New Columbo episodes / Opinion / Poll

The top 10 ‘new’ Columbo episodes – as voted by the fans

COlumbo Murder a Self POrtrait
It’s time for a closer look at the highs and lows of the ABC years

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

Columbo Sex and the Married Detective
The quality of this briefcase was an unlikely episode sub-plot

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.

Read my episode review here.

9. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine

Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
It takes a lot of energy to be this hammy

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.

Read my episode review here.

8. Caution, Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Columbo Caution Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
Wade Anders was famed for having the biggest hand in showbiz

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

Columbo Death Hits the Jackpot
Either this is a Halloween party or Columbo has travelled back in time to the 1700s

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

Columbo Cries Wolf
Dian Hunter’s orange scrunchy was the largest ever recorded

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.

Read my episode review here.

5. Ashes to Ashes

Columbo Ashes to Ashes
Columbo finally catches Steinmetz!

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

Columbo It's All in the Game
Gissa kiss, dahlin’

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

Columbo Agenda for Murder
“You call that a lining!” *combusts with laughter*

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.

Read my episode review here.

2. Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo

Rest in Peace Mrs Columbo
Vivian Dimitri: a thorn amongst roses

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!

Read my episode review here.

1. Columbo Goes to College

Columbo Goes to College
The big unanswered question: what happened to Cooper’s sideburns?

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.”

The least loved of all?

New Columbo episodes

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.

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.

If you rate this site, please donate to its upkeep – from just $3

Columbo Undercover
Four episodes, but none in the top 10? Feel the burn…
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34 thoughts on “The top 10 ‘new’ Columbo episodes – as voted by the fans

  1. ‘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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. @Columbophile

    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!!

  6. “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.

      • 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.

  7. 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’

  8. 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

            • 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…..

                • 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

  9. 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.

  10. Still can’t understand why Grand Deceptions is so unliked – by the standards of the new era it’s one of the better ones.

  11. 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.
      Thanks Columbophile.

      • 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.


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