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Summing up Columbo’s fifth season

Columbo season 5 episode list

From the sublime to the ridiculous, Columbo‘s fifth season can perhaps best be described as a roller coaster ride.

It soars to giddy heights in the joyous Now You See Him, while plunging to devastating depths in the season-ending Last Salute to the Commodore. It ventured into new realms of Middle Eastern politics, bull-fighting and global spy networks, while tearing at the heartstrings with the pathos-packed season opener Forgotten Lady.

The season proved that its writing team had lost none of its capacity to surprise with intriguing story lines and jaw-dropping revelations, but in terms of overall quality Season 5 is, by most fans’ reckoning, the weakest we’ve encountered so far.

Now You See Him aside, I personally rate the season as largely average. Identity Crisis has some great moments and a delightful relationship between Patrick McGoohan and Peter Falk to amuse the viewers, but elsewhere it’s a strangely flat selection.

As referenced above, Last Salute is a horrible piece of television, while A Matter of Honor and A Case of Immunity, although not without merit, are lesser lights of the Columbo opus. Even Forgotten Lady‘s tear-jerking finale is preceded by a rather ponderous 90 minutes of TV that struggles to fully engage – although I do accept that many fans rate it higher than I do.

Columbo Robert Vaughn
The evolution of Columbo reached its miserable zenith in the dire Last Salute

What is noticeable about Season 5, though, is the character evolution of Lieutenant Columbo. Forgotten Lady and Case of Immunity largely feature the Lieutenant we know and love. He’s still unassuming and meandering, still not overtly razor sharp, so it’s a characterisation we’re familiar with. But when Identity Crisis came along, things started to change – and not for the better.

With episode director Patrick McGoohan keen to help Falk push the Lieutenant’s boundaries, we started to see character developments sneaking in – some of which would have been better left unexplored. I’m thinking particularly of the scene in Sinbad’s adult bar, where Columbo shows scant regard to the vital testimony of the bartender – instead giving most of his attention to the belly dancer.

Columbo here is discourteous and inattentive, while his out-to-lunch facial expressions and mannerisms are pure caricature. These new features were magnified ad infinitum in Last Salute to the Commodore to dreadful affect, and would remain part of the Columbo character – in various shades – for the rest of the 70s’ run.

This is a real shame, because the Columbo we’ve known up to now is all Falk, and is all the more lovable because of it. All the charm and the mannerisms were his, and all seemed entirely natural. From Last Salute onwards his representation veered more towards being an impersonation of Columbo and while there are still some blisteringly good 70s’ episodes to come, whenever I’m watching a season 7 Columbo I so wish it featured the Lieutenant we know from seasons 1-4.

The themes of season 5

Columbo Forgotten Lady Janet Leigh
Grace Wheeler’s terminal illness was one of several stunning surprises sprung in season 5

Character evolution aside, there are several major and recurring themes in season 5 that are well worth discussing – not least the overarching theme that there is more going on in each episode than initially meets the eye.

In Forgotten Lady, we learn late on that Grace Wheeler is terminally ill and has no recollection of murdering her husband. Hassan Salah’s motives remain shrouded throughout Case of Immunity, while the mystery-within-a-mystery in Matter of Honor centres on Luis Montoya’s secret shame of freezing in the bull-ring – an aspect hidden from viewers until the final scene.

Set against the backdrop of international espionage, Identity Crisis is deliberately confusing. We never really know what’s going on, or what’s driving Nelson Brenner. Similarly, the illusory nature of Now You See Him means that no part of Columbo’s investigation can be taken at face value.

As for Last Salute? We are totally lulled into a false sense of security by Robert Vaughn’s presence, and when he is killed two-thirds of the way through it’s a genuine stunner leaving us with a proper, and well disguised (although dreadfully executed), whodunnit on our hands.

As a result of all this, Columbo has to dig deeper and be more intuitive than ever before, leading to a number of grand, set-piece finales where the Lieutenant forces his quarry into publicly revealing their guilt.

