Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 10 and beyond

Episode review: Columbo Goes to College

Columbo Goes to College opening titles

Almost seven months after the debacle of Murder in Malibu, Lieutenant Columbo stormed back onto screens with the seeming intent of educating a new generation of sceptical viewers about his on-going relevance.

One could surmise that the patchiness of the previous 10 episodes of Columbo’s second coming led the show’s creative team back to the drawing board in a bid to rediscover some of the old magic. The result? Columbo Goes to College: an ambitious and audacious murder mystery squaring the Lieutenant off against two privileged frat boys.

Not only that, in a move guaranteed to have long-time fans floating on a wave of nostalgic euphoria, who should pop up as a guest star but iconic 70s’ killer Robert Culp! Now that’s what I call a tonic.

Needless to say, Columbo Goes to College sounds enticing, but can it go where no ‘new Columbo‘ adventure has gone before and deliver a mystery every bit as good as the very best from the classic era? Let’s crack open some brewskis, leap into Coop’s Hilux and squeal back to December 9, 1990 to find out…

Columbo Goes to College cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Justin Rowe: Stephen Caffrey
Cooper Redman: Gary Herschberger
Jordan Rowe: ROBERT FREAKING CULP
DE Rusk: James Sutorius
Joe Doyle: Jim Antonio
Dominic Doyle: William Lucking
Mrs Rusk: Bridget Hanley
June Clark: Catherine Cannon
Mr Redman: Alan Fudge
Mrs Rowe: Maree Cheatham
Sachs: Karl Wiedergott
Sara: Elizabeth Swackhamer
Directed by: EW Swackhamer
Written by: Jeffrey Bloom and Frederick King Keller
Score by: James Di Pasquale

Episode synopsis: Columbo Goes to College

Spoilt rich kids Justin Rowe and Cooper ‘Coop’ Redman have managed to get themselves into a fix. Their criminology lecturer, Professor DE Rusk, has discovered they stole a copy of their impending test paper – and he’s either going to flunk them from his class or see them expelled from the college altogether!

Either way spells doom for the students. Justin’s future at Harvard Law School will go kaput, while the virile Coop has just been informed that his parents will cut him off if he commits one more faux pas having made three girls pregnant in the past 18 months. Neither lad is keen on their style being cramped this way, so they conclude that Rusk needs to be made history, stat.

Columbo Goes to College Cooper Redman
“Cooper – I thought I told you to trim those sideburns!”

They’re already aware of Rusk’s affair with the college basketball coach’s wife, June Clarke, and also that Rusk is working on a tell-all expose of crime and corruption at the highest levels of society – a project that has led to death threats being made against his life. The man has many enemies who would be glad to see the back of him, which means plenty of suspects!

Quite what their fiendish plan to rid the world of the Rusk menace is isn’t fully revealed until much later. However, we do see the pair break into the dingy apartment of dim-witted campus security guard, Joe Doyle, and make off with his handgun. It’s an intriguing opening.

Rusk’s next criminology class duly arrives featuring a special guest speaker: Lieutenant Columbo of the LAPD. The professor doesn’t get to enjoy much of Columbo’s lecture, though, as he excuses himself to head out to a dinner appointment with Justin’s father. The appointment, however, is a phony cooked up by Justin and Coop as part of their murderous scheme. And when Rusk makes his way to the faculty car park, they kick into action.

While we don’t exactly see what they’re doing, it’s clear they’re up to no good as Coop removes a small item from his bag and Justin clutches Coop’s remote door locker with savage intensity. Both boys are watching something hidden below the lecture theatre desk, but just what it is remains a mystery.

As this unfolds, Rusk walks to his own car, which is parked precisely opposite Coop’s truck in the faculty car park. As Rusk reaches to open his car, a shot rings out and the professor falls dead from a wound to the head that douses his car in blood. It’s the most gruesome killing in Columbo history, although it’s completely unnoticed by security guard Joe, who is stereotypically watching a basketball game instead of the car park CCTV feed (yes, that old chestnut).

Columbo Goes to College Justin and Coop
One potato, two potato…

If we needed proof that Justin and Coop are the guilty parties, it’s seemingly given to us in the shape of a subtle exchange of fist bumps as they zone back in to Columbo’s lecture. The Lieutenant has proved to be a smash hit who is definitely down with the kidz of Freemont College.

A small group of students (including J&C) walk Columbo back to the car lot where they uncover the grisly sight of Rusk’s corpse. As Columbo bosses the crime scene, Justin helpfully screeches off in Coop’s truck to make a 911 call from Joe’s security station. A startled Joe gallops off to assist the Lieutenant, leaving Justin to make the call and back-up the CCTV tapes on Joe’s behalf. Wouldn’t it be a surprise if that decision comes back to haunt him later in the episode, eh?

