As a brutal year limps to its conclusion in the hope of better things to come, the annual countdown of Columbo fans’ favourite episodes could be just the tonic to bolster flagging spirits.
Like a box of chocolates, all your old favourites can be found below in one neat package. There probably won’t be too many surprises here (especially for long-time readers of the site), but it’s always fun to see just which episodes are tippity-top of the tree and the positions you, the fans, have put them in.
With more than 10,000 votes cast, this is the most accurate breakdown of Columbo episode popularity on the web, so if your favourites are here, rest assured that they’ve earned their place fair and square through the votes of hundreds and thousands of like-minded individuals.
Without further ado, it’s my great pleasure to bring you the 2020 update of Columbo fans’ favourite episodes. Happy reading!
10. An Exercise in Fatality (Last year = 8th)
Seems like viewers can’t get enough of Milo Janus and his strapping physique as Exercise claims its third consecutive year in the top 10.
The Lieutenant is really hanging with the hotties in this one, with the late, great Robert Conrad and bikini-clad Gretchen Corbett undoubtedly the Prom King and Queen of the Columbo opus, while its gripping conclusion and the mutual dislike between detective and villain make for a thrilling ride.
9. A Stitch in Crime (Last year = 10th)
Rarely far from the top of most fans’ personal favourites, A Stitch in Crime’s potent mix of ice-cold villain, heartbreakingly innocent victims and a thrilling conclusion, in which Columbo snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, means it’s been ever-present in the top 10 for five straight years.
Buoyed by superior performances from Leonard Nimoy, Will Geer, Anne Francis, Jarred Martin and Nita Talbot, Crime is also notable for an unforgettable flash of Columbo rage when the usually placid Lieutenant lets his opponent know what he really thinks of him. Scintillating stuff.
8. Negative Reaction (Last year = 9th)
An absolute gem of an episode that effortlessly treads the line between darkness and light, playfulness and pathos, Negative Reaction remains one of the series’ most watchable outings.
A darkly themed double murder is off-set by some of the series’ best humour as Columbo is first mistaken for a bum by a sister of mercy and later terrorises Larry Storch’s highly strung driving instructor with his haphazard skills behind the wheel. Throw in one of the series’ best gotchas and a good time is guaranteed in a 90+ minute episode that never feels padded.
7. Troubled Waters (Last year = 6th)
If Troubled Waters doesn’t float your
boat ship, then I recommend having your funny bone checked immediately, as this on-board caper has retained a place in the top 10 every year since the poll kicked off in 2016.
A joyful romp on the high seas, featuring Robert Vaughn as one of the series’ sauvest killers, Troubled Waters is a hoot from go to whoa which even a relatively anticlimactic gotcha can’t subdue.
6. A Friend in Deed (RE-ENTRY! Last year = 11th)
After sitting in 11th place for the past two years, A Friend in Deed bursts back into the top 10 with avengeance, proving that while form is temporary, class is permanent.
One of the most gripping stories of them all pits Columbo against his superior officer in an encounter that will definitely see the vanquished lose their badge. Dark and gritty, featuring a rare glimpse into the underbelly of LA’s 70s’ society as well as some outstanding action sequences, there’s nothing not to like about this superb addition to the canon.
5. The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (Last year = 3rd)
Finally jostled out of the top-3 spot it has held for the past two years, Bye-Bye Sky High nevertheless remains a firm favourite with thousands of fans thanks to its near-perfect combination of fun, frolics and intrigue as Columbo attempts to crack a murder committed by a bona fide genius.
Boosted by a magnificent turn by Theo Bikel as tortured genius Oliver Brandt, a brilliant example of a strength-in-depth cast, plus 10 or 12 of the entire series’ best or funniest scenes, and you have a gem of an episode that you don’t need a towering IQ to enjoy to the max.
4. Now You See Him (Last year = 5th)
Just missing out on a rostrum finish here, Now You See Him’s sense of fun and its accessibility through the magical theme means it’s as popular with newcomers to the show as it is with aficionados.
It’s a magnificent send-off for Jack Cassidy and quite simply one of the most entertaining 90-or-so minutes of television ever recorded.
