be hazardous to your health starring George Hamilton instead of uneasy lies the crown, my own forgetfulness and I think on reflection a bird in the hand with Tyne Daley is better than grand deceptions as bad as it was

       
    • It’s easy to disagree, since I consider Columbo Goes to the Guillotine, Murder: A Self-Portrait and Murder With Too Many Notes, to be three of the best of the new episodes.

       
  19. Im going to revise my best new Colombo’s as I watched a trace of murder a couple of weeks ago and actually enjoyed it a little bit
    best new ones 1)death hits the jackpot2)agenda for murder3)columbo goes to college4)a tace of murder5)sex and the married detective6)murder smoke and shadows7)columbo cries wolf.8)columbo and the murder of a rock star 9)uneasy lies the crown 10)grand deceptions

     
    • It’s starting to look like Columbo fans are Columbo fans regardless of the annoying changes (and to me cheapening) of the later episodes!

       
  20. As a child born in the late 80’s it was these later episodes that got me hooked to Columbo, and as a result I was able to save the better original episodes to watch last. I was only 5 years ago when I discovered that I’d never fully watched all of season 1 before. It was like discovering new episodes of the show for the first time.
    Looking back the original run is probably more memorable for the storylines and the fact that each episode featured a famous actor in the role of murderer.
    The downside of the later run was the general lack of well known guest stars and also the fact that there were one too many cringe moments scattered throughout its run. The ‘Ringmaster Columbo’ moment mentioned in your article really does taint the abc series for me. What was Falk thinking?
    That said, I do have a soft spot for the ABC episodes, whether it’s because they were the only episodes filmed in my lifetime and the fact it’s nostalgic for me thinking about watching them with my younger bother and getting hooked on Columbo.
    The worst of Columbo is far better than some of the trash on TV these days.

    Ps I’m looking forward to seeing your reviews of these episodes.

     
    • Craig,

      I should have read your submission prior to posting the above comment. Even “bad” Columbo is better than much of the cr@p currently available on American TV. And the British, Aussie, and Italian detective show choices we get with subtitles on “Public Television”, I’m ashamed to admit, are just a bit too slow for me when I’m having a drink or two. But they are very well done, as a rule. Most of the newer Columbos are quite watchable, I agree.

       
  21. A few of the later 70s episodes feel like transitions between the two periods. I would show a newcomer ‘Goes to College’ and ‘Agenda’ before I showed them ‘Murder under Glass’ or ‘The Conspirators’.

     
    • I agree , those were 2 good new ones also death hits the jackpot was very good , never liked murder under glass or the conspirators much.

       
    • I liked Murder Under Glass and I have nothing against The Conspirators but Columbo Goes To College was on a par with the second-tier original episodes. If I can’t even remember what episode goes with a given title, as is the case with Agenda For Murder, it is not very good.

       
  22. A little surprised “Uneasy Lies the Crown” wasn’t mentioned. I thought the murder plot was very plausible. I know the story was a retread from another 70’s series, but not seeing the original, that doesn’t bother me. You have a few cameos, even though it is a little hard to believe that the collection of actors who were mostly bygones of another era would all be playing cards together, it is at least within the realm of possibility.

     
  23. Could not agree more with the forcedness of the character on Falk’s part. Though I don’t think it was exclusive to the later episodes – some of the later ‘original batch’ episodes did seem to have that quality at times, I thought. It certainly got worse as it went on though and was unavoidable in the newer episodes. It felt like a pastiche.

     
  24. watched undercover last sunday , thought it was nonsense , still better than murder in Malibu , best new episode for me is death hits the jackpot , followed by agenda for murder and columbo goes to college .

     
    • Death hits the Jackpot with Rip Torn is a good choice. One more thing to consider, when someone does the 10 best episodes of the first period, that is 10 episodes out of 45, the 10 best from the second period would be 10 out of 24. To be fair, it should be the 4 or 5 best from the second period.

       
  25. I like both original and new episodes, they both offer up excellent shows. I get the point of the difference in Columbo’s character but I feel that age is responsible. There was almost a 10-year break before Columbo came back on the air and when it did he seemed quite a bit older. When I view those episodes, I see an older man, who has been slowed down with age, so still essentially the same character but with a different tone. I would expect that of anybody who gets older. Some of my favourite episodes are from the newer batch.

