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12 toe-curlingly dreadful Columbo moments

Columbo A Bird in the Hand
This silliness went very close to being included, I can assure you!

No man, woman or child loves Columbo more than I. But love needn’t be blind and I don’t believe in the fawning viewpoint that the show was free from faults. Far from it! And some of its worst moments were very bad indeed.

Granted, many of the worst sins were from the comeback episodes from 1989-2003, but not all. There were some very silly moments in the classic era, too. You may remember I recently had cause to lampoon a particularly twee musical interlude from Murder Under Glass, which served as an ominous portent for what the show would evolve into after its 11-year hiatus from 1978-1989.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a dozen dreadful Columbo moments for your reading and viewing ‘pleasure’ that exemplify the series’ low-lights. I don’t claim this is a definitive list, as I’m sure I will encounter some long-forgotten, yell-inducing moments as I reacquaint myself with the ‘new’ episodes in the coming months, but hopefully you’ll agree that the moments outlined below really are scraping the barrel.

Columbo Murder a Self Portrait
Black and white dream sequences? Fie on thee!

As an FYI, I’ve limited myself to only a single scene from any episode, largely to avoid this being a Last Salute / Undercover / No Time to Die hate-fest. I also haven’t put these in any particular order – except for the ghastly top three.

NB – if the thought of reading raw, unbridled criticism of your favourite detective show is too much to bear, please visit this safe page of delightful photos from the life of Peter Falk. Still here? Well done, and read on!

“I don’t believe in the fawning viewpoint that the show was free from faults. Far from it!”


Undercover – the back seat switcheroo

An episode routinely despised by fans, 1994’s Undercover features more than its fair share of dodgy moments as Columbo dons an array of disguises to crack a multiple murder case.

This scene’s a particular shocker as the Lieutenant is forced to change into a mafia don outfit in the back of an unmarked cop car. Seriously, I never asked to see elderly Columbo’s pasty, goaty legs – and if I ever see them again it’ll be too soon. This could only have been worse if the female passerby had done a comedy faint – but I bet you they considered it!

NB – if you’re a member of a police party involved in an undercover operation, why would you shout out in public: “We’ve got your mafia costume here”? Idiots


Murder, Smoke & Shadows – the ringmaster cometh

After being thoroughly outplayed by the tricky Lieutenant, movie director extraordinaire Alex Brady is left reeling as he realises just how badly he’s been played.

Utilising the skillz of a studio lighting technician, Columbo introduces some disguised police officers, plus Brady’s own lover Ruthie, who all played a part in a sting operation to draw the director out. As he outlines his own role in proceedings, Columbo takes a bow and for a short moment appears resplendent in full circus ringmaster regalia – top hat, red coat and all! Brady’s look of horrified amazement is, coincidentally, exactly the same as that of the bewildered viewer at home.

It’s a truly ridiculous finale and symptomatic of the preposterous showiness ‘new’ Columbo routinely worked into its closing scenes. Can you imagine the viewer reaction if this nonsense had happened in the 70s?


Last Salute – get your hand off, Swanny!

Season 5’s final outing is an absolute car crash of an episode, replete with self-satisfaction, shouting and outright weirdness.

There’s hardly an enjoyable moment to be found, packed as it is with absurdity, with even the ‘whodunnit’ parlour room reveal a total let-down. But the cringiest moment of all is the scene below, when a creepy Swanny attempts to comfort the roaring drunk Joanna by moving to her in seeming slow motion and placing his hand hideously on the side of her face.

It’s a moment of scream-out-loud creepiness and an action that even Columbo looks on with dismay. I find it so disturbing that I have to book a radiation scrub-down every time I view it.


Columbo Cries Wolf – bombies away!

Boy oh boy, if there’s a prize for most unrealistic reaction to being splashed by a bomb-diving glamour model, Columbo wins it hands down here.

This fleeting moment is so bad because Falk’s splash recoil is so unbelievably wooden. Indeed it’s rumoured that Pinocchio sought the actor out for tips on how to achieve true puppet-like status simply on the back of this bilge.

Falk was well known for insisting on dozens on retakes in order to get a scene just right in the 70s. So why was this so obviously done in a single take? It doesn’t help that the scene also features Columbo eyeing up a model in a swimsuit rather than averting his eyes in the cutely bashful way he would have done in the the classic era. How times have changed…


Murder in Malibu – Columbo says ‘panties’

The best way to summarise the horror of this scene is simple: Columbo says ‘panties’. Repeatedly. Far more often than any viewer can be comfortable with. And then a shopful of women stare him down until he beats a shamed retreat.

Please. Make. It. Stop.


Make Me a Perfect Murder – the musical interlude

A decent episode was blighted by a good example of the malaise that crept into a number of late 70s’ episodes in the shape of this pointless and mind-numbingly tedious scene of Columbo tinkering with a TV studio control panel.

All the neck-braced Lieutenant does is push buttons, stare at musical patterns on a screen and look pleased with himself for more than 2 minutes, which, I can promise you, outlives its welcome by more than 2 minutes. It’s probably the worst example of padding seen in any classic era episode.


Caution, Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health – the perv in the mac

How we laughed when Columbo encountered a shadowy, mac-wearing reflection of himself in the adult store in Caution, Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health – especially when the winking idiot says to the bemused Lieutenant: “Hope we both have fun tonight, pal.” Self-deprecating humour at its best, amirite?

