I’m not yet halfway through my own journey of Columbo’s adventures from 1989-2003, but readers have made their feelings abundantly clear on the best and worst of the comeback series.
Over the past few weeks, hundreds upon hundreds of you have voted for your single favourite ‘new’ Columbo episode and I can now reveal your top 10, as well as your bottom 5. There probably won’t be too many surprises here, but I’m sure you’ll find the results interesting all the same
As an FYI, it’s worth noting that the top six polled almost two-thirds of the total vote between them, and there’s a big gulf between them and the rest. With that in mind, read on!
10. Sex and the Married Detective
Even the sheer torture of the infamous tuba scene hasn’t prevented a reasonable proportion of voters from showing their support for wronged sex therapist Dr Joan Allenby, and her shadowy alter ego Lisa.
All credit to Lindsay Crouse, who delivered a sympathetic, smart and sexy performance in making Allenby one of the most interesting killers of the new age.
9. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
The episode that kicked off his comeback in 1989, Columbo Goes to the Guillotine may have a distinctly ludicrous ending, but it does have some cracking moments, including the highly memorable trick the Lieutenant pulls off in the isolation chamber to bust Elliot Blake’s aura of invincibility.
Neither the best nor worst of Columbo, one thing most fans agree on is that it was nice to have the Lieutenant back after an 11-year hiatus.
8. Caution, Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
Gorgeous George Hamilton was back playing a Columbo killer for the second time here, 16 years after his debut as Dr Mark Collier in A Deadly State of Mind.
This time out he’s vengeful TV show host Wade Anders, who murders a rival with a poisoned cigarette to prevent his own shameful porn film past from being divulged. Lots of fun.
7. Death Hits the Jackpot
Death Hits the Jackpot features an immensely enjoyable turn from the scenery-chewing Rip Torn as a treacherous uncle to a lottery winning stooge, whose murderousness is ultimately exposed by a juvenile chimpanzee. I kid you not…
Better than it sounds on paper, Jackpot is also notable in that it is the episode with the longest build up to Columbo’s intro, which occurs in the 32nd minute.
6. Columbo Cries Wolf
The first revival episode to thoroughly and unashamedly embrace its new era, Columbo Cries Wolf is something of an attack on the senses, with its day-glo fashions, sparkling grins and poppy soundtrack a million miles removed from the classic cuts of the 70s.
The mystery at its heart also dares to go where no other episode has gone before by having the Lieutenant completely and utterly fooled into believing one half of a top-shelf magazine partnership has been murdered, while she’s really just swanning around Europe and using the police investigation to boost the mag’s circulation.
Featuring the series’ most punchable villain in Sean Brantley, there’s plenty to enjoy in this flash, brash and trashy romp.
5. Ashes to Ashes
Falk and McGoohan combined on screen one last time in this funereal outing that marked the 30th anniversary of the Lieutenant’s screen debut in Prescription: Murder.
Notable for seeing McGoohan move ahead of Robert Culp and Jack Cassidy by playing a Columbo killer for the fourth time, the two leads may have been a lot longer in the tooth but the chemistry was still unmistakable. Should the entire series have ended on a high note here? Quite possibly so.
4. It’s All in the Game
The only Columbo episode written by Peter Falk, the wily old dog managed to convince silver screen goddess Faye Dunaway to star opposite him in It’s All in the Game – an episode that stunned fans by showing the Lieutenant openly canoodling with with his chief suspect. What would Mrs Columbo say?
Of course, the ‘romance’ was a sham on both characters’ part to put the other off the scent, but I am 100% certain that Mr Falk rather enjoyed locking lips with the revered beauty. Dunaway is much more than just a pretty face, though, as the Oscar-winning actress also bagged an Emmy Award for her role here.
3. Agenda for Murder
In my opinion, Agenda was the first really decent Columbo of the new era, helped in no small measure by a captivating, Emmy-winning performance by Patrick McGoohan as villainous attorney Oscar Finch.
As well as the two leads revelling in their third head-to-head encounter, this is a strong story in its own right and one of the best examples of the series going back to basics and delivering a gimmick-free mystery in the mould of the 70s classics.
2. Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
An intriguing adventure that bravely attempted to convince the audience that Mrs Columbo has been killed at the hands of deranged widow Vivian Dimitri, Rest in Peace Mrs Columbo is a hit with fans, with more than 10% of voters rating this as their top new episode.
Although the power of the bait-and-switch erodes with subsequent viewings, this remains a strong entry with a highly satisfying conclusion in which Columbo lays down the law and gets an almighty slap to the face from Vivian as he does so. Ouch!
1. Columbo Goes to College
Raking in more than 20% of the total vote, Columbo Goes to College is the standout winner in the hearts and minds of the fanbase – and it’s not hard to see why.
A brilliant combination of obnoxious frat brat baddies, an amazingly audacious crime, and Peter Falk on vintage form and playing it like a natural extension of the 70s’ character make this an A-grade episode regardless of its era – even if the gotcha was essentially lifted straight from A Friend in Deed.
If every ‘new’ Columbo featured half the smarts of College, the revival era could be considered a golden age. Heck, this even boasts that most glorious of sights for diehard fans: Robert Culp in typically nasty form as the fuming father of one of the killers. Bravo to all involved.
“Columbo Goes to College is an A-grade episode regardless of its era.”