     
    • I’m not saying that this is the main reason that the new Columbo was worse than the original, but there were certainly a lot less ‘star’ murderers in the new Columbo.

       
  26. yes i agree with al ot of these blogs but i ll say first murder in Malibu is terrible maybe even the worst makes strange bedfellows look decent wached both of them sunday. so to keep fairness ill rate worst new ones then poorest 70s new batch 1)murder in malibu)
    2)undercover 3) its all in the game 4) no time to die 5th murder with too many notes
    6) columbo goes to the guillotine 7)murder a self portrait 8) a bird in the hand9)strange bedfellows 10) grand deceptions. the rest decent enough .

    70s run 1) a matter of honor 2) dagger of the mind 3) lovley but lethalb 4)requiem 5)old fashioned murder 6)short fuse 7)fade in to murder 8)murder under glass 9)green house jungle 10)mind over mayhem .
    But there is no comparison betwwen the 2 id watch any poor 70s episode instead of a new columbo anyday.

     
    • I disagree with most of your choices. Even the worst of the original series are at least average, and I would say that the four worst are An Exercise in Fatality, A Deadly State of Mind , A Case of Immunity and Old Fashioned Murder. The new series, about half of them are average at best, and I would say that the worst is No Time To Die, where there isn’t even a murder.

       
      • Re: “I would say that the worst is No Time To Die, where there isn’t even a murder.”

        But there’s a kidnapping involving Columbo’s relatives and someone IS killed.

        Unlike most installments, it’s a Whodunit rather than a Howcatchem.

        Give it a fresh viewing sometime; it’s a worthwhile segment.

         
  27. best new columbos were death hits the jackpot , agenda for murder , murder smoke shadows , columbo and the murder of a rock star , and columbo goes to college
    worst are undercover , no time to die strang bedfellows murder a self portrait and murder with too many notes

     
  28. Well I agree about Peter Falk’s incarnation as Columbo. If you compare to the subtle way he portrayed him from 68 to 78. it definitely looks like a pastiche of Columbo.

    I’ll go even further and say that my favorite portraying are the early ones of the first serie rather than the last.

    I like the first tv movie from 68 where he can go from funny, forgetful, impish to brutal and menacing with the mistress.

    I think he’s great in “Suitable for framing” and “A stich in crime” amongst others.

    That been said, I don’t think that the first serie is exempt of ridiculous moment, weak vilains or parody of Columbo.

    The 70’s has its beauty that’s for sure but those episodes have an outdate feel not to say it doesn’t have its charm.

    3 examples come to my mind :

    1)”Fade in to murder” : I don’t find William Shatner’s character particulary well written and I find it a bit ridiculous how Columbo pretends to take advice from not Ward but his character, detective Lucerne, I mean what was that all about ?

    2) “Old fashioned murder” : it doesn’t concerns directly the Columbo character but the repetitive joke of the sister fainting, come on, that’s a terrible joke. Also again I don’t find the murderer that much interesting.

    3) If I remember correctly, that’s in “Murder under Glass” that we saw a geisha and all the glances at her by Columbo and how he reacts toward her wasn’t very Columbo for me.

    That been said I realize that about the vilains you talk more about the casting and in this area I agree, it is more interesting in the first serie.

    In the end I’d say there is good and bad in both series but yes, maybe more bad episodes in the second one and Falk is definitely better in the first one.

     
    • I agree fade in to murder is a bit of a dud , old fashioned murder is a bad egg with a boring murderer and I don’t normally call 70s columbo poor, but murder under glass is definitely one of if not the poorest columbos its a Dud in my opinion.

       
  29. Totally agree about No time to die and Undercover. They are by far the worst Columbo episodes ever made. Strange Bedfellows is a very bad one as well, as well as RIP Mrs. Columbo and It’s all in the Game.
    Murder in Malibu though, I don’t think is poor at all. And I do think you’re overreacting when it comes to the Tuba scene and the final of Columbo goes to the guillotine; I enjoyed them both. Sex and the married detective is actually one of my favourite Columbo’s.
    Overall I think you’re right, the 1968-1978 episodes are generally the best ones. The “new ones” do contain some terrible episodes and the old ones, even the least ones, all maintain a very high standard. But when I look at most of the new ones and accept that a man like Columbo must have got a bit older and less energetic, I can still very much enjoy most of them.