Actually no. Because we didn’t laugh at all at this overly knowing nudge-nudge, wink-wink TOSH that has no place in any serious detective drama. Use of lethal force on this perp would have been entirely justifiable, even encouraged…


No Time to Die – go baby, go!

Twenty years before Miley Cyrus made twerking a global phenomenon, bride Melissa was shaking her booty with avengeance in this dismal 1992 adventure – but her antics were put into perspective by those of her dance partner: our mate, Columbo.

The Lieutenant embodies the embarrassing uncle jigging like a silly old man at every wedding you’ve ever been at – and I’m absolutely not OK with that. The scene may be relatively harmless, but that doesn’t make it alright.

This devilry occurs before 5 minutes of the episode have elapsed, leaving viewers in mortal dread of what the following 85 minutes will hold in store. Spoiler: it doesn’t improve.


Ashes to Ashes – serenading a Prince

This 1998 caper featuring Patrick McGoohan as Steinmetz-lookalike Eric Prince is by no means a bad episode – but that doesn’t prevent it from featuring this wickedly bad musical number to ‘celebrate’ Prince’s Mortician of the Year Award win.

Being serenaded by this dirge would make any award winner want to shrivel up and die due to the tune’s unholy trinity of being camp, jaunty and deeply unfunny. Too much of this and you, too, will be yearning for the sweet, silent embrace of the crypt.


And here come the top three…

3. Murder With Too Many Notes – the fish picture…

It’s not often I want to punish Columbo, but I’d make the exception here as his excruciating vacancy and pained facial expressions would make any viewer want to commit homicide.

He fails to recall the titles of two of the world’s most popular and unforgettable films (Psycho and Jaws) after hearing their entirely distinctive theme tunes, with an entire orchestra having to shout out the answers as if he were a simple child. Granted, this may all be part of the Lieutenant’s usual bumbling act, but gee whizz it’s agonising to watch.

These antics follow hot on the heels of the almost-as-annoying moment when Columbo joins in a whole orchestra sing-song of That’s Amore. Little wonder, perhaps, that this episode is held in such scant regard by the majority of fans.


2. Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star – the toothless simpleton

Jesus wept. What did Columbo fans do to deserve this? It’s like a scene from a bad 80s music video as a gurning, toothless old drunk spies Columbo and a twirling mermaid (I know!) through a giant fish tank at what must rank as the lamest entertainment venue in LA.

The doddering old fool’s infantile flapping wave at the pair induces gnashings of teeth so mighty that jaws are routinely put out of place as furious viewers struggle to comprehend what they’ve just witnessed.

The only (and I do mean only) reason this FILTH doesn’t take the top spot is because if its merciful brevity. A minute of this would certainly prove fatal, and even the 15 seconds shown below pushes most viewers dangerously close to the brink…


1. Sex & The Married Detective – Columbo toots his own trumpet tuba

Anyone who has witnessed this infamous scene must surely agree it’s Columbo’s most cringeworthy moment. Every aspect of it is disgraceful and such is the litany of badness that it’s hard to pinpoint the ultimate worst moment.

Could it be the grinning idiocy of the lead tubaist? The needless revelation that Columbo can play the instrument at all? The throat-slitting dreadfulness of the synchronised fountains? Or the absolute shower of b*llocks that is the suggestion that any child of any age could be remotely enthusiastic about witnessing such unutterable tedium?

It also ends in excruciating fashion with the tuba players leading the excited school kids on a Pied Piper of Hamlin-style ‘tuba march’ around the building. There’s over 3 minutes of this garbage to sit through and every second feels like a century.

The question I have is this: how on earth was an idea this bad ever conceived, let alone given the green light? The mind truly boggles…


Well gang, that’s your lot and if you managed to watch all 12 of those clips without flying into a rage, you’re in the top 2% of the most dedicated and forgiving Columbo fans on earth.

Please let me know of your own Columbo nightmare scenes that could have been included, and whether you agree with my choices. And remember – don’t take this all too seriously. For all the awfulness of these scenes (and many others), Columbo remains the greatest detective show of them all. And that is a very reassuring thought.


View more Columbo clips – good and bad – on my vimeo channel here.

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Columbo George Wendt
How this Herbert escaped inclusion here is anyone’s guess…
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112 thoughts on “12 toe-curlingly dreadful Columbo moments

  1. Very relieved that this list contained almost no ’70s episodes. By the time the 1990s rolled around, Columbo’s style was being replaced by technology. The episodes suffered as the believe-ability waned. If a Columbo re-boot is being planned (Mark Ruffalo please!) it should be set in the ’70s to allow Columbo’s style, not a lab test, solve the crime.

     
  2. Man, so much hate here for the reboot seasons! I was wondering why there were no episode reviews for seasons 8-10 but it seems pretty clear the author doesnt have much respect for them… possibly a “the originals always better” kind of guy? Lighten up man! I think the reboot seasons were just as entertaining as the original seasons were, and columbo would feel much more empty without them. I love that Columbo made a comeback and we got to grow old with him and see a older & wiser Columbo operate… write some reviews for the reboot seasons and try not to be so negative and focus on why other true fans love about them, not what you hate about them. Keep up the good work!

     
    • Looks like the Episode reviews are in order and come out few weeks so he hasn’t gotten to the later years episodes yet.