True to form, Columbo is instantly troubled by the little details. Just where was the Professor going during the lecture? And what precisely is the non-descript pill found in his shirt pocket? A rummage inside the briefcase Rusk left in his office reveals a stash of cholesterol tablets – matching the one found in the Professor’s pocket. The tablets are to be taken directly before eating, so Rusk must’ve been heading out for a dining appointment. Columbo orders a uniformed cop to create a list of all restaurants within a 15-minute drive.

Then it’s off to view the CCTV footage, which clearly shows Rusk’s assassination. What’s puzzling, though, is that the footage shows no sign of anyone leaving the car park either on foot or in a vehicle. How did the killer get away? And where were they when they pulled the trigger?

Columbo has to put this poser on the backburner, however, in order to check the local eateries to see if Rusk had an appointment at any of them – and it’s not long before he’s got a decent lead. Turns out that Rusk did ring one restaurant at 8.10pm leaving a cryptic message with the Maitre D’ to “Let Mr Rowe know he was running late.” Curiously, there was no Mr Rowe at the restaurant that night.

Columbo Goes to College
Darlene’s Bar & Grill. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…

At something of an impasse, Columbo accepts the offer to meet up with the criminology students at Darlene’s Bar & Grill, from whom he hears some unfiltered intel on the late Professor. Rusk was said to have been a difficult and opinionated man, who frequently ‘fooled around’ with other women. Perhaps the most relevant snippet Columbo picks up, though, is simply hearing that Justin’s surname is Rowe. He now has a direct link between the student and the mystery surrounding Rusk’s death.

The investigation steps up a gear the next day when press reveal Rusk’s affair with June Clarke. Columbo pays her a visit to inquire whether the rumours are true. June claims that their affair ended months earlier, and that she hadn’t seen Rusk since – a blatant lie, as we saw her break up with him at a bar earlier in the episode. She also claims to have been home alone on the night of Rusk’s death.

As coincidence would have it, Columbo bumps into J&C outside. Justin scoffs at the suggestion that June and Rusk were no longer an item and the pair lead the Lieutenant to the bar where the lovers used to meet. When the trio arrive, the barkeep confirms that this was June and Rusk’s regular hang-out, and dashes her claim that she hadn’t seen the professor for months, because they were both there last week. Not only that, they had a big argument and she stormed out in a rage. Could she be a viable suspect?

It’s here that Justin and Coop fall into the cardinal error of being too helpful to Columbo, and insisting on being kept up to speed on the latest case developments. Having heard it all before from the likes of Adrian Carsini, Barry Mayfield and Hayden Danziger in years gone by, Columbo is far too shrewd to fall for the antics of a couple of college kids.

Columbo Goes to College Justin and Cooper
Mock Columbo at your peril, impertinent youths!

He witnesses them aping his mannerisms as they return to the truck, but it’s the Lieutenant who’s shaping up to have the last laugh as he calls a colleague to confirm that no airline tickets were found in Rusk’s briefcase on the night of his death. Then he gets back to work. An interview with Mrs Rusk proves enlightening. She admits to knowing about her husband’s affair with June Clarke, and that he’d told her about the break-up. Wanting confirmation of this from June herself, Mrs Rusk claims to have met up with her love rival on the night of Rusk’s death. If true, that’s a rock-solid alibi.

When Columbo asks whether Mrs Rusk knew why her husband had a plane ticket to Phoenix in his briefcase, though, she is stumped. So too is June Clarke, which leads us back to those rascals Justin and Coop. The boys are having a wild time at a frat party when Columbo drops in. He asks them if they’d heard anything about a trip Professor Rusk planned to take to Phoenix – and smug Justin can’t help but take the bait.

He claims the pair had overheard Rusk talking about meeting someone from the FBI or Attorney General’s office in Phoenix to discuss high-level fraud at the Savings & Loan. Gee whizz, what if the guy he was meeting in Phoenix decided to shut Rusk up – permanently? Naturally, such a melodramatic response to bogus information makes J&C Columbo’s new prime suspects.

Justin subsequently sets up a meeting between his father, Jordan, and Columbo to further promote the idea that shadowy agents may have slain Rusk to keep him from publishing his planned expose. Enter stage right Mr Robert Culp in his first Columbo appearance since Double Exposure in 1973. And pleasingly, he’s as irascible as ever.

Columbo Goes to College Jordan Rowe
Robert Culp’s comeback after a 17-year hiatus is every bit as good as you’d hope

Rowe Senior is immediately disgusted by Columbo’s lack of knowledge of Rusk’s incendiary criminal profiles of, opining that it was clearly a mob hit, while dismissing the Lieutenant’s lackadaisical investigation in delicious style: “It’s perfectly clear you haven’t the faintest idea which way is up here. That’s not an insult, just a statement of fact.” Yes viewers, the King of Columbo put-downs is right back into his stride!