     
    • maybe sex and the married detective wasn’t too bad and i can put up wiyh the tuba scene, but i just cant stand murder in Malibu and i do not like Rip mrs columbo much and staging a fake funeral was probably sillier than the conclusiion of guillotine and i do not like its all in the game and as bad as strange bedfellows is its better , also butterfly in shades of grey depress me , a trace of murder is one that often dosent get mentioned but its quite good.

       
      • RE: “staging a fake funeral was probably sillier than the conclusion of guillotine”

        Lt. Columbo staged scenes from the very beginning with the fake drowning victim in “Prescription: Murder.” It shows that Columbo would stage whatever he had to order to nail the arrogant murderer. All of these staged sequences are unbelievable and scream: “This is a television murder mystery, not reality!” Nevertheless, if you’re a Columbo fan you accept it and roll with it.

         
  30. Am watching the first 45 minutes of “…Too Many Notes” and really enjoying it due to its upbeat story and the charm of the two principals–the more likeable of which appears to be dying from a drink of champagne. Well up to .his moment I was really enjoying it. Not sure why I have never seen it. Well I knew it was about to become a real downer.

     
    • I’m adding a couple comments as I continue through this episode “Murder With Too Many Notes”. Am surprised at the negative reviews on IMDB. The charm of the victim was just verified by a tuxedo rental owner who gave him “the bottom half” for free. There definitely is more humor in the episode, suggesting to me that Columbo has intentionally (I hope) become a bit eccentric in older age. This episode does show what the day to day of work of film music composer great John Williams might have been like. Overall, I think its an ok episode (not having seen the ending)………..

       
  31. One major difference is that the new version had a lot fewer star guest murderers. My 8 favorite of the new episodes, which only approached the quality of the second-tier original episodes, are Columbo Goes to College, Columbo Goes to the Guillotine, Columbo Likes the Nightlife, Columbo Cries Wolf, Murder, a Self-Portrait, Murder, Smoke and Shadows, Sex and the Married Detective and Murder with Too Many Notes.

     
  32. I totally agree with you. It’s that 80’s 90’s slickness that kills it for me. The older episodes had a realness about them. Softer in tone and appeal. Falk’s approach to the role changed also, it came off as a parady. Yes, there are a few really good episodes and even the bad ones are appreciated just to have one of t.v.’s greatest characters around.

     
  33. I agree with you …but you could say he was just changing with age …like all of us.
    For me the main differences with the old and new ..were that in the newer ones ..it felt more like he was acting as columbo…the older originals felt like he wasn’t acting..it was columbo..like I remember as a child watching him

     
  34. I think some of the change in tone was due to the success of MURDER SHE WROTE in the 80s (another huge favorite of mine, so I don’t mind too much). You can see the similar plot setups, the gentle older sleuth, the light comedy. I am in the middle of watching the 90s ones right now on the box set I just got. It had been many years since I had seen them and I think they held up fine. Of course they can’t compare to the 70s classics–the world, TV, and audiences have changed too much. Clever and cerebral just aren’t in vogue anymore. “Serious” cop shows exist, but they are violent and action-driven. It’s like watching classic 60s Star Trek and then turning to the Star Trek movies or even Enterprise. A letdown, but enjoyable all the same.

     
  35. I love the newer films just as much as the old ones. Two duds, I’d say – Murder In Malibu and Murder With Too Many Notes. Those were unwatchable. But ‘Death Hits the Jackpot’ and ‘A Trace of Murder’, and others too many to mention, are terrific.

     
    • totally agree they were dire , agenda for murder wasn’t a bad episode , never liked its all in the game or columbo goes to the guillootine

       
  36. I think that you have to remember that above all The Classic Columbo episodes were dependent on a brilliant, DRIVEN detective, an obsessive genius whose relentlessness was fueled by tremendous vitality and above all ENERGY that older men have lost.
    Falk tried to trade humor and homilies for fervent fun; like an aging comedian or teacher/ philosopher—the zest was gone!