       
            • Had a feeling that was the case. Saw season 7 wasnt finished either so that thought did come; just hope CP isnt too rough on the reboot seasons as he seems to be pointing to in many posts. I agree they arent the same as the OG seasons, but that doesnt make them bad, just different. Different eras call for different viewing, in order to keep relevant the show needed to grow with the times and feel it did a good job keeping columbo true to the prior seasons while seeing new/ different sides of him. Hes human and humans do weird quirky things and thats why we all love the detective so much, hes loveable bc he can relate to every age gender or generation. Again, keep up the good work and cant wait to read more reviews & opinions!

               
              • Agree, i love the 70’s episodes but do appreciate the later years episodes also, Definitely different but it’s not the same era so you can’t really split hairs for that reason.

                 
              • I might surprise you, as I’m a fan of several new episodes some of which I think are very good. I deliberately haven’t watched any of the new ones for a long time so I can come back to them with fresh eyes. I’m hoping I may be pleasantly surprised, although I’ll definitely be calling out anything I find ridiculous or out of kilter with the Lieutenant we know and love.

                 
                • Excellent, it will be interesting to get your take on the later episodes. Though my top 10 Columbos are all 70’s episodes (top 15 for that matter) i’ve grown to appreciate the later episodes for what they are.

                   
                • For me, ‘Butterfly…’ and ‘It’s all in the game’ are better than three quarters of the original series

                  Can’t wait for your review of the Billy Connolly one!!!!!

                   
                  • Yes Broderick, Butterfly is a super fun episode, Shatners character was hilarious. The Billy Connolly episode…. not so much

                     
                • I am sure you will write positive reviews about several 1990s episodes… as an example, Agenda for Murder is one of my favourites! “That oxidized relic is yours?” haha
                  Columbo Goes to College, Rest In Peace Mrs Columbo, Ashes to Ashes, and more.

                   
  3. A few of these are my fave eps too. Caution…, Sex and…, Ashes…., Murder Under…., ….. Perfect Murder. But I have to agree with those scenes and the other ones you’ve mentioned in other eps. That scene in MMAPM I have to ff through. Why??? And there’s another scene in MWTMN when Columbo is escorting the suspect home and it’s so annoying. The scene goes on entirely too long. But we wouldn’t be loyal fans if we found everything to be fine with our faves.

     
  4. “The only (and I do mean only) reason this FILTH doesn’t take the top spot is because if its merciful brevity.”

    This LIQUID FILTH, you mean? (wink wink)

     
  5. Since my current rewatch online goes up to Uneasy Lies The Crown, I refrain from commenting on some of these. But of the ones I watched I would not call any of them dreadful. The one in Murder, Smoke and Shadows I quite liked, in fact. I Do agree that the scenes from Make Me a Perfect Murder and Sex and the Married Detective could have been cut without losing much of worth, though. But those two I still rank among the very best episodes.
    I would also second the scene from Identit Crisis another user brought up above as really weird and out of character to watch.

     
  6. We all agree: No Time To Die is not a favorite. As many episodes of Columbo as I’ve watched a million times, I do not even remember this dance. Absolutely forgettable.

    Totally agree with Ashes serenade. I hated that but otherwise absolutely love this episode.

    Too Many Notes is in the same category of Self-Portrait. Not memorable. Only when I focused intently did I even understand the story at all.

    Rock Star-
    The drunk scene for me is not memorable. The whole thing was goofy and TV theatre at its most obvious. For one thing – a mermaid? Really? Does this really exist? Would you get strapped in a swing, alone, in a dark, dank unlocked basement? And what would you do to the bartender who sends men you’ve never met in raincoats in to see you there all alone? Only on TV.

    The tuba tooting was pointless and I agree quite unbelievable when it comes to the kids,

    What bothers me the most are awkward cringeworthy moments. There’s the scene from Requiem for a Falling Star. In one scene Anne Baxter tries to be so aloof and asks Columbo his opinion on an outfit. Clearly he doesn’t care and efforts to distract him just don’t fly. Awkward.
    Also in Etude in Black, you have to cringe when John Cassavetes’ joke bombs so royally. Extremely awkward.

     
  7. I have to say I liked and hated the ringmaster tweak. I have grown to appreciate it more over time.

    I don’t even remember the creepy hand sequence of Last Salute. I just know I pretty much hate everything about that episode.

    The splash scene? I guess I remain unaffected. Just a blip.

    Yes the Murder in Malibu scene was “uncomfortable”.

    I do agree with the Perfect Murder scene. The musical interlude was unnecessary and goofy but it also could fascinate some people. Remember much of Columbo’s clues and discoveries were a result of tech especially new tech. There are those who may have actually been fascinated or even educated by what a little circus like, behind the scenes tech could do. Maybe.

    The pervert scene was bizarre for sure and in today’s TV much more would’ve been shown. But this wink wink moment was as dirty as things got. Good.

     
  8. I’ve never understood the hate for the tuba scene. None of the other scenes bother me either. Funny article though.

     
    • Here’s another unpopular opinion: there’s nothing wrong with the tuba scene. Columbo can play the tuba. So what? People keep talking about how terrible that is but they never explicate why.

      Now, saying the word “panties” over and over and over again in “Murder in Malibu”, that was just uncomfortable.

       
      • The whole Murder In Malibu episode was uncomfortable. The tuba scene wasn’t bad….but wasn’t that good either, just filling that was not really needed. I did think the raincoat guy in the adult shop in Caution Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health was actually funny.

         
  9. Honestly I wasn’t so put off by the b/w dream sequence but for years I just hated this episode entirely. Part of my problem was that I didn’t pay enough attention to it. Only when I actually provided my undivided attention to this episode, Murder – A Self Portrait, did I really even understand it. But there’s lots to hate about it mostly the main character. That guy’s character is unforgivably arrogant and misogynistic.