The legend of Luis Montoya dissolves away in front of witnesses as he freezes in fear under the gaze of the mighty Marinaro. Columbo tricks a smug Salah into confessing his guilt as the King of Suari listens in behind a closed door, while Santini’s own tricks are used against him in Now You See Him‘s theatrical denouement.

Columbo A Case of Immunity
The pocket-sized King of Suari pulled a colossal swift one on Hassan Salah

The wily detective tampers with a reel of film to test Grace Wheeler’s ability to fix it (as he believes she had to do on the night of the death of her husband) and poor old Swanny is tricked into revealing his guilt in a packed parlour by denying that a ticking watch held to his ear was the Commodore’s – something that only the murderer could have known.

Of the six episodes in the series, only Nelson Brenner in Identity Crisis wasn’t forced into revealing his hand, instead simply being outmanouevered by his slippery opponent. Maaaaaah Joooong!

Forcing these outcomes plays into another theme of the series – that of Columbo being a more dominant figure – particularly within the LAPD. In previous series he’s been portrayed as something of a loner who is rarely given the respect he deserves by his colleagues, despite his stellar arrest record.

“In season 5 Columbo is increasingly shown to be the man in charge.”

Think of Candidate for Crime, when the Lieutenant is admonished by his superior officer for being late to the crime scene and for not listening. Remember how his fellow officers were rolling their eyes as he investigated in By Dawn’s Early Light, when they all just wanted to head home for Sunday dinner. Where’s the rezpek?

It’s all different in season 5. Here he’s increasingly shown to be the man in charge, whether that’s bossing the crime scene in Identity Crisis, commanding sidekicks Wilson, Mac and Kramer in Now You See Him and Last Salute, or playing mentor to Comandante Sanchez in Matter of Honor.

Columbo’s colleagues defer to his better judgment throughout the season. Given all that we’ve seen of his amazing deductive abilities, this new-found respect seems entirely warranted – one might even say it’s long overdue.

Ranking the seasons

Columbo Deadly State of Mind
Anyone who thinks season 4 isn’t the strongest overall must be BLIND! *titter*

So how does season 5 compare to all that’s come before it? Well, regular readers may remember a previous article discussing whether season 4 marked ‘peak Columbo’ in terms of overall episode quality, and comparing the strength of seasons against one another. It’s time to repeat that experiment.

To run a fair comparison, I use a simple formula. I’ve ranked all 37 episodes reviewed so far (see end of article for full list) and have allocated a points rating for each episode based on their position in the list. That means Suitable for Framing (my current fave) has 1 point and Last Salute (adrift at the bottom) has 37 points.

I’ve then totted up a cumulative score for all the episodes in a particular season and divided that total by the number of episodes in the season to get an average points score per episode. The lowest overall points score denotes the strongest season on an episode-by-episode basis. And here are the findings:-

Pilot episodes

  • 2 episodes (Prescription: Murder and Ransom for a Dead Man) in 14th and 28th positions in my list
  • Points total = 14 + 28 = 42
  • Average score per episode = 21

Season 1

  • 7 episodes (Suitable for Framing, Murder by the Book, Death Lends a Hand, Lady in Waiting, Blueprint for Murder, Dead Weight, Short Fuse, ) in 1st, 4th, 7th, 11th, 27th, 30th and 33rd in my list
  • Points total = 113
  • Average score per episode = 16.14

Season 2

  • 8 episodes (Double Shock, A Stitch in Crime, Most Crucial Game, Etude in Black, Greenhouse Jungle, Requiem for a Falling Star, The Most Dangerous Match, Dagger of the Mind) in 3rd, 8th, 19th, 20th, 23rd, 28th, 31st and 36th on my list
  • Points total = 168
  • Average score per episode = 21

Season 3

  • 8 episodes (Publish or Perish, A Friend in Deed, Double Exposure, Any Old Port in a Storm, Swan Song, Candidate for Crime, Lovely but Lethal, Mind Over Mayhem) in 2nd, 6th, 10th, 13th, 18th, 22nd, 32nd and 35th in my list
  • Points total = 138
  • Average score per episode = 17.25