Get the full review read here.
The least loved of all?
The competition at the foot of the standings was just as tough as it was at the top, with a number of episodes vying for the wooden spoon. Here are the five lowest-polling episodes, in descending order: –
Strange Bedfellows – It’s a deserved thumbs down from fans for George Wendt and his ridiculous false beard.
A Trace of Murder – Few viewers consider this ‘celebratory’ 25th anniversary special worthy of celebration.
Grand Deceptions – Anything but grand, this is one of the series’ most tedious and forgettable outings. Reviewed here.
Murder in Malibu – This daily soap opera version of Columbo is an absolute shocker, which heaps shame on the series. Reviewed here.
No Time to Die – No surprise to see this tosh propping up the rest. Not just a dreadful Columbo episode, this is awful by any televisual standard. Reviewed here.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and whether you agree with how the top and bottom of the list shaped up. Any surprise inclusions or omissions? Hit me up in the comments section below.
That’s all for today. Thanks to all who took the time to vote in this poll, and if you haven’t already done so, I’d urge you to cast a vote for your very favourite Columbo episode of all right here, as I’ll be releasing an updated breakdown of the top 10 of before the year’s out.
I admittedly haven’t seen them all, but here’s where I am so far…
1. Goes to College
2. Ashes to Ashes
3. It’s All in the Game
4. Strange Bedfellows
5. Death Hits the Jackpot
6. RIP Mrs. Columbo
7. A Bird in the Hand
8. Goes to the Guillotine
9. Uneasy Lies the Crown
…Those are the ones I remember well enough to rank.
Dear Columbophile, why do we never see which 4 episodes by name Peter Falk won his Emmy awards for?
He won his awards for best actor in a series, rather than in individual episodes. Guest stars would be nominated for one-off episodes, eg Patrick McGoohan won for By Dawn’s Early Light and later Agenda for Murder.
I believe that series’ officially nominated primary star actors/actresses performances have to be “represented” by a specific episode that is put forth to the Academy voters, which they presumably watch to help them form their opinions. If they win, its not designated as being for that episode, but as an “overall” award for the series. (Someone please correct me if that’s inaccurate!)
This sounds like it could be a job for David Koenig, who might be able to track down which, if any, specific episodes were “representing” Peter Falk’s acting efforts in each of the years he won Emmys.
For my money, It’s All In The Game was clearly the best of the post-classic era. You have a terrific performance by Faye Dunaway, great cat-and-mouse with the fake romance, and a killer both ruthless AND sympathetic. The shock ending adds to the episode, as it was the only time Columbo himself was on the receiving end of the “Gotcha”.
For me, it’s one of the best of the lot and firmly in my Top 10 favourites
As I’ve written before, several of the new episodes, ‘Sex and the Married..’, ‘Columb Cries Wolf’, ‘Agenda for Murder’, ‘Rest in Peace…’, ‘Murder Can be Hazardous..’, ‘Butterfly in Shades of Grey’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ are all better than average Columbo’s
We tend to forget that, by Columbo standards a lot of Season 5, 6 and 7 was distinctly below average and plenty of ones before were as well
Yes im a bit surprised to see a trace of murder rated so low its not a 5 syar new episode but its quite funny andentertaining iprefer it to goes under the guillotine which i condider one of the poorer new episodes &Rip mrs columbo which is overrated and and abit uncolumbolike and its all in the game which despite faye dunaeways high profile i never liked the episode much as for grand deceptions its so dull its easy to see why it rates low in most peoples opinion , strange bedfellows is far from a top new one but i prefer it to murder a self portrait
Which is a relative dud on my view which is a shame because it had potential and vould have been written better but its trashy script and weird and unusual ending plus some poor acting really ruined it .
yes, Mr. Steve, Trace of Murder stars a talented and popular American comedic actor but is also good primarily to its realistic gotcha ending; better than the complicated (contrived?) one involving a truck in a parking garage in the much loved “Columbus Goes to College”. Sorry but that ending doesn’t work for me, in an otherwise fetching episode.
Sorry, here in the US they ran “Strange Bedfellows” right before “Trace of Murder” and I was actually commenting on the “gotcha” from Bedfellows which elevated the whole episode for me. I don’t remember the final scene of “Trace of Murder” and I’m only a half hour into it, but I agree that is has a nice humor element.
The missing cat hairs and fibres on the jacket in the wedding photos proved they were planted and columbo also proving kathleen and patrick were involed with each other cracked open tgw case , the gotcha is solid enough in a trace of murder and i consider the episode a tad underrated , i prefer it much to under the guillotines gotcha which for me is just ridiculous and un columbolike .
Spoiler Alert: Great “Trace of Murder” ending, where Columbo gets both evil-doers to turn on each other!
I agree with you on “A Trace of Murder”: an entertaining and cleverly conceived plan. Notwithstanding, if pressed to pick the best entries from ABC Columbo, I’d go with “Agenda for Murder”, “It’s All in the Game” and “Columbo goes to College”. I also enjoy “RIP, Mrs. Columbo” for its change of pace. Nevertheless, there are also other worthy episodes, as I’ve stated previously in this thread.
I’ll be watching this for the first time in years, as I’m rating all the episodes.
One thing I’ve noticed is that every one of the new ones, was at least slightly better than I first thought – that’s apart from ‘Murder in Malibu’.