     
    • I love the black and white scenes myself. Like an earlier episode of Columbo with Robert Culp. It was experimental. The fact that the artist was misogynistic made you even happier when Columbo caught him.

       
      • That painter was such an arrogant mysoginistic jerk, I hated him from the first moment. Love when the women had the good sense to dump him and when Columbo nailed him. But the dream sequences were wel, made and sxary, I liked tbem

         
  10. Controversial opinion: There’s nothing wrong with 1990s “Columbo”, and most of the episodes are just as good as the original run.

    That does not apply to either “Undercover” or “No Time to Die”, which aren’t actually “Columbo” episodes…and it doesn’t apply to “Murder in Malibu” which truly is awful. But the rest? Pretty good, actually.

     
    • Agree with you to some extend. I don’t think most of the 90’s episodes were as good as the original run but do feel most them were stil pretty good. I’d add to your examples of bad ones definitely Strange Bedfellows and, more from personal taste, RIP mrs Columbo, It’s all in the game and Murder with too many notes. But I’ve enjoyed most 90’s episodes very much, some even more than some of the 70’s. Thanks for the comment!

       
      • I thought “RIP Mrs. Columbo” and “It’s All in the Game”–that’s the Faye Dunaway one, right?–were pretty good as well. In all honestly I am not looking forward to The Columbophile getting into the newer episodes because the reviews are going to be just relentless negativity. But there were a lot of good newer “Columbo” episodes, especially in the two real “seasons”, Season Eight and Season Nine. The specials that dribbled out 1991-2003, “Season Ten” if you will, was more spotty, but still had good episodes.

         
    • I love 1990s Columbo. I feel the scripts are on average a bit inferior to the ones of the seventies, but there is so much to enjoy nonetheless, and you can sense there is an effort to be inventive. Columbo Goes to College and Agenda for Murder are a couple of terrific episodes, to name a few. I also love that for the most part, Columbo is back to acting normal after the change in performing style of the late seventies. In fact, he is better than ever, and really wears the character like a second skin. (I will concede, though, that in some episodes he does go back to the overacted Columbo). There is a fantastic moment in Agenda for Murder where he drops the bumbling detective act and tells Denis Arndt’s character –McGoohan’s accomplice– that he’s on to him. Great stuff.

       
    • I agree to an extent, but I like No Time to Die and Undercover. How can you not like Ed Begley! Murder in Malibu is definitely the weakest but still not all bad. It’s all in the Game is my fav. The music of the 90s episodes was what I didn’t like.

       
  11. While not in the spirit of this list, Columbo taking pictures at Frances Galesko’s gravesite in “Negative Reaction” is to me really disrespectful, especially because she’s the victim. I know, not in the same vein, but one of the instances where he really steps outside the lines.

     
  12. “Last Salute” has so many bad scenes that selecting one from that episode is rather like picking up grains of sand from a beach. The one that annoys me beyond measure is the sequence in which Columbo squeezes Robert Vaughn’s character with himself and another detective uncomfortably into the backseats of an auto when all three could ride in perfect ease by putting one of the passengers into the empty front seat. In general, Columbo is thoroughly polite and well-mannered when conducting his cases, even towards his prime suspects; why inject this piece of gratuitous rudeness? I suppose there are many other scenes in “Last Salute” just as bad or worse, but this pathetic attempt to be funny falls flat on its face.

     
  13. Make me a Perfect murder is one of my favourite episodes (in his review of Try and Catch me, Columbophile says that Try and Catch me might be the last great Columbo episode, i’d say its the second from last with Perfect Murder the last great episode) People always mention this scene from Perfect Murder and I agree about it, it is a silly scene, appears to be pointless and lasts too log. It just makes me sad that this scene seems to be the most talked about in the episode, i think its a brilliant episode. I even like the Valerie Kirk stuff because they spent a bit more time developing Trish Van Devere’s character and giving her more depth than most of the other killers. The longer running time works well for this episode in doing that, the only bad scene in the episode is the one mentioned above. Also i am looking forward to seeing the episode review for Make me a Perfect Murder,hopefully very soon as its the next episode on the list 🙂

    A scene i always found dreadful, was in Murder,smoke and shadows, the scene where Columbo and the killer are going up and down on a crane with The Blue Danube playing away, the scene goes on for well over a minute and was another blatant example of pointless padding as far as i can see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZgKzhNJDiQ

     
      • True. The scene in Exercise in Fatality where Columbo waits for ages for the information he needs to be printed out and then spends a while talking on the answer machine springs to mind. I don’t mind the scene but i can just imagine inpatient viewers and first time watchers sitting there falling asleep and checking their watches and thinking this show is too slow for me

         
        • I don’t agree. I think people weren’t so impatient. Everything is speeded up. The scene was funny and showed the slowness of a bureaucratic computer company. Hilarious stuff !

           
    • yes I agree the crane scene is awful , Murder smoke and shadows has more silly scenes than most episodes but I still quite like it and yes I would call Make me a Perfect murder The last Truly great columbo ever made its one of my favourites and will be reviewed soon.

       
  14. Thank you for including the perv in the mac! That guy is so horrible I squirm to watch it. You’re right, it’s far too knowing for its own good 👎🏼.