Season 4

  • 6 episodes (Negative Reaction, Troubled Waters,  A Deadly State of Mind, An Exercise in Fatality, By Dawn’s Early Light, Playback) in 5th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 21st and 24th positions in my list
  • Points total = 93
  • Average score per episode = 15.5

Season 5

  • 6 episodes (Now You See Him, Identity Crisis, Forgotten Lady, Case of Immunity, Matter of Honor, Last Salute) in 9th, 17th, 25th, 29th, 34th and 37th positions in my list
  • Points total = 151
  • Average score per episode = 25.17

Overall season standings

  1. Season 4 – average episode score = 15.5
  2. Season 1 – average episode score = 16.14
  3. Season 3 – average episode score = 17.25
  4. Season 2 & Pilots – average episode score = 21
  5. Season 5 – average episode score = 25.17

As can be seen above, there’s a gulf in class between season 5 and the rest in terms of consistent quality. There’s one awesome episode, three that are decent, one that’s pretty poor and one that’s DISMAL. Factoring in these six episodes hasn’t changed the previous outcome that shows, in my opinion at least, season 4 to be the strongest overall – even ahead of the mighty first season.

Columbo The Great Santini
Even the presence of Jack Cassidy can’t DISGUISE the fact that season 5 is a bit of a dud

Whether the show is in terminal decline or not remains to be seen when I analyse the remaining eight 70s outings in the coming months. It’d be nice to think that, boosted by a morale-raising $300,000-per-episode pay check from season 6 onwards, Falk was less inclined to tinker with a winning formula and stick closer to the more charming and earthy Columbo viewers had come to love.

However, the shadow of Last Salute threatens to loom long over the series. By all accounts, Falk loved the experiment of seeing the Lieutenant pushed in interesting new directions. More of the same would suit him fine, which means Columbo, as we know it, may never be the same again.

Full episode rankings

  1. Suitable for Framing
  2. Publish or Perish
  3. Double Shock
  4. Murder by the Book
  5. Negative Reaction
  6. A Friend in Deed
  7. Death Lends a Hand
  8. A Stitch in Crime
  9. Now You See Him
  10. Double Exposure
  11. Lady in Waiting
  12. Troubled Waters
  13. Any Old Port in a Storm
  14. Prescription: Murder 
  15. A Deadly State of Mind —B-List starts here—
  16. An Exercise in Fatality
  17. Identity Crisis
  18. Swan Song
  19. The Most Crucial Game
  20. Etude in Black
  21. By Dawn’s Early Light
  22. Candidate for Crime
  23. Greenhouse Jungle
  24. Playback
  25. Forgotten Lady
  26. Requiem for a Falling Star
  27. Blueprint for Murder
  28. Ransom for a Dead Man 
  29. A Case of Immunity
  30. Dead Weight —–C-List starts here——
  31. The Most Dangerous Match
  32. Lovely but Lethal 
  33. Short Fuse ———-D-List starts here—-
  34. A Matter of Honor
  35. Mind Over Mayhem
  36. Dagger of the Mind
  37. Last Salute to the Commodore —E-List starts here

How do you rate Columbo‘s fifth season compared to those that have come before? Bust a comment below to share your opinion.

Until next time, keep on truckin’!

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Columbo A Matter of Honor Mexico
At least Columbo walked away from season 5 with a comedy sombrero and poncho to sweeten the pill of mediocrity
How did you like this article?

35 thoughts on “Summing up Columbo’s fifth season

  1. So this article got me thinking, what seasons are the best and worst of the original Columbo? I used IMDb’s data to determine the answer. Using their overall rating as well as the Top 1000 Voters’ rating, I tallied each episodes ratings and rhen averaged them out for each season. Since e season 6 is abbreviated due to a strike, I have it listed by itself, with season 5 and also woth season 7. So the reader can place it where they see fit. Here are the results!!