3. Try and Catch Me (Last year = 4th)
From not even being in the top 10 in 2017, Try & Catch Me has steadily crept up the rankings ever since, reaching its highest position in 2020.
In my opinion the last truly great episode of Columbo’s classic era, Try & Catch Me delights through its combination of lovable leading lady in Ruth Gordon and the chemistry she shares with Peter Falk. With a support cast (including Dog) all bringing their ‘A Game’ to proceedings it’s a pleasure to catch Try & Catch Me, again and again and again.
2. Murder by the Book (non-mover)
Arguably the most important Columbo episode of them all, Murder by the Book still has the power to mesmerise nearly 50 years after it first aired.
With Steven Spielberg’s direction injecting the viewer right into the action, Billy Goldenberg’s score a cinematic masterpiece and the rapport between Peter Falk and Jack Cassidy absolutely perfect, it’s easy to see why this episode means so much to so many fans – even though it can never quite get to the top of the standings in this poll.
1. Any Old Port in a Storm (non-mover)
2020 has been a bad year for just about everyone, but Adrian Carsini continues to come up smelling of roses as he holds on to top spot in the poll for the fifth consecutive year, with almost 9% of the total vote.
With Port widening its lead over Murder by the Book this year, it’s become crystal clear that when Adrian Carsini is in town, everyone else is playing for second spot. Indeed, it will take a turnaround of mammoth, match-fixing proportions for Any Old Port to ever be toppled from its Ivory Tower.
Pretenders to the throne can only hope that the proposed takeover by liquid filth purveyors the Marino Brothers finally comes about to give them a fighting chance of claiming the Columbo Crown from this perennial crowd-pleaser.
Best of the rest
Suitable for Framing dips out of the top 10 this year after sitting 7th last year, but remains within touching distance of a stirring comeback, so don’t dare count Dale Kingston and his tux from leading an assault on the highest rungs of the rankings in 2021.
Elsewhere, and rather like the top 10 itself, there’s little activity in the 11-20 list with most of the entries simply jockeying for position amidst minimal movement. The only episode to drop out of the top 20 from the 2019 list is Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo, which switches places with Columbo Goes to College and slips to 21st.
In 12th, Robert Culp’s Double Exposure is at its highest position since 2016 but still can’t crack the top 10. Likewise By Dawn’s Early Light, which remains Patrick McGoohan’s most popular outing, in 14th. Former top 10 episode Publish or Perish continues its slide down the rankings, now nestling in 18th place after reaching the dizzy heights of 6th in 2017.
11. Suitable for Framing (last year = 7th)
12. Double Exposure (last year = 14th)
13. Swan Song (last year = 12th)
14. By Dawn’s Early Light (last year = 13th)
15. Etude in Black (last year = 16th)
16. Prescription: Murder (last year = 18th)
17. The Conspirators (last year = 17th)
18. Publish or Perish (last year = 15th)
19. Columbo Goes to College (last year = 21st)
20. Forgotten Lady (last year = 20th)
New and improved?
As usual, the top portion of the list is packed with ‘classic era’ episodes, with comparatively slim regard given to the ABC episodes from 1989-2003. As was the case last year, the only ‘new’ Columbo episodes in the top 30 are College (19th), Rest in Peace (21st) and Agenda for Murder (30th).
For a fairer comparison, I recommend checking out the top 10 ‘new Columbo‘ episodes as voted for by the fans article here.
The murky depths
Season 8’s unutterably tedious Grand Deceptions props up all the rest, with A Matter of Honor, No Time to Die, Strange Bedfellows and Mind Over Mayhem rounding out the bottom five. Old Fashioned Murder is the third classic era episode in the lowest rated 10 episodes, in 61st position.
And that, my dear friends, is about that for another year at least. As always, I welcome your views on the list and your opinions on any startling omissions. As the top 20 is now essentially a movement-free zone, do also let me know if you think it’s even worth continuing this annual round-up. I’d hate to become boring, after all.
With that, I shall bid you adieu until next time. I may yet squeeze in another article in 2020, but if I don’t quite manage to do so I wish you all well and look forward to catching up in 2021, which surely will be a more positive 12 months for us all.