     
  15. Some of these scenes are the best of the entire episode. I always liked the funny parts, they make the show better otherwise it would just be a detective show like many others.
    These scenes are part of what Columbo really is. Without these Columbo would not be what he is.

     
    • Yes I too like all the the funny scenes. This begs the question if so many people hate the funny scenes why do they like Columbo at all. I don’t get it.

       
      • I like humour in Columbo, but don’t consider the scenes listed here to be remotely funny. I feel the attempts at humour are very heavy-handed. Still, we all have different senses of humour so good luck to all of those viewers who enjoy these scenes.

         
  16. Most of these are later Columbos. Most of the later columbos arent any good anyway. From the 80’s on the production values dropped, the writing worsened and the acting declined. Also last Salute was one of the worst Columbos ever done. It was obvious Falk and Magoohan were just coasting and possibly drunk. Vaughn was mentally elsewhere as he knew this one was a throw away episode. He was just making his second house payment by hanging around while Falk and Magoohan screwed around.

     
  17. First since when was Columbo a serious cop show. I think these scenes were funny. My most cringeworthy scene is Columbo under the guillotine. It seemed so out of character. Lighten up folks or Falks.!

     
  18. I think your list is good, but I would have found a way to include something from “The Conspirators.” I think the writers’ knowledge of the Irish was based on Lucky Charms commercials.

     
  19. I might have a weird sense of humour, but the ‘perv in the raincoat’ scene never bothered me. The same goes for the drunk and mermaid scene. It’s a bit over-the-top, but it’s simply an innocent joke.

    There are lots of other examples in ‘Last Salute’, but I guess, you didn’t want to list them all, otherwise the list would’ve been much much longer.

    I agree about the tuba scene – it’s horrendous. As of ‘Undercover’ and ‘No Time to Die’ – those entire episodes can be easily nominated for the worst Columbo moments ever. It’s mind-boggling how anyone could greenlight those projects. They’re a disgrace to Columbo and to the medium of television itself as well.

     
  20. I agree that all of these are bad, but for my money there’s no doubt which scenes are the absolute worst. Second worst is the ending of “Strange Bedfellows,” where Columbo conspires with the mafia to force the killer to confess. That not only makes nonsense of all the detective stuff- why bother investigating if you’re going to make the guy think that he’ll be murdered unless he confesses?- but also wipes out Columbo’s status as a someone we can trust to stay on the side of good in a world where people do great evil.

    Bad as that scene is, though, there is one that is even worse. It’s the one in “Columbo Loves the Nightlife” when he’s face down in a toilet bowl, fishing around in there for some or other piece of evidence. What makes that scene so very bad is not only that it is a disgusting image, but that it is exactly the sort of thing a crime scene investigator would in reality do. So it breaks the spell of enchantment around Columbo, not only in that episode but retroactively in all the previous ones. Each time I see it, it sticks with me longer, takes more time before I can see any episode without thinking, Welp, there’s a house where Columbo spent some time rooting around in the toilet bowl.

    I say it’s even worse than “Strange Bedfellows” for two reasons. First, the Columbo we see in the other episodes shows a strong enough moral compass that it wouldn’t be in character for him to conspire with the mafia to threaten a suspect, so it’s easy to forget the scene while watching them. Whereas he really would be rooting around in toilets, so once you’ve seen him do it the image stays with you. Second, “Strange Bedfellows” is such a lousy episode altogether that it’s easy to dismiss everything about it, while “Columbo Likes the Nightlife” has a lot of good stuff in it. If it were cut down to 60 minutes and dissociated from Columbo, it would make a pretty good episode of some other show of the early 2000s. So a bad moment there stings in a way that a bad moment in “Strange Bedfellows” doesn’t.

     
  21. First of all, I think Strange Bedfellows is by far the worst Columbo ever happened, but your hatred against the ABC episodes is way too obvious.

     
    • And what’s wrong with being obvious about the hatred of the 90s Columbos? There may be – perhaps – 2-3 worth a watch, but on the whole they are dreadful examples of Columbo crime-solving. I’m sure that when Columbophile gets to these eps, we’ll all have a better chance to unload on them.

       
  22. Dude, I don’t even count the second go-round as the real Columbo. It’s like “Caddyshack II”, besmirching a classic by daring to share its name.

     
  23. It was inevitable that a scene from “Last Salute” would make this list, but I’m very surprised by the choice. Yes, the scene you chose is cringeworthy, but it’s cringeworthy for understandable dramatic reasons: in real time, it’s an uncle comforting his very troubled niece; in retrospect, it’s a double murderer “comforting” the very person he’s actively trying to frame for his crimes. It’s supposed to be bothersome. Compared to the ”take it around the full circle till you get the hang of it” scene from this episode, it doesn’t deserve to be on this list.

    As for “Murder With Too Many Notes,” I’d list the whole gotcha-less “gotcha” scene. When the “gotcha” is as embarrassing as this one, it warrants mention.

    Finally, I note a theme running through a lot of this post: musical interludes in Columbo generally don’t work. “Chopsticks” (“Etude in Black”) or “I Saw the Light” (“Swan Song”), maybe — but not more than that. If Carnegie Hall and Nashville don’t mix, neither do Columbo and music.