    Ransom for a Dead Man
    7.4 / 7.6 – 7.50

    Murder by the Book
    7.3 / 7.7 – 7.50

    Death Lends a Hand
    7.6 / 7.8 – 7.70

    Dead Weight
    6.9 / 6.9 – 6.90

    Suitable for Framing
    7.5 / 7.7 – 7.60

    Lady in Waiting
    7.0 / 7.2 – 7.10

    Short Fuse
    7.1 / 7.2 – 7.15

    Blueprint for Murder
    7.5 / 7.6 – 7.55

    SEASON AVG – 7.375

    Etude in Black
    7.5 / 7.7 – 7.60

    The Greenhouse Jungle
    7.2 / 7.3 – 7.25

    The Most Crucial Game
    7.3 / 7.5 – 7.40

    Dagger of the Mind
    7.0 / 7.1 – 7.05

    Requiem for a Falling Star
    7.3 / 7.3 – 7.30

    A Stitch in Crime
    7.6 / 7.9 – 7.75

    The Most Dangerous Match
    7.3 / 7.4 – 7.35

    Double Shock
    7.5 / 7.7 – 7.60
    SEASON AVG – 7.406

    Lovely But Lethal
    7.2 / 7.2 – 7.20

    Any Old Port in a Storm
    7.9 / 8.3 – 8.10

    Candidate for Crime
    7.4 / 7.7 – 7.55

    Double Exposure
    7.4 / 7.8 – 7.60

    Publish or Perish
    7.4 / 7.6 – 7.50

    Mind over Mayhem
    6.8 / 7.0 – 6.90

    Swan Song
    7.7 / 8.1 – 7.90

    A Friend in Deed
    7.8 / 8.2 – 8.00
    SEASON AVG – 7.594

    An Exercise in Fatality
    7.3 / 7.6 – 7.45

    Negative Reaction
    7.5 / 8.0 – 7.75

    By Dawn’s Early Light
    7.5 / 7.9 – 7.70

    Troubled Waters
    7.6 / 7.8 – 7.70

    7.4 / 7.6 – 7.50

    A Deadly State of Mind
    7.2 / 7.4 – 7.30
    SEASON AVG – 7.567

    Forgotten Lady
    7.7 / 7.9 – 7.80

    A Case of Immunity
    7.2 / 7 3 – 7.25

    Identity Crisis
    7.3 / 7.5 – 7.40

    A Matter of Honor
    7.0 / 6.8 – 6.90

    Now You See Him
    7.8 / 8.1 – 7.95

    Last Salute to the Commodore
    6.6 / 6.5 – 6.55
    SEASON AVG – 7.308 (7.317)

    Fade in to Murder
    7.3 / 7.4 – 7.35

    Old Fashioned Murder
    7.1 / 7.1 – 7.10

    The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case
    7.5 / 7.6 – 7.55
    SEASON AVG – 7.333

    Try and Catch Me
    7.7 / 8.2 – 7.95

    Murder Under Glass
    7.4 / 7.7 – 7.55

    Make Me a Perfect Murder
    7.2 / 7.5 – 7.35

    How to Dial a Murder
    7.6 / 7.9 – 7.75

    The Conspirators
    7.4 / 7.3 – 7.35
    SEASON AVG – 7.590 (7.494)

    7.594 – SEASON III
    7.590 – SEASON VII
    7.567 – SEASON IV
    7.494 – SEASON VII (combined with S6)
    7.406 – SEASON II
    7.375 – SEASON I
    7.333 – SEASON VI (by itself)
    7.317 – SEASON V (combined with S6)
    7.308 – SEASON V (by itself)

    And just for fun, here are how all the episodes ranked using IMDb’s overall and Top 1000 scores:

    01 – Any Old Port in a Storm
    02 – A Friend in Deed
    03 – Try and Catch Me
    04 – Now You See Him
    05 – Swan Song
    06 – Forgotten Lady
    07 – A Stitch in Crime
    08 – How to Dial a Murder
    09 – Negative Reaction
    10 – Death Lends a Hand
    11 – By Dawn’s Early Light
    12 – Troubled Waters
    13 – Double Exposure
    14 – Suitable for Framing
    15 – Double Shock
    16 – Étude in Black
    17 – Candidate for Crime
    18 – Murder Under Glass
    19 – The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case
    20 – Blueprint for Murder
    21 – Publish or Perish
    22 – Murder by the Book
    23 – Playback
    24 – Ransom for a Dead Man
    25 – An Exercise in Fatality
    26 – The Most Crucial Game
    27 – Identity Crisis
    28 – Make Me a Perfect Murder
    29 – The Most Dangerous Match
    30 – Fade into Murder
    31 – The Conspirators
    32 – Requiem for a Falling Star
    33 – A Deadly State of Mind
    34 – The Greenhouse Jungle
    35 – A Case of Immunity
    36 – Lovely But Lethal
    37 – Short Fuse
    38 – Lady in Waiting
    39 – Old Fashioned Murder
    40 – Dagger of the Mind
    41 – Dead Weight
    42 – Mind Over Mayhem
    43 – A Matter of Honor
    44 – Last Salute to the Commodore