For instance I couldn’t stand ‘Rest in Peace’ as I thought it was was OTT. Now we know more about mental illness, it fits in perfectly with today’s world
George Hamilton and William Shatner’s killers are better than their 70’s ones. With McGoohan managing the near impossible as been almost as good as those vintage episodes he did in the original ones
Even ‘Undercover’ is not that bad, I think that’s because we now know it’s not a normal Columbo format and so if you view it, as a thriller that Columbo guest stars in, it’s surprisingly satisfactory
I might as well add my own top 10, which has a fair share of overlap:
01) A Bird in the Hand…
02) Death Hits the Jackpot
03) Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to your Health
04) Sex and the Married Detective
05) Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo
06) Columbo Goes to College
07) Columbo Cries Wolf
08) Columbo and the Murder of a Rockstar
09) Uneasy Lies The Crown
10) Murder with Too Many Notes (very controversial pick and I acknowledge the writing is a mess, but I can’t not a love an eccentric McGoohan-directed episode + Connolly is wonderful)
Gunni, Enjoyed your list, especially that you included Murder With Too Many Notes which is quite watchable,(until it isn’t), but I have to ask if you have seen “Ashes to Ashes” or does it just not “rock your boat”?
I’ve only watched Ashes to ashes in full giving it 100% focus once ever , I’ve occasionally watched bits and pieces of it over the last few years as it often crops up on 5USa but im just not a fan of it despite mcgoohan being my favorite villian , I loved him in Agenda for murder and Identity crisis and also by Dawns early light 3 top drawer episodes but not this caper , I remember a dog running and knocking an urn off a table coumbo and mcgoohan sitting in a hearse discussing something or another , I haven’t watched it or paid it too much attention so I cant be too critical but ill go all out and say its one of my least favorite episodes and a bit surprised to see it in the top 10 of the new ones , I would easily replace it with ,Uneasy lies the crown , A bird in the hand , A trace of murder and even murder of a rock star .
Heres my top ten new ones
1 Agenda for murder
2 Death hits the jackpot
3 Goes to college
4 caution murder can be hazardous to health
5 cries wolf
6 A trace of murder
7 murder smoke and shadows
8 murder of a rock star
9 A bird in the hand
10 torn between likes the
Nightlife grand deceptions sex and the married detecive
Definitely a worthy list although I’m surprised Columbo Goes To The Guillotine made it, would have exchanged it for Murder Of A Rockstar. I’m not a big fan of Agenda For Murder either although it’s hard to deny its popularity. As for the lowest-ranked: I don’t think Strange Bedfellows is that bad, not a highlight, but not at the bottom either, but otherwise a deserving selection. Grand Deceptions might also be a bit better than the rest, but it being rather forgettable makes it understandable that few people voted for it.
Gunni, Once I got used to George Wendt, I think Strange Bedfellows is okay for repeat watching, especially for its ending, which is less contrived than many Columbos, including the crazy parking garage shooting from the truck in “Columbo Goes to College”.
HI guys. Just spent a year watching the complete box set and think the last film, Likes The Nightlife, is much better than generally given credit for , particularly when folk think of a swan song. Ashes to Ashes didn’t have a premeditated killing , Billy Connelly was too glib. Nightlife made it valid for a new generation – they might want to watch it backwards, which can only help (i.e it isn’t made for nostalgists).
I have to add that George Wendt is a weak point, and once you find him distractingly bad, your enjoyment of this is forever ruined.
Totally agree about George Wendt! Seems if that guy isn’t sitting on a bar stool with a drink in front of him, I just don’t find him credible in any other role.
Firstly, I must say that I rate very highly the whole lot of Columbo episodes (from whatever age, Classic or New), with only a few exceptions (Last Salute, No Time to Die, Undercover are mostly a pass and I could add some other 2 or 3 if I am not in the mood). Basically, I like them all, and that’s the essence of what I want to say!
Regarding the new episodes:
I find season 8 the most lackluster of all, although if I don’t consider any of those episodes particularly bad; they are not remarkable, but not totally forgettable. Just below average, in general.
I do like season 9 quite a bit, specially as the Columbo character, personality and overall attitude got back to classic era bringing back the balance between wit and distraction and leaving aside the excessive tenderness associated to the character during season 8.
Season 10 and special episodes from 1990 onwards were pretty acceptable also (not counting No Time To Die and Undercover), although slighly below average.
In short, my favorite episodes from the New era are Uneasy Lies the Crown, Columbo Cries Wolf, Agenda for Murder, Columbo Goes to College, Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous…
… but none of the others (with the exceptions already mentioned) sticks out, in my book, as badly as Last Salute…, The Conspiratores, A Case of Immunity or Matter of Honor…
Greetings! Interesting list- don’t understand why “Ransom” comes out so low- you a such a great episode and an awesome pilot.
Ed from Miami, FL
Not germane to this thread, but it’s the most recent place to post this item:
There have been a spate of newspaper and magazine articles in the US this year lauding 70s Columbo and why it is great comfort TV watching in 2020. The latest is today (12/9) from the Chicago Tribune, at https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/tv/ct-mov-tv-shows-that-calm-your-nerves-1211-20201209-qbchav3h3zc2xfixcvveqgzwjq-story.html.
BONUS: Columbophile gets a “terrific” shoutout from the writer. Congrats CP!