     
  24. I know this is all meant to have fun, not to be taken too seriously – and I don’t intend to – but I’ll tell you what’s wrong with this article in the first place. Taken out of context, seen seperately from the episodes they featured in, none of these scenes are particularly enjoyable; most of them only pretty insignificant. But when you consider the episodes they are part of, many of your examples are not that bad, some of them even pretty good – the ending of Murder, Smoke and Shadows for instance. Seeing this one out of context it’s meaningless but is very fitting when you consider Columbo is catching a master of special effects.
    I agree on the examples from No Time To Die and Last Salute: they are the really bad ones in this list, even more so because they are symptomatic for the episodes they feature in. You’re right when you said (about No time to die) it doesn’t improve. But even the clothes changing scene from Undercover (terrible episode indeed) isn’t that bad – that one has far worse scenes to plow through.
    Your worst scene, the tuba one, is a bit silly but otherwise no harm done. And why you would let the ‘drenching scene’ from Columbo cries Wolf bother you that much is beyond me. Your writing skills reviewing that scene (‘Indeed it’s rumoured that Pinocchio sought the actor out for tips on how to achieve true puppet-like status’) are far worse than the scene itself: you’re trying so hard to make this a bad scene that you lose credibility writing it down.
    Furthermore I think the musical scene in Ashes to Ashes is very funny indeed, as well as providing great contrast for the tension between Columbo and Eric Prince, as the latter is about to be caught. Neither is there anything wrong with the drunk old man watching the fish tank, in my opinion. And Columbo not remembering the movie Jaws is all part of his act. For that you’d have to watch the whole episode (true, not a great one) but seeing this one out of context, again, doesn’t mean anything and cannot be judged accordingly.
    I’ve been critical towards some of your recent articles, so let me take this opportunity to tell you I’m not out for blood here. As you know I love your website and the passionate way you can express your love for the show. I just disagree (strongly) on some of your views and preferences and no harm done.
    But when, in this day and age, people take offense when a grown man says the word ‘panties’ a few times’ in an otherwise very clever way of solving a murder… Jesus wept indeed!

     
    • Well David….(sigh)….again you seem to take Columbophile a little too seriously, despite your disclaimer. If you want to disagree about his selections, that of course is fine and fair game; myself, I would ignore the bad scenes that don’t reflect on the Columbo character, such as the Swanny one chosen from “Last Salute” – Columbo in the crowded car from that ep is much more embarrassing to my mind. But really, you don’t need to go after Columbophile’s writing efforts to try to score points. As the Brits might say, that’s really “not cricket”.

       
      • Allright, sigh all you like, I don’t care. But please, from now on, refrain from making assumptions, because I never ever do anything to ‘score points’. When someone uses a certain phrasing to ridicule something I like (no matter how seriously I should take it), I can say what I think about that. I think Columbophile is an excellent writer and have told him so on more than one occassion, but there the writing is off and forced in my opinion, and why not tell him that? As I specifically said I’m not out for blood here, just telling how it is – for me.

         
    • You’re right, David. These scenes shouldn’t be viewed without the movies they’re part of.

       
  25. one scene that really annoys me is the wheres the trash ,with the foreign lady in Sex and the married detective its so lame with this old man theme thrown in .

     
  26. No accident that all but two of these are from the latter incarnation. That a moment from “Last Salute” is on the list isn’t surprising either given that it’s the worst installment of the “classic” era.

    I’m in total agreement over the moment in “Make Me A Perfect Murder”. It’s over two minutes of our lives we’ll never get back. Given the flow the story it’s totally out of place, ads nothing to the narrative, and is a silly interlude when the rest of the episode has a serious tragic tone.

     
  27. Great post columbophile These were some very silly and forgettable scenes paticulary from the new batch however I dont mind the porn shop scene from Caution i find it slightly funny and i think the yoga scene and the columbo and robert vaughn cosying up together in Last salute to the commodore are worse than the creepy hand scene.

     
  28. Disclaimer- I dislike “No Time to Die”. But I cringe at the end. The police rush in, Melissa is clearly having a breakdown (rightfully so), she’s being comforted by her new husband, and Columbo is just standing there, looking pleased. It’s just such an out of place reaction.

     
  29. You forgot the cringeworthy attack on the poor boy Mario in Murder Under Glass and that insufferable scene in “It’s all in the game” with that switch turned off and on for what seems ro be ages.

     
  30. Thanks for a hilarious post. I hadn’t seen a lot of these scenes before and now feel like I never want to see the offending episodes. The tuba scene is mind blowing. I can hardly believe it comes from a Columbo episode.

     
      • valid point but you can include Murder in Malibu in that statement its a terrible episode from start to finish .

         
        • Murder In Malibu is an affront to the Columbo series. I can’t believe it was allowed to air. Other episodes have their issues but Malibu was just laughable.

           
            • I absolutely Can not stand that woman in murder in Malibu Forget her name No surprise there , just makes the episode awful

               
          • Murder in Malibu was just terrible and I am some one who likes a lot of the new ones so here is my top 5 new ones and my least favorite of the New batch
            best new ones
            1) Death hits the jackpot
            2) Columbo goes to college
            3) Agenda For Murder
            4 ) Caution murder can be hazardous to your health
            5) The murder of a Rock star A trace of murder or maybe Murder smoke and shadows (cant decide )

            worst new ones
            1) no time to die
            2) Murder in Malibu
            3) Undercover
            4) murder with too many notes
            5) Its all in the game . Ashes to ashes columbo goes Murder a self portrait or strange bedfellows
            Again cant decide on 5th place

             
            • Your worst are right on spot except Malibu would be #1 for me, my number 5 would be Self Portrait, very boring. My top 5 later years would be
              1. Butterfly In Shades Of Gray
              2. Columbo Goes To College
              3. Uneasy Lies The Crown
              4. Murder Of A Rock Star
              5. Grand Deceptions….which i believe is underrated.