  2. For me personally, I would say season 6 is the worst of the original run. But it was abbreviated by the writer’s strike, so I usually combine it with season 5. Which means season 5/6 is my least fav. I would probably rank the seasons of Columbo as follows (using a 1-100 scale):

    Season 1 – 85 pts
    Season 2 – 75 pts
    Season 3 – 90 pts
    Season 4 – 70 pts
    Season 5&6 – 55 pts
    Season 7 – 80 pts

    Season 7 is horribly underrated and actually may be the most consistently good season in the original run, other than season 1 maybe. There aren’t really any truly bad episodes in the last season.

  3. For me Season 5 is quite likeable overall from best to worst = Now You See Him (a great favorite- due in large part to Jack Cassidy and the Michael Lally apartment scene- and it’s not formulaic because the victim is wholly unsympathetic, a loathsome blackmailer of a war criminal, the latter not being anyone wealthy or powerful; Identity Crisis (very good), Forgotten Lady(very good, though I have no sympathy for the self-absorbed, self-deluded, has-been-star killer- and it’s too bad she didn’t die of her medical condition before she murdered her nice old husband, a crime she’d obviously planned while lucid and well in advance, knowing he’d refuse to throw away huge money on her idiotic comeback), A Case of Immunity (pretty good, I liked Columbo assigned by mistake, and the contact lens gotcha, since I wore the hard lenses back then and you really can’t see through a double prescription if you put on glasses over contacts), Matter of Honor (rather good, machismo and pride gone haywire to evil effect), Last Salute (awful). I can see how the writers wanted to expand into different territory as to victims, murderers and locates (ex-Nazi, CIA, foreign embassy, Mexico) but that didn’t necessitate a change in Columbo’s personal mannerisms, personality and characteristics. I agree with Columbophile that in later seasons, he turned into a caricature or impersonation of himself. More conscious and proud of his own genius, which is less charming and disarming. As I’ve commented before (as has Columbophile, I believe) in Identity Crisis we see early examples of the odd, quirky, ponderous and almost inexplicable mannerisms such as his reaction to be the belly dancer, his slightly flippant, smartass treatment of Bruce Kirby as hard-working Sgt. Kramer, and rather condescending darkroom scene with the photo girl Joyce.

  4. Thanks for opening up the topic of Mr Falk’s read of the character, and what it means for the series. I’m a fan of the second run as well– John Finnegan’s unexpected appearance in “A Trace of Murder” is a nice moment, for example. There’s a sagacity that comes out as Columbo ages– you didn’t know the 70’s Columbo was sage or what, only in glimpses. Yes, there’s tubas, and a fanboy movie director. But no boy scientists with pet robots.

    I wish I knew more about the show’s history. It seems like one reason season 4 stands out was the arrival of Peter S Fischer as story editor. It’s been my impression that he actually replaced Jackson Gillis in the job; the IMDB has “Any Port in a Storm” as the latter’s last work in that role, until the 2nd run. One thing we fans have always wondered about– did Falk basically take over the show? And how much of Columbo going off-target was his idea in the first place? Your point is made in a well-considered and forceful way, and I look forward to more of the same as we go on.

  5. Season 5, more than any prior season, attempted to expand the Columbo formula. You have the first episode in which Columbo lets the murderer go free; episodes involving spies, foreign customs and culture, and international law; and the first real whodunnit. Ironically, the most formulaic Season 5 episode is the one which most people rate the highest. “Now You See Him” is a very mainstream Columbo. I think this says a lot about the Columbo writers’ efforts not to repeat themselves, on the one hand, and the Columbo audience’s desire for stories closer to home (so to speak), on the other. Generally speaking, the more experimental the Columbo, the less popular the episode.