Earwigging in to this conversation via a concealed listening bug, Justin and Coop are cock-a-hoop to hear the browbeating being dished out to the seemingly bungling detective. But they’re also on the receiving end of some of Mr Rowe barbs as he laments the lack of application of his highly intelligent son, while rubbishing Coop’s ambitions of becoming a tennis pro. Feel the burn, boys!

Just about the only useful thing Columbo learns from his audience with Rowe is that he was dining in San Francisco with the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor on the night of Rusk’s death. It’s clear that this Rowe, at least, is not a suspect. His suspicions about Rowe Junior, however, pick up pace when he learns from Joe that Justin was responsible for saving the CCTV footage of Rusk being killed – but he hadn’t saved the footage from a second camera that was covering the area of the car park where the killer must have been firing from. Suspicious…

Hot on the heels of this, Columbo is summoned to see the College Dean, where he is greeted by both the Rowe men (Justin in a particularly chunky fisherman’s sweater), who have pertinent new information on the case. They reveal that dopey Joe’s brother Dominic was recently released from jail on a murder charge and that he has a string of offences behind him.

The insinuation is clear. Dominic is a hired goon with mob connections. Rusk had been threatened by the mob, making Dominic is a likely suspect. All these fast facts have come from Justin, who is happy to bask in some rare praise from his cantankerous father.

Columbo Goes to College Stephen Caffrey
Off for a week on a fishing trawler, Justin?

Columbo is duty-bound to investigate, despite not believing for a moment that Dominic is involved. And during his short interview with the former jailbird, he’s interrupted by a stunning news broadcast about the Rusk killing. One network has obtained video footage of the murder from a full-frontal angle, amazing Columbo while simultaneously gripping J&C with their first hint of panic.

Turns out that this footage was picked up by a guy using an illegal satellite dish. He had been recording a movie from some “obscure channel” (i.e. European donkey porn) and when he got round to watching it discovered the footage of the Rusk killing. This means that someone deliberately broadcast the killing, and it was flukily picked up by the satellite dish. It was also certainly filmed from within the car park, directly opposite Rusk’s car. An audacious crime if ever there was one.

Nothing Columbo has heard has shaken his belief that Justin and Coop are the guilty parties, so he uses his nous to force their hand. Dropping by the frat house, he updates them on the case, heavily suggesting that he’s bought into the idea of Dominic’s guilt. He’d like to take him in for questioning, but he still has some loose ends to tie up.

The Lieutenant then receives a call from a sidekick, purportedly giving him details of Dominic’s car (a green, 1976 two-door Ford with the licence plate 2SBI 653) and his favourite drinking hole. He’ll need to find that car and search it as part of his investigation. He then leaves the boys, cheerily telling them he’ll see them in class for his next lecture in a couple of days.

Columbo Goes to College
Brewskis with da boys? Don’t mind if I do…

He sees them much sooner, though, as Coop later reports to Justin that he’s discovered Dominic’s car at his favourite bar. The cops are called in, and the Rowe men arrive in time to witness a .45 automatic being found in the car, and a handcuffed Dominic being taken into custody. It looks like the police have their man, eliciting whoops of celebration from J&C, who have every reason to believe they’re in the clear.

Basking in this success, they head to college the next day in high spirits. When they pull in to park, however, they find Columbo awaiting them. His plan is to recreate the killing of Professor Rusk, and urges them to park in the exact same spot they did the week before. In the lecture room itself, Columbo explains the importance of luck in solving the crime. The lucky capture of the broadcast footage of Rusk’s death has helped him figure out how the murder was committed. And from that, he knows who did it. And he’s about to reveal all.

He shows the class a live broadcast from the car park showing Professor Rusk’s car. He then unveils a complicated-looking mechanism of a gun rigged up to some wiring, which fires a blank when Columbo’s little helper (student Sachs) beeps a remote control door locker from the faculty garage.

If Justin and Coop are feeling the noose around their necks, they ain’t showing it quite yet, but it won’t be long until definitive proof of their dastardly scheme is delivered as Columbo leads the class down to the garage. He again puts on a little demonstration, this time using a plaster model of Professor Rusk by his car and asking J&C to beep the door locker for Coop’s Hilux. The model’s head is promptly blown to pieces.

It’s now that we viewers finally see how Justin and Coop committed the murder, as we’re shown in flashback how Cooper produced a miniature TV set from his bag in the lecture hall showing Rusk arriving at his car, and how Justin triggered the remote door locker to fire the lethal shot. There’s only more more question Columbo must answer: where was the gun?