               
              • I quite like Uneasy lies the crown its quite well written , but couldnt find room for it , Grand deceptions is okay but not nearly one of the best new ones one thats underrated slightly for me is A trace of murder but i could never Get to like Butterfly in shades of Grey. Nor Shatners seventies episode Fade in to Murder But there not among the worst .

                 
              • yes I agree i am not a fan of murder self portrait either very boring and nonsense ending and forgettable murderer .

                 
  31. Not for the first time when reading your blog I have tears of laughter running down my cheeks! I agree with you 100% on the tuba scene. It stuns me that it was ever made.

    I’d like to add some honorable mentions: when Columbo was knocked over the head in ‘Undercover’; when Justin creepily kissed his mother’s neck in ‘Goes to College’; Columbo’s confrontation with the mob boss in ‘Strange Bedfellows’; Columbo kissing Tyne Daly in ‘Undercover’ (boy, that was a bad episode, wasn’t it?). I’d have probably included the gotcha from ‘Last Salute’ ahead of the moment you identified, but it certainly is a dreadful moment.

    I made it through all the clips, so proudly now consider myself in the top 2% most dedicated Columbo fans!

     
    • Thanks Mr Thesaurus, I’m pleased you enjoyed it and impressed you made it through all the clips.

      Your call on Justin canoodling with his own mum is a great call! I totally forgot about that but it is super-creepy and very weird. The first draft of this article even included Columbo being knocked out in Undercover, simply because it was the absolute antithesis of what Levinson and Link wanted for the series.

       
      • Murder smoke and shadows has probably more silly scenes than any other episode , The silly directors chair scene which goes on for an age with silly background music , The scene in the diner where columbo listens in and the police officer mistakes columbo for an actor , the special effects scene and the ridiculous end scene But despite all this I like it ,its well written , fisher Stevens is great , Ruth gernigan who was also the stepdaughter in butterfly is gorgeous, not a bad addition to the series But not one of the best either . i would rather it than Grand deceptions any day.

         
  32. CP, why do I have the feeling that you will get more vehement disagreements in these responses than for almost any piece you’ve ever done? In order to define a scene as cringe-worthy, each blogger must agree that it lacks humor, is inappropriate for this series and this detective, is out of place even in the context of this particular episode or scene, AND is indeed as bad as you make it sound relative to all the other bad scenes in the long-running series. Getting agreement on all these points is a lot to ask for. In any case, here are my two cents worth:

    1. I would reverse the order. IMHO, the pants, panties, and Swanny scenes should be the top 3 easily, and I’d be willing to bet that they would probably make the top 3 in a poll, because they are all independently cringe-worthy, let alone degrading to the intelligence and stature of the detective and the quality of the series. Moreover, one cannot even imagine a misguided sense of logic that would justify choosing these scenes. Likewise, the Perfect Murder scene is top-5 cringe-worthy because smack in the middle of an extremely good and serious episode, it turns Columbo into a dithering idiot, incredibly bemused by something that no average 5-yr-old child would find amusing in the least.

    2. In the perve, splash and “fish picture” scenes, the writers thought they’d be funny in the context of the later Columbo overkill; they just swung and missed. Funny? Absolutely not. Cringe-worthy? Probably. Cringe-worthy in the context of those episodes? Only mildly so.

    3. The “Prince tune” and “fishbowl drunk” scenes do not rise to the level of top-10 because they do not touch the sanctity of Columbo the detective or Columbo the show. Simply a small aside that flopped, but kinda harmless.

    4. My strongest disagreements are with the “director” and “tuba” scenes. The former seems ok considering the context. Given the arrogance of Alex Brady towards Columbo, and his attempt to confuse and overwhelm him with “smoke and mirrors,” Columbo turned the tables on him, mocking him at his own game and proving that he was one-step ahead the entire time. The clown outfit is obviously not real, but merely what a bewildered Brady sees in his imagination for a second. Not the greatest Columbo ending, but I didn’t find it painful to watch. But what REALLY shocked me was your picking the least cringe-worthy of the 12 as your numero uno. I don’t find it preposterous to imagine that little kids would be amused to see a rumpled old detective walk in out of the blue and play a tuba ably, or that they’d enjoy hearing a catchy kids’ tune on the deep bass sounds of a booming tuba.

     
    • I don’t expect full agreement on such a contentious issue as this, and certainly don’t claim this list to be definitive.

      Re. Murder, Smoke and Shadows, regardless of whether it’s all in Alex’s imagination, it’s such a nonsensically overblown and flashy contrivance to include *at all* in a Columbo episode. Putting Columbo’s head in a Guillotine was bad enough, but this ending gave a crystal clear indication that the show was moving in some very silly directions and was perhaps taking itself a lot less seriously than its classic era counterpart. I wonder what 70s fans made of it when it first aired? I’d love to hear from any such viewers…

      I’m surprised you enjoy the tuba scene, but always pleased to hear folk can glean more enjoyment than myself out of episodes and scenes I dislike. From online debates with fans the tuba scene seems to be almost universally panned and one of the worst examples of the direction the comeback episodes went in.