  6. As usual I disagree, this was the best season of all. 4 of my fav. episodes were in this season. Forgotten Lady, Identity Crisis, Now you see him and Last Salute. I also like the later Columbos. I don’t understand wha t people don’t like about his later portrayal of Columbo. I get the feeling he was actually enjoying himself whereas in the past he was much more ambivalent about the part. He wanted more of a film career.

    • Yes several of the later years episodes were very entertaining, for some reason i like Shatners Butterflies in Shades Of Grey much better than his 70’s Fade in to Murder. Last Salute as a favorite is a rarity, but it would be no fun if everyone had the same opinion.

      • I am not sure , I dont think Fade in to Murder was a grat episode by any means , It had a good murder plot but was let down by columbop allowing ward fowler to play into his role as a tv detective but at the same time I dont enjoy Butterfly in shades of grey much , I dont class it as one of the Better new ones .
        However In the case of George Hamilton I prefer his new episode caution ! Murder can be hazardous to your health over a Deadly state of mind 1975.

        • I like both Hamiltons episodes, they were both solid. Fade in to Murder was ok but I just like Shatners Fielding Chase character so much more, it was hilarious. Two of the very few still alive from the 70’s show, Hamilton doesn’t seem to age.

  7. Season 5 was fairly disappointing compared to the first 4 seasons, which were outstanding. Now You See Him is a favorite of mine and many others, but Last Salute and Matter Of Honor are both in my bottom 5 of the 70’s episodes. The other season 5 episodes were solid. Now You See him is in my top 10 but no other episode from this season would be in my top 20.

    • Next season season 6 only has 3 episodes one of which is the poorest of the 70s Old fashioned Murder and Fade in to murder which was considerably better but still one of the lesser episodes of the 70s and then the brilliant Bye Bye sky high IQ murder , so Its very hard to compare seasons. .

  8. I generally agree with Columbophile s rankings except for a couple lady in waiting and an Exercise in fatality which I dont rate much but also one other that slips my mind now and then is the Greenhouse jungle from season 2 which should be lower down at this stage , other blogs have called it weak ,it also sergeant Wilson shone bright in now you see him because the greenhouse jungle was an average at best episode , Ray milland role was forgettable and i dont really recall any funny or classic scenes in it Just not one of my favorites Blueprint for murder is 3 times more enjoyable , playback has a much better end scene , A case of immunity has more memorable moments these 3 episodes should be higher , Even The Very Average Most dangerous match I Enjoy more ,
    We look forward to Next review Fade in to murder which I anticipate will wine and dine somewhere in the middle to 30th or 31st spot of the current standings.

  9. I very much remember the time, and a TV Guide article on how Peter Falk now had the world on a string with his new contract. How much that put a strain on the Columbo franchise is anyone’s guess, but from what I remember there was the expectation that this was the last season. There was also (what has been discussed here before) the opening for him to pursue movie roles because of the flexibility of fewer shows.

    Yes I remember that last rowing scene, with the complete acceptance that Columbo was going home for good.

  10. Columbo declined steadily after 1973, and the fifth series was often completely unwatchable. Moving locations outside Los Angeles was disastrous in every single instance. I count about eight or nine really great Columbos (all pre 1974) – but this is still superior to any other series, and, like Chandler novels, they can be enjoyed again and again without losing their style, charm and freshness.


    • “Moving locations outside Los Angeles was disastrous in every single instance”? Not quite. “Troubled Waters” is on my all-time top 10 list. And let’s not forget that significant scenes in “Murder by the Book” take place in San Diego.

      • And I would also include one of the best episodes, By Dawn’s Early Light starring Patrick McGoohan, of which much was filmed on location at the Citadel in South Carolina.

        • True but it was never actually stated in the episode , the viewers were just led to assume it was in LA although there is a scene were Sgt Kramer says something about driving off to collect some clothes and Items for columbo but that would mean driving right across USA maybe columbophile could clear this up.