How nice! I’d never seen that article before.
Pretty cool, thanks Glenn and nice to see the nod to CP from the Chicago Tribune.
This may sound completley random but i hope the great cp can awnser , lets go right back to 1969 and prescription murder
Why was there white chalk markings draw around flemmings wife when she was found alive these markings should only drawn by a crime scene team when a body is confirmed dead
Thank you soooo much for sharing this.
Thanks Glenn for forwarding that. I saw it in my newspaper and thought I’m on the right track with my Columbo enjoyment, but failed to forward the article.. Good job!!!!
‘Wade Anders was famed for having the biggest hand in showbiz.’ Thanks for that one, that made my day. I agree with Banbroview that a poll determined by Top 20 lists would be interesting as well. I’m convinced that the outcome would be different. However I can see the technical difficulties.
A question: do you think, when it comes to the 70’s episodes, that Columbo fans are more unanimous about the best episodes of that bunch than when it comes to the 90’s ones, or would it be the other way around? I’d say the latter since most people feel there are only a few from the 90’s that stand out. Having said that it’s surprising to me that episodes like It’s all in the game and RIP Mrs.Columbo are among the fan’s favourites, so maybe the 90’s ones divide the fans’ opinions more?
It is my opinion that RIP Mrs Columbo is the most overrated of the new Columbos. A lot of people appear to rate it very good to great, whereas I find it average at best.
Love all the shows seen all of them from the 70s’till the mid 2000.
Tomorrow’s(sundays) line up on 5USA consists slightly unusually of new episodes
9.10 Murder in Malibu ( will definitely skip)
11.05 Dagger of the mind ( will also skip, stinker from the seventies)
1.05 Candidate for crime ( must watch typical solid seventies ep )
3.05 Death hits the Jackpot ( star pick my overall favourite new episode)
5.05 Sex and the married detective ( watchable new episode)
7.00 Strange bedfellows ( not sure where I stand on this one but might watch it all the same.
the first 3 episodes are re run from last Sunday.
Just watched MCBHTYH. Passable entertainment, highlighted by the uniquely ingenious means of poisoning. Episode as a whole fell a little flat though. I think it’s the combination of Columbo quickly verifying a homicide via toxicology report with a complete lack of other suspects. So the only thing for Columbo to do is spoil Hamilton’s alibi in the final 10 minutes (which is done pretty well).
Most of the running time is spent with Columbo learning Hamilton’s true motive, which is fine in and of itself, but because he already thoroughly suspects Hamilton after their first meeting — and the viewer already knows the motive — many scenes feel perfunctory.
I wonder if this murder concept would have better lived up to its potential had the story found a way to have the victim smoke the poisoned cigarettes not in the presence of the murderer, thereby removing any need for a fake alibi. Food for thought.
I’m still working through the new episodes so too early for me to say whether this belongs in the top 10, but it doesn’t feel especially memorable.
Hamilton’s return is very enjoyable, but I thought the gotcha was extraordinarily lame. Was it a contractual thing that dogs had to play a part in George’s downfall each time?! A shame as with a better ending this could have been something.
Yes, noticing the hedges growth on tape was pretty slick detecting by the Lt, but then he just tosses the dog gotcha in there and the viewer goes, “well all right then, guess that was an angle he was working on too.”
Good thing there’s a dog roaming off leash terrorizing every car that parks in that well-to-do neighborhood. 😉
Hate replying to myself, but I just discovered that another Columbo did indeed use poison cigarettes from afar in Season 3’s Lovely But Lethal. And sure enough, the killer appears to get away with it (though Columbo busts her on the first murder).
I’m taking points away from MCBHTYH for copying this tactic.
I prefer hamiltons second outing in Caution ! overall than his seventies outing a deadly state of mind which for me was a rather average episode with a memorable gotcha but i do agree cautions ending could have been better
The dogs paw scratchings proves yes that he had visited bud clarks house but similar to etude in blacks ending/carnation missing /not missing wouldnt convict in a court room cp thinks alex benedict might walk as might wade anders , lets wait for cps review to see his opinion on it .
I’ll take the risk of repeating myself but, since I’ve been approaching New Columbo after a huge hiatus, just like our host, I’ve been able to evaluate them with fresh eyes, having little recollection of the vast majority of these episodes. Despite being ahead of Columbophile in my pilgrimage, I decided to make some comments about the episodes I’ve watched so far, hoping to add to the discussion.
Season 8 (1989): there’s nothing outstanding here. The episodes are, for the most part, lacklustre and middle-of-the road. While none of them is bad, there’s no spark, everything tends to be tame and lacking in personality, a feeling that reaches its apex in Grand Deceptions. The half-exception comes from Sex and the Married Detective, whose “double character” sub-plot comes across as interesting and refreshing. Lindsay Crouse is a shining light in this season.
Season 9 (1989-90): after an opening entry offering more of the same, the producers seem to have awakened, hence the splash seen in Columbo Cries Wolf, whose garishness and flamboyance gave a much-needed boost to the series. Things get even better with Agenda For Murder and after the successful experiment with RIP Mrs. Columbo, the series seems to have settled in an interesting middle-ground with Uneasy Lies The Crown, when we hit a bump in the road with the messy Murder In Malibu.
Columbo Goes to College (1990): a very good return to form in which the clash of generations and the context in which the story takes place mesh to create a wonderfully paced episode that comes off as one of the best efforts of the revival.
Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health (1991): a worthy mid-table entry with a nice turn by George Hamilton. That’s it.
Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star (1991): roughly the same as the above.
Death Hits the Jackpot (1991): a funny romp, almost a farce, with Rip Torn having a heck of a time. A lighter episode and good at that.
No Time to Die (1992): an adventure with a character named Columbo in it. While passable as a stand-alone TV movie, one couldn’t be blamed if trying to disqualify this outing. As for what is presented, once the kidnapper’s motives are revealed it all gets even flatter.
A Bird in the Hand… (1992): a somewhat nice surprise, although not perfect. The twists and Tyne Daly’s performance are a plus, despite the rather convoluted gotcha scene.
It’s All in the Game (1993): At the helm of the script, Falk scores a winner. His interplay with Faye Dunaway is essential to the episode’s success, being the key element at its core. Nice detective work and a top-notch female lead.
Butterfly in Shades of Grey (1994): William Shatner is never an understated performer, which gives solidity to this outing. Good matching scenes with Falk.
Undercover (1994): the commentary about No Time to Die applies to this entry. Nevertheless, one senses Ed Begley Jr.’s intriguing character motives are never fully exploited.
Strange Bedfellows (1995): a story whose premise shares some parallels with Any Old Port in a Storm. Not as bad as expected, altough its less well finished, especially as the episode progresses.
A Trace of Murder (1997): a good surprise. An interesting murder plan, using the framing device and with Barry Corbin in a nice turn. The script is well-devised culminating in a peculiar gotcha.
Nice list Hugo. Am watching Trace of Murder and agree that’s it’s a good entertainment, if not up to the standards of all Columbophile fans. But as many say, ANY Columbo is better than NO Columbo. For me that includes “Last Salute to the Commodore”….or… well…let me reconsider.
Mr. Santos, I’m watching “Ashes to Ashes” from the final season, and see that you did not include it above. Could it be that you (as well as I) spotted that the body in the opening scene, where Mr. McGoohan’s assistant wipes the bright red lipstick mark (left by Rue McClanahan’s character) off of the “corpse’s” face, was clearly alive? It was only a split second, but hard to miss. What kind of show would let that pass? I imagine by the time it was spotted it was too late to redo it. This is the kind of error that would never have appeared on an original Columbo.
Dear Scott, many thanks for your kind replies. Regarding, “Ashes to Ashes”, the reason I didn’t include it in my list was just because I haven’t watched it yet, along with “Murder with too many notes”.
Nice synopsis Huho although Strange Bedfellows is surely the worst episode for me. Worse than Commodore, and it’s impossible to understand half the script in that.
In Bedfellows Collumbo admits to not having sufficient evidence to convict so agrees that if a mafia don threatens murder he will turn a blind eye , unless our killer turns himself over.
Thank you for your comment. While it’s far from unwatchable, “Strange Bedfellows” is nothing to write home about, getting worse along the way.
I agree with your commentary here. In my opinion, “No Time to Die” and “Undercover” shouldn’t be counted as “Columbo” episodes in the true sense as they do not contain the show’s characteristic elements.
Cannot understand why not one of jack cassidy episodes is in the top 10.
The Jack Cassidy episodes are all from the 1968-78 ‘classic era’ so not part of this poll.
One of my favorites is Playback with Oscar Werner and also Try and Catch Me with Ruth Gordon. I guess I like the older episodes best! But All in the Game was different ( and hot!) even though you knew they were both playing with each other!
It would be great if we could list our Top 10 (or better still Top 20) and then the ultimate league table of favourites is deduced from the results, i.e. by a points score
I realise this involves a lot of work, but it would be interesting to see. Glad to help if need be!!
I don’t have access to a website plug-in that allows for that type of complex response (even though it’s hardly rocket science).
“Columbo Goes to College” is clearly a 90s fan favorite, and once again, I don’t want to sound like I’m dismissive of those who enjoy these episodes. But this Columbo Classic guy just doesn’t see it. “College” certainly has the feel and some of the style of earlier classics (perhaps because Robert Culp is there to bark a lot and steal the show), but the elements that guide the unfolding of the 70s plots are simply not there in New Columbo, “College” in particular.
There are multiple examples, but here I’ll try to focus on just the Gotcha. This one’s really in two stages. The second stage is the “Friend In Deed” pilfer, which I can actually live with. It definitively identifies Justin and Cooper as the culprits, and is the “Whodunit” part of the finale. The first stage, though, is what Columbo calls the “Howdunit” of the crime. Many fans can see the pretty clear “Friend In Deed” similarity, but there’s another Classic episode that “College” mirrors – “The Bye Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case”. In that one, the viewer doesn’t see the entire construction of the elaborate murder, and it’s not until the conclusion where it’s all put together for us. And that’s what happens in “College”.