     
  37. Completely agree with your assessment that He seems like an “Annoying old codger”, right on the money. In the original run, he seems like a guy who feigns stupidity to trip people up and lure them into a false sense of security and superiority. He would seem ignorant on the surface but you could always see the undercurrent of cunning.These nuances of the performance just aren’t there in the revival episodes, and instead of appearing as a wolf in sheeps clothing, Columbo instead gives off the impression of being an actual bumbler and a dimwit. That being said, I suppose it could be argued in that case that Columbo had simply taken his facade to the next level. Interesting to consider, even though I ultimately have to chalk it up to other outside factors instead.

    To paraphrase what you said , the style and sophistication of the 70s has been traded in for sleaziness. The early 70s episodes present a snapshot of American wealth that has an almost Regal quality to it. What was fancy before now seems merely expensive.

    Moreover though the production values are just not very strong in the ABC batch. Take “Murder Is Hazardous” for instance, in many ways this set up is classic Columbo ; Blackmail leads to murder, Columbo into the victims life, and eventually turns up the smoking gun. Aside from the fact that the Killers show is a riff on Americas Most Wanted, I could see an episode with this story fitting in nicely in the 70s. But the whole thing just feels off. Perhaps more so than the sets/props or any of the performances, the manner in which it is filmed just doesn’t look right. It visually seems to resemble a soap opera at times. I am not familiar with the technical aspect of film in any way so I can’t pinpoint what it is exactly. I have read that the ABC episodes were transferred to video, so maybe that is the reason. That, and some poor cinematography. Combine all that with some bad music, and the show just comes across as being very cheesy.

    Nevertheless certain episodes are still watchable for me, and manage to be entertaining in spite of all that.

    I enjoy your reviews and generally agree with your assessments of the episodes. It’s nice watching an episode and thinking something is off/didn’t make sense and then seeing that you and others in the comments noticed it also. I hope that you stick with it, would love to see you riff on Last Salute To The Commodore and give No Time To Die the thrashing it deserves. Here’s hoping you find the time to get to them all eventually.

     
  38. Actually i quite liked some of the new Coòumbo episodes, notably “Columbo goes to college”, “Death hits the Jacpot”(one of the most bizarre gotcha! for one of the most despicable Columbo villains”, also “It’s all in the Game” (i hoped Columbo will leave both go)- And many others were not witout merit, like “Agenda for Murder” and “Hazardous to your health”.. Ok, there were some real bombs like the two 87th Precincy clones, the horrible “Strange Bedfellows” and the all too funereal “Ashes to Ashes” with a big blooper: diamonds at cremation temperature will completely combust. I agree that sometimes Columbo seemed a parody of himseklf (the Tuba scene). Nut also in the first batch there were some cringeworthy episodes ( the Commodore one, Dagger of the Mind and the Mexico episode)

     
    • I agree with these two episodes. I think “Columbo Goes to College” is generally looked at as the best of the ABC years, but I also agree with you on “Death Hits the Jackpot”. The first time I watched it I liked it and I watched it again recently, and caught some of the things I liked about i. First, there is practically no one in this episode with any redeeming value and I have no sympathy for the victim. “O’l Freddy” basically set himself up to be killed by not going ahead and sharing the money. Seriously Freddy, did you think your ex would not fight you tooth and nail after dear old uncle gave you 90% of the lottery for no apparent reason? Second, Rip Torn made for a delicious, smarmy villain. Third, this was no bumbling Columbo. This was Columbo of old, the Columbo that went after a younger George Hamilton with relish, with the long knives out for a killer he genuinely despised.

      For Columbo aficionados, crack open the seal on the ABC episodes, not only CGTG but the “Jackpot” episode and my guilty pleasure, “Columbo Likes the Nightlife”, the last episode that IMO redeems the slide of the ABC years. The episode reminds me of “Prescription for Murder”, the very first. Good detective work, a cool Columbo gotcha, and a well-deserved walkout by Columbo as he walks off into history.

       

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