          • It was filmed in South Carolina, but the fictional setting is LA. At one point the cannon explosion was said to have been heard in a specific LA suburb (possibly Westlake?), so it’s certainly in Columbo’s backyard. There’d be no reason for him to be investigating a crime in S. Carolina as he wasn’t visiting the region to work with local cops.

            • Thank you columbophile for clearing That little puzzle up I knew it was filmed in S Carolina from your ultimate locations map , Does columbophile Know where where The Military Base in Grand deceptions is ? Difference being grand deceptions was shot in various settings and Dawns early light entirely within the academy except for the scene where colombo chases bugle boy after he sneaked out .

    • Sorry cant agree , there were many good episodes made after 1974 , notably Troubled waters which was set entirely on a cruise ship and delivered a freshness, Identity Crisis was superb mainly because of patrick mc goohan and lesklie nielson and west coast location. ,, Now you see him 1976 , What I consider the Very best Try and catch me which has the best chemistry betwwen columbo and Abigail mitchell and The bye bye sky High IQ murder plus the very memorable Make me a murder let alone some very decent episodes Playback 1975 A deadly state of Mind A case of immunity and forgotten Lady.

  11. thanks for sharing your opinions about Columbo, although I usually don’t agree with your rankings!

  12. On my own list Identity Crisis and Case of Immunity ranks higher, both easily in top20, because (for me) these two episodes are truly entertaining. The scenes featuring Leslie Nielsen serve as a basis of fun and positive charm, and this level not worsens as the episode evolves, I think they can keep the fun at high level. The other beloved of mine episode is Case of Immunity. It has a quite adventurous story line that doesn’t let the viewer rest while watching this episode. Hassan Salah for me stands in the heights of the multiple arch-killers from the series (yes, comparable to Brimmer-Keppel, Franklin-Greenleaf and even a step beyond McGoohan killers). He has some evil inside and the acting is brilliant for it!

    In fact, Now You See Him, Identity Crisis and Case of Immunity achieve a similar score for me based on their sole entertainment factor.

    I think, this is what we view the series for.

    Forgotten Lady ranks lower instead, it is below the 30th place, on my D-List, I think it is rather unusual to my Columbo-digestion. 😀

    • Yes I also agree , Identity Crisis is one of my favorites and although A case of immunity wasnt one of the best seventies I still Fined it More enjoyable Than forgotten Lady.

  13. Forgive me for repeating myself, but whenever the “character evolution of Lieutenant Columbo” is discussed, and its cause analyzed, I feel compelled to resurrect Richard Levinson’s warning about writing for Columbo (as reported by Steven Bochco in 2002), advice apparently forgotten as the seasons passed:

    “Peter Falk is Columbo. You don’t have to write all of that stuff, ’cause that’s Peter. You don’t have to write Peter, ’cause Peter is Peter. If you write that stuff, and then Peter does what you’re writing on top of being Peter, it’s over the top. So you want to really underwrite this character, because Peter is so quirky and so imaginative with all that stuff.”


  14. I completely agree that Columbo himself has changed in Season 5, an evolution that will continue for the rest of the NBC series. By the time we get to the ABC series, we might be excused for asking “Are you related to that other Columbo who used to be on the LA police force in the 70’s?”

    Even when we get to “Columbo Goes to College”, which I think is the only time the perps underestimate him from this point forward, the boys don’t see him as goofy and distracted but rather as more than a tad senile. I have always wondered how Thomas Mitchell played Columbo in the aborted stage version of “Prescription Murder”. It might have been very close to Falk’s own conception of the character in the ’90’s episodes.

    In actuality, this sort of evolution is quite common in the real world. Actors who rely on looks and sexuality in their 20’s are frequently forced to develop an entirely new skill set and image if they hope to stay employed in middle age. “Cool” teachers who relate to students as near peers when starting out inevitably become authority figures–like it or not–as time wears on. (I myself did not much like it, but having children of my own eased the transition.)