While I don’t share CP’s super-high ranking of “TBBSHIQMC”, at least there we see Columbo finding and pondering several clues at the Bertie murder scene and gradually piecing these together. That Gotcha is well-earned. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in “College”. Columbo’s clue-gathering is mostly limited to figuring out that the professor was going to a nearby restaurant when he was gunned down. Kudos, but what about the murder itself? At the end, Columbo has divined how the murder was done, involving gadgets and gizmos that our old-school lieutenant has never been particularly proficient with…..that is, until we see him LEARN about these electronics and then APPLY what he learns to the crime. That’s some of the fun of the Classics, and that doesn’t happen in “College”. He gets the (self-admitted) lucky break of the filming of the kill, and knows the shell casing was found in the street, but otherwise, where are pieces to the puzzle that allow the viewer to vicariously follow Columbo’s train of thought? We see his “Aha” moment, but we don’t see clues along the way that are picked up to get there. Does Columbo know that the killers have advanced electronics knowledge? Does Columbo ask for any help to learn about remote-control triggers? (Remember, he asks for help in learning about magic to use against The Great Santini). The reveal of the “College” murder contraption comes almost out of thin air. Sorry, I just don’t buy it. The episode may look and feel like good Columbo (and for the era, was competent and acceptable), but it’s a mere copy of the original that doesn’t get what really made it tick.
“College” is the most derivative of all Columbos. It’s not just the recycled gotcha from “A Friend in Deed.” The entire premise of the episode — two narcissistic college students from rich, privileged families who conspire to commit a perfect murder — is yet another of the many, many retellings of the Leopold and Loeb story (“Rope”; “Compulsion”; etc.). This clearly was conscious. Just look at the murderers’ similarly alliterative last names (Redman and Rowe) and how they justify their crime in the same kind of megalomaniacal words (“We did it, Lieutenant, because we knew how to do it.”).
I won’t argue that it’s derivative, but I still think it’s one of the best of the new series – maybe precisely because it’s so reminiscent of earlier, better episodes. It’s a shame that so many of the more original and interesting 90s episodes, such as ‘Sex and the Married Detective’, were ruined by slapstick comedy scenes and over-the-top melodrama.
Undoubtedly, new ideas were hard to come by after 53 episodes (and two pilots). But new ideas, well executed, were what we watched to see.
I would argue that “College” does have one interesting innovation of sorts. That is a new mode of interaction between Columbo and the suspects. A typical Columbo suspect is first annoyed then unnerved by Columbo’s intrusion and gradually looses his cool and veneer of respectability, We don’t have it here. The boys are too stupid to ever realize they are under suspicion and just have fun at Columbo’s expense while they can. It in itself is rather refreshing even though the general premise of the plot and the gotcha are derivative.
I have a hard time regarding “too stupid to ever realize they are under suspicion” as a positive innovation in a Columbo. And is that really true? Or are they just so arrogant, and so sure of their own superiority to this rumpled mess of a detective (because, in their worldview, money equals entitlement), that like many Columbo villains, they chronically underestimate him?
Yes this is so true Richard… “Or are they just so arrogant, and so sure of their own superiority to this rumpled mess of a detective (because, in their worldview, money equals entitlement)”
I think the main reason they pursue and cozy up to the lieutenant is to ensure that they can steer his any forthcoming suspicions away from their direction.
Yes they are arrogant enough to think they are in complete control of the situation, which makes Columbo playing them like fiddled throughout that much more gloriously satisfying.
I believe that Columbo’s expression when watching them through the window parodying his gestures is one of someone that pities their upcoming downfall, rather than being somewhat amused with their antics.
Always so funny that Justin Rowe tells Columbo, “You caught a fluke and got lucky… but don’t count me out Lieutenant… my father doesn’t like to see me fail”
Duuuude… your now a “lifer” in prison.
That will be some good conversations through the prison plexiglass with pops.
Other than having absolutely no idea why anyone thinks ‘Columbo Goes to the Guillotine’ is any more than strictly average for the ‘new’ ones – I think the list is good
Butterflies in a Shade of Grey’ is in my Top 10 – a William Shatner performance that is on par with that of Ross Martin, for sheer odious ‘evil’ and all the better of an episode for that. Way better than that terrible ‘Fade in to Murder’
“Guillotine” was so eagerly anticipated, and did have a very promising start: the mystifying “viewing at a distance” illusion — a bubble Columbo so cleverly bursts with the help of Tommy, the kid magician (“It’s a trick. You remember it’s a trick and never forget it’s a trick. And then you can start figuring it out.”). But then the cleverness ran out. Columbos are like gymnastics — to earn a high score, you have to “stick the landing.” The end of “Guillotine” fell off the mat.
Agree about ‘Guillotine’. It’s also way too long, especially the opening sequence.
I agree , I never liked under the guilltione much , i would prefer butterfly shades of grey anyday over it and i also prefer it to fade in to murder but i wouldnt go as far as to say its a terrible episode
But its certainly one of the more forgetteable of the seventies run
Yes Butterly is my favorite later years episode and also prefer it over Shatners Fade In to Murder. The Fielding Chase character is a hoot!
I think it’s more that ‘Fade into Murder’ is simply such a smug episode. It was basically an acting face-off between Falk and Shatner
It’s terrible, simply because the premise is a good one and then goes nowhere, because we have easily the most pretentious killer ever – been indulged by Columbo. Even the gotcha merely has you shouting ‘Really? Is that it?’
