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.”
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.