    Columbo, the cop, may be as effective in this older persona as he was when we first met him–possibly even more effective. For viewers, however, he’s not nearly as much fun. Neither am I.

  15. Season 5 was certainly hit or miss. I enjoyed the CIA presence and espionage tactics of Identity Crisis and rate it close to Now You See Him. Janet Leigh makes Forgotten Lady entertaining. The other three all have story lines fraught with implausibilitied, with Commodore being the worst Columbo by far.

  16. I rate Matter of Honour much higher than you but overall I agree with your rankings of the seasons.
    However after a so-so season 6 (only 3 episodes) Columbo comes back strong again in season 7 so it is not all down hill from here by any means.

  17. hello Columbophile,

    What follows is just a mathematical game, nothing more than that. Tisn’t a critique of your excellent analysis. (Unless one thing: there is a little error in your figures for season 2).
    I wondered if mathematically, new episodes and their ranking could change the ranking of the already ranked seasons. And yes, it can. In theory.
    Season 4 has a lot of good episodes, it has one excellent episode (“Negative Reaction”, on 5), and not any bad one. “Play Back”, on 24, is the “worst”.
    Season 1 has several excellent episodes (on 1, 4 and 7), but also several bad ranked ones, on 27, 30 and 33 (with “Short Fuse” as the worst ranked).
    So, IF the new season succeeds in ranking several episodes better than “Troubled Waters” (on 12), or even before “A Deadly State of Mind” (on 15), season 1 will rank better than season 4 !
    The test I made was ranking two episodes of them better than “Troubled Waters” and one better than “Deadly State…”. It worked.
    In theory.
    In practice, I guess it won’t. “Fade in to Murder”, “Old Fashioned Murder” and “…IQ” are not good enough to upset the ranking. Will other seasons do?

    However, as I said, it’s only a game.

    • Bye-Bye Sky High and Try & Catch Me are the two brilliant episodes to come, alongside 2-3 other very decent ones. The overall season rankings may well change. I’ll repeat the test after all the 70s episodes are done and dusted.

      • I agree, and am curious to read your analyses of all the episodes (and hope you will not wait 10 years between seasons 7 and 8 :-).

        What interested me was whether season 4 was sure to stay at the first place. In fact, every new episode (and there are 22 to come) can change the points of several “old” episodes already ranked and of most of the “old” seasons.
        As you calculated, after 5 seasons (and 2 pilots) season 4 has 15,5 points (the winner), and season 1 has 16,14 points. A difference of 0,64 points. The regularity of season 4 pays.
        But, for instance, a “new” episode which (hypothesis) should rank between “Suitable for Framing” (1st) and “Murder by the Book” (now 4th) will add 0,86 points at season 1, and 1,00 point at season 4 (an advantage of 0,14 points for season 1). The advantage for season 1 is even 0,29 points between “Murder by the Book” (4th) and “Negative reaction” (5th), and 0,40 points between “Lady in Waiting” (11th) and “Troubled Waters” (12th).
        In fact, every “new” episode, ranking better than “An Exercise in Fatality” (now 16th) creates an advantage for season 1, and every “new” episode ranking worse (or less good) than “An Exercise…” creates an advantage for season 4. (Unless they are worse than “Lovely but lethal” (now 32nd), in which case there is no effect.)
        This limit corresponds almost to the limit between your A-list and B-list.
        And, as I guess, the 22 episodes still to come, will be more numerous in the B- and C-lists than in the A-list.
        So, maybe season 1 succeeds in taking the “maillot jaune” after seasons 6 and 7, at the end of the ABC-episodes in 1978, but I guess it will lose it again at the definitive end in 2003 (after the NBC-episodes)! That is: how the ranking of good seasons can be determined by the ranking of less good seasons…
        But, as I said: it’s the mathematics that interested me in this reasoning. Figures and numbers are an important item for Columbo too (time, distance, cigar boxes, gloves, figures on a lens…).

      • Also make me a perfect Murder which has a great murder scene even though it may not have the classic ending and is full of padding but Kay freestones character was great and How to dial a murder was not a bad episode by any means are also of the better late 70 s however I am not a fan of The Conspirators or Murder under Glass both 1978 .


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