       
      • I didn’t say I enjoyed the tuba scene, just that it was a wasted and silly 2 minutes rather than a torturous 2 minutes. Cringe-worthy must make you wince and want to scream, either because of the utter inanity of the scene itself, or because of how degrading it is to Columbo the man, or Columbo the series. This was neither to me, just plain silly filler. Moreover, precisely because the tuba scene occurred in the later years, in which even the good episodes were drawn out and filled with unnecessary fillers, it was even less bothersome. On the other hand, the Perfect Murder scene left me with my mouth agape and my head shaking, as the Columbo of all brains and respect (despite the fumbling) was suddenly turned into a dithering idiot. THAT was painful to watch. Likewise, the whole notion of the panties scene is so absurd and degrading in and of itself, and especially to Columbo, who would have said “you know, that p thing” in an earlier episode, let alone to stand in a lingerie store analyzing panties aloud in front of ten women – and to prove such a stupid clue at that.

        As for the Smoke and Mirrors scene, yes, it was contrived, but I took it as Columbo mocking the contrived world of his antagonist, rather than Columbo trying to “progress” into this newly contrived world, as he does in many of the later episodes.

         
      • I simply love ❤️ Columbo! The ONLY ones, that I watched, that is the least bit unlikeable was the scene of Columbo changing in the back seat. Also, the one that he used the word
        ”panties” was a bit distasteful to me. But all of the other ones were funny!
        As I said, I just love Columbo!

         
      • I dont hate the Tuba scene and you have to allow for filler but I certainly wouldnt choose to watch that particular episode and I dont think sex and the married detective was one of the finest new ones it was far too sexualised and at times columbo comes off as a bit silly but its miles better than murder with too many notes or columbo cries wolf.

         
  33. No Time To Die: a bad Columbo is a bad Columbo movie – one more bad scene doesn’t really make a difference. It does in Make Me A Perfect Murder as the rest of the story is excellent and the contrast so sharp.

     
  34. This was the one article that I did not like in your otherwise excellent website. So many invectives and outright hate almost in the commentary! A bit of cultural revisionism on the series. Seems to me we are running out of ideas and are nitpicking to appear cool and critical. What we end up doing is ruining the effect of watching the episodes because of some exagerated details! This is the first time I thought that to much information is a bad thing.

     
    • No attempt to be cool here, but this is a debate that goes on amongst Columbo fans on social media pages all the time and is really just intended to be a bit of fun. I have no shortage of other ideas. In fact I first started drafting this article three years ago but only just completed because of so many other ideas floating around.

       
    • With all due respect, Tom, I think you are taking things a bit too seriously. This is a TV show, after all, and I am sure even Falk and the writers would not mind hearing true fans taking down the few bad parts in an otherwise historically great series. I’m sure even they would agree that some of these were cringe-worthy, when looking back at them in retrospect years later. Finally, the last human being whom I’d accuse of showing hate for anything in Columbo is CP, who could not possibly spend as much time as he does to cover a single television series unless he loved it to pieces.

       
  35. I have to agree the Lissajous pattern sequence in “Make me a Perfect Murder” is utterly annoying and not something that is accurate in any way.
    Columbo was interesting in that it regularly showcased technology that was very new at the time, or novel in an accurate way. This started early with the Card Dialler phone in “Ransom”, Subliminal cutting in “Double Exposure” and various IBM products culminating with the wonderful Selectric typewriter in “Now you see him”.
    Back to that pattern sequence, not only is it a wasted 2 minutes of an otherwise excellent outing with a killer soundtrack, it just wouldn’t happen, the Lissajous pattern is something you get on an oscilloscope, not a TV camera monitor, and they are as tedious to watch on your oscilloscope as they are in Columbo, I’ve tried!
    Another group of scenes which I detest are all those in “Mind over Mayhem” featuring a mutilated Robbie the Robot, why, why, why? The computer in the room is a 70’s IBM machine, state of the art at the time, it could have comfortably done what Robbie/MM20 did, but in a realistic way, like the card dialler phone in Ransom.
    They must have borrowed the computer consoles from IBM, state of the art kit that cost tens of thousands at the time, so at what point did a props man go “I know, we’ve also got the remains of the prop robot from Forbidden Planet in the shed, we could use that too”

     
  36. I don’t agree. Sorry, I really don’t agree.
    Several of the nominated scenes, and especially the tuba scene in “Sex and the Married Detective”, or the not nominated but mentioned scene in “A Bird in the Hand” are better, even much better than the boring hollandaise scene with the clumsy lieutenant in “Double Shock”.

     
    • i like the cooking scene in double shock but its a bit overrated in my opinion , the Nun scene in Negative Reaction is funnier for me but also a tad overrated , Two very good episodes though in particular Negative reaction which is my second favorite

       
    • I really don’t care for that cooking scene in Double Shock either, especially with all the pointless laughing.

      On the other hand, I love the scene with the pervert in Caution, Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health. Hilarious moment, and my jaw dropped to the floor when I saw it was included on the list.

       
  37. Apologies for missing episode names, and if episode name is wrong, too painful to research them properly

    Identity Crisis: Columbo too distracted by dancing act to be bothered with the case. Mrs Columbo should have appeared on screen and slapped his face into next week

    The one where columbo is stopped by the traffic cop and he drives his car away to comedy music, a warning klaxon for everything that is going to go wrong with Columbo in the future

    Special prize for longest excruciating moment, married dirty old man dates his suspect. OK Columbo might have been stringing her along, but we needed a reassuring scene to tell us that and de-creepify the whole thing, Columbo checking with his boss that apparent breach of ethics is OK? Ruins an episode that could have been a masterpiece

     

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