I’d say that this is one that would be far better if every the series was remade – but actually it’s the one of the few that could be improved, which shows how bad it is
Given that three of the previous five episodes were also well below standard and it would be followed by ‘Old Fashioned Murder’, we basically had five our of seven episodes that were poor at best. This started a slippery slope that would never be corrected and in fairness the new episodes spell of “College” through to “Butterfly” was better, even though there were some turkeys in that sequence
Again, I have temper this with reminding myself just how great Columbo was up to around ‘Forgotten Lady’
the first 10 – 15 minutes of fade in to murder is perfectly fine but then descends into silliness and i dont even know whos from this point I also find it gets a bit boring and columbo calling ward sir is a bit annoying and the gotcha is a bit dull.
As for Butterfly in shades of grey , its Far from the first new episode I would choose to watch but I prefer it to well, 4 on the voted top 10 and they are goes under the guillotine , Ashes to Ashes , Its all in the game and RIP Mrs Columbo so butterfly might just sneak in to my top 10 murder of a rock star would easily replace its all in the game in my top 10 and a trace of murder which is Quite funny would comfortably trade places with under the guillotine and butterfly Uneasy lies the crown would replace ashes to ashes even though I absolutley love mc goohan and his episodes I never liked ashes to ashes much and im not a great fan of likes the nightlife but While I dont Dislike Rip mrs columbo
the whole fake funeral thing doesn’t set my heart alight anymore
but nightlife’s ending isn’t too bad so I would give it to nightlife
but these dont hold a candle to death hits the jackpot , Agenda for murder or goes to college .
Undercover she be in the list of worst, what a ridiculous and tedious episode.
Don’t know why so many people hate “undercover”, I found the treasure hunt very interesting, it would’ve definitely made my top 10 here, it’s imo nowhere near the really bad ones such as “no time to die” or “malibu”, however I think “grand deceptions” and “trace of murder” have been severely underrated if they ended in the list of the worst episodes, I think deception was an average episode and I actually think trace of murder was worthy of the top 10.
Agree there, Trace of Murder is a fun watch, and Grand Deceptions is actually in my top 10 of the new series, they are both underrated. I just couldn’t relate to Undercover though.
For me the problem with ‘Undercover’ is quite simple: It’s not actually a terrible episode. It’s just not a ‘Columbo’ episode. All his usual dialogue quirks, habits and mannerisms are missing from the script, because the script wasn’t written for him. You could replace him with pretty much any other character and the episode would work just as well, or indeed far better.
You’ve hit the nail on the head Debbie!
To put these results in perspective, please keep this in mind: the top three choices here ranked only as #21, #19, and #29, respectively, in this site’s last poll of all Columbo episodes (in December 2019). There is a reason we separate the “classic” and “new” Columbos. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the quality of the 1989-2003 episodes had made no such distinction necessary?
Any Columbo’s in the Top 30 are easily some of the best TV episodes ever
The ‘new’ episodes simply could never live up to the quality of the old ones as nothing could
Indeed, I’d argue that, such was the amazing quality of the old episodes up to around Season 5, that episodes after ‘Forgotten Lady’ (which interestingly was near to the halfway point) were significantly worse and as an average not much better than the ‘new’ ones
I don’t automatically accept the premise that New Columbo could never be as good as the classic era. Sure, maybe they didn’t have an A-list guest star budget, but you don’t need to budget megabucks to get good, solid writing. If folks had just broken down all the elements that made Columbo special and worked to incorporate that into the plotting, they could have papered over other deficiencies. (Oh, and dialed back the “comedy” schtick). Just hiring Peter Falk and having the raincoat and the Puegot and Mrs. Columbo references wasn’t going to be enough. I look at almost every episode of the 90s as missed opportunities, with a teeny handful of possible exceptions.
Agreed – many of the newer episodes had decent plots and acting, and were badly let down by the insistence on padding out the running time and ramping up the ‘comedy’ scenes to the level of self-parody. Others had an intriguing premise, but were poorly executed (‘Strange Bedfellows’, for example).
Glenn, I believe you’ve put your finger squarely on the great Columbo mystery. Why aren’t the “new” stories better? Some have a decent premise. Even “Malibu” had a novel twist. Many were penned by quality writers. But they never seem to pull it off from beginning to end. What changed? Levinson was gone. Link was given a fancy title, but did he have any real authority? I have a hunch the answer lies literally in the changing of the guard. Who were the gatekeepers during the classic era? Who were the gatekeepers later? We’ve already seen a story rejected in the ‘70’s, then get the OK 15 years later. The same standard could not have prevailed in both eras.
I think you are right. When the “younger generation” took over, it became all show and less or No substance. Gradification on a visual but not on a cognitive level.
My theory is that the metronomic amazing consistency ended around the time of ‘Forgotten Lady’ anyway
We then had far more mediocre than good.
Out of those 13 remaining episodes, for me, one absolutely stunk and could easily be classed as bad as any of the worst ‘new’ ones another six, were pretty awful. In other words, a bit like the ‘new’ ones – more than half
I’ll be honest, only ‘Make Me a Perfect Murder’, is a true classic Columbo (honourable mentions to ‘Identity Crisis’ and ‘Try and Catch Me’) and I don’t rate that quire as good as my favourite newie ‘It’s all in the Game’
It’s hardly surprising, like Bowie trying to keep up his ‘Diamond Dogs’ to ‘Let’s Dance’ consistency – inevitably it would fall flat on it’s (hello, ‘Tonight”!!) but there would be still brilliant other moments, later in this music ‘series’, i.e. ‘Earthling’
As punters we tend to alway categorise things in great and not so great and love a cut off point. Prince is another, written off after ‘Lovesexy’ who produced just as many brilliant tracks after
I just think we should reappraise our Columbo approach and treat them as a whole
Not “Now You See Him”? Not “Bye Bye Sky High”? There’s also quite a lot in numerous others to like: the Columbo-King relationship in “Case of Immunity” and how it fuels the gotcha; the hunt for the guns in “The Conspirators”; the murder method in “Murder Under Glass”; even the shocking death of Charles Clay in “Commodore.”
Agree with the first two and ‘Conspirators’.
But remember when I say ‘pretty awful’ – this is Columbo standards, i.e. like our hosts ‘D’ category – so it’s still means 5 or even 6 out of 10
Hence, this applies to ‘Case of Immunity’ which is just all over the place and actually could be a new episode (it could be 1994 or any time, given the politics)
I think ‘Murder under Glass’ is terrible – the murderer takes an amazing gamble and the rest is downhill
I recently watched ‘Commodore’ and I still can’t get Columbo shouting “DUST! DUST! DUST! DUST! NO DUST!” out of my head. Yes this is the one that for me is the arguably the worst ever
The point is that this spell is not significantly better than the ‘new’ one
I think a case of immunity is better than the conspirators ,
I am of Irish decent and understand all the political aspects of it but i just never enjoy this episode which is partially salvaged by a dramatic ending but its league’s better than Murder under glass which is a relative dud from the seventies run in my view.
I agree i dont rate murder under glass very much at all
Banbroview, I understand your point about wanting to treat all Columbos as a whole and not as 2 separate New/Classic entities, using music icons like Bowie and Prince as analogies.
However, I would counter that this is not an apples-to-apples comparison you’re making. Bowie and Prince had control of their own music, their styles, their producers, and their artistic choices. It’s easier to consider their works as a whole. Neil Young has worked in countless styles over the decades, and dividing his material into distinct phases would be counterproductive – it must be seen as the whole enchilada.
But New Columbo was not an organic transition of the show with one or two people in control. It was a business decision driven by ABC network personnel who had no stake in Classic Columbo. The end product was the same – episodes of a TV show called Columbo – so its tempting to see them as part of the whole. But, as Rich says, the “gatekeepers” were very different, the standards were different, the goals were different, the writing philosophy was different, etc. Seeing them as a whole does injustice to the original.
I’ve recently noted my love of Mission: Impossible in this blog. The M:I 80s reboot looked good, had decent acting, and better special effects. But the writing and plotting were godawful compared to the original, and I would never consider those 2 years part of the “whole” M:I.. In fact, the M:I reboot was born only because there was a writer’s strike and the network was looking for a show they could air that could reuse old material that had already been written in the first run. The strike ended with the reboot only using a couple re-written episodes from the original.
Hmmmmm…..How might the New Columbo era have fared if they were using scripts literally written in the 70s? I suspect it would suck, but its something to ponder…..
I throw that suggestion to you, CP, as a future potential blog topic you can expound upon!
Great points. It had occurred to me that the generation gap was a big factor
However, certain new episodes were just as good as above average old ones, so the quality of the writing, direction etc, have surely to be the main drivers
A trac3 of mirder is not great but is a decent episode expecially compared with te episode that preceded it- the horrid Sramge Bedfelliws. The last episode, Columbo likes the Nightlufe is also not bad and has sa great gotchq.
Still can’t understand why Grand Deceptions is so unliked – by the standards of the new era it’s one of the better ones.
It’s a dull uninteresting episode with a tedious killer and a still more tedious gotcha involving packing books. 😪
Agree, Grand Deceptions is a solid later year episode.
I’ve always loved Grand Deception! Solid episode. Also the only death by stabbing in the entire catalogue.
No Time to Die should always, ALWAYS, be at the bottom.
A Trace of Murder should have ranked a little bit higher. I like it, as I like all episodes involving Shera Danese. The plot is not good, nor the killer and Howard Seltzer, and so on. But the presence of Shera Danese rises this part of Columbo Saga a little bit out of the shallow water. Not to mention Clifford who is a quite rare occurrence in Columbo regarding he is a main character who is to be framed but not killed through the episode. 😀
I also like Clifford’s style, so this episode contains some very funny moments for me.
College is the absolute winner, and that’s great. I think it is the only episode in which Columbo himself is parodised by the killer or by anyone. 😀
Yes agree – A Trace of Murder I like a lot. The character Clifford and how Columbo got him onside – both cigar smokers. Thought Shera Danese was great in it this.
I like “A Trace Of Murder”… for Corbin alone.
One of my all time favorite Columbo lines is Clifford talking at the shin-dig with some dude on the couch and telling the guy, (Paraphrasing) “I asked the waiter for my steak medium… if I wanted it bloody, I would have knocked the the cow in the head and taken out the middle man”. Delivered perfectly.
Yes Clifford was coarse and didn’t mince words; but as it went on he showed a softer side with Columbo which was part of this episodes appeal to me.
Out of the new episodes I’ve watched I reckon Agenda for Murder might be the best. I also think Cries Wolf edges it over Goes to College personally; the twist in the former was a real shocker. Shatner’s return episode would make my top 10 of the new episodes too. I also found Bird in the Hand better than I expected.
A Bird in the Hand is an absolute belter! The Evigan/Daly switcheroo really got me the first time.