Columbo Goes to College
We would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling adults…

Popping the hood on Coop’s truck, the Lieutenant shows the startled crowd how a gun could be concealed in the car’s engine and rigged up to fire through the car door locking mechanism. There’s even a tiny video camera tucked away, too, peeping out through the hood vents, which the killer used to perfectly target the fatal headshot.

Even though this demo essentially totally proves that J&C are the killers, the boys aren’t ready to throw in the towel quite yet, querying how Dominic Doyle could possibly have gotten away with rigging up a gun in Coop’s truck and later removing it before they ever realised what he’d done.

That’s easy for Columbo to answer: Doyle had nothing to do with it. Even though he was taken in for questioning, there was no cause to arrest him because the killers are right here in the garage – and the Lieutenant can prove it. A detective pulls into the car lot in the same car Justin and Coop believed was Doyle’s. He has the ballistics report with him that confirms the gun found in the car was the same one used to slay Professor Rusk.

What more proof do you need, asks a smug-looking Justin. The police have the murder weapon and it was found in Doyle’s car. He’s da killer! “Well, you’re half right Justin,” explains Columbo. “It is the murder weapon, but it is not Dominic Doyle’s car. It’s my wife’s.

The revelation stuns the boys into silence as the Lieutenant reveals the depth of his trickery. The only people that Columbo had given the description and licence plate of the car to was Justin and Coop. Ergo, only they could have planted the murder weapon in the car. Ergo, they are the killers.

Columbo Goes to College
Kids today, eh?

The unrepentant duo are manhandled into custody, but not before having the final word. “We did it because we knew how to do it,” smirks Justin. “You got lucky. But don’t count us out, Lieutenant, because my father doesn’t like to see me fail.” All Columbo can do is shake his head in disbelief as credits roll…



Episode analysis

When Columbo returned to the screen in 1989, a new generation of viewers was given the chance to uncover the charms of the Lieutenant for the first time: a generation perhaps entirely unfamiliar with the concept of the show. For this new audience, one can imagine them tuning into the comeback episodes at the behest of their parents, thinking to themselves: “Who is this clueless Columbo dude? How’s he ever gonna crack the case?”

This is precisely why Columbo Goes to College works. Our frat boy protagonists Justin and Cooper are the very embodiment of that new, sceptical viewer. They look scornfully at the bumbling Lieutenant because they’re young, fearless members of the cool club who believe in their own hype. No way is this doddery old fossil going to outsmart them.

Columbo Goes to College Justin and Coop
Magic shakes abound in this high-energy adventure!

Such a blinkered mindset is the perpetual curse of youth, and it brings our conceited villains down in glorious fashion. But a quality episode needs much more than just a riveting finale and, happily, Columbo Goes to College delivers the goods in just about every category that matters.

The premise of the episode, with its cocksure cool cats committing an outrageous crime, may hardly be original (it’s a riff on the real-life Leopold and Loeb case, which heavily influenced Hitchcock’s Rope) but Columbo Goes to College injects an ultra-modern and ingenious murder into a classic tale that really makes the most of the ‘cutting edge’ world of the early 90s. Indeed, not since Playback in 1975 has the latest tech played such a pivotal – and enjoyable – part in the plot.

Employing a method used in several classic era episodes, including Murder Under Glass, How To Dial a Murder and The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case, College makes it abundantly clear who the killers are without showing exactly how they did it. The sheer ingenuity of Justin and Coop’s slaying of Professor Rusk isn’t fully revealed until the thrilling conclusion, which in itself is a modern twist on classic murder mystery parlour room reveals of a by-gone age.

Columbo Goes to College injects an ultra-modern and ingenious murder into a classic tale.”

I’d say this is easily the best example of a ‘new Columbo‘ really making the most of its current time period and technology to enhance its storytelling. While Columbo Cries Wolf unashamedly embraced the trashy world of the late 80s, it was a much more cartoonish depiction. Columbo Goes to College embraces the age while retaining an authentic air through a setting that a high proportion of viewers could relate to. Apart from some predictably dodgy fashions, it has aged very well.

A key ingredient in the success of the episode is how tightly reined in the Columbo character is. The comeback episodes have too often seen Falk’s portrayal of the Lieutenant veer towards pastiche and nonsensical broad comedy. College bucks the trend with Falk really delivering the goods to give us a Columbo that feels like an authentic extension of his 70s incarnation.

Pretty much his only duff moment is when the detective theatrically scratches his head after the TV exec explains to him how the Rusk murder was broadcast. Combined with a Stan Laurel-style idiotic gurn, this was a clumsy misstep that could have easily been avoided.

Columbo Goes to College
It’s time to retire this signature move, Lieutenant

Elsewhere, though, the tone and balance of the episode are spot on. There are plenty of laughs to be had in Columbo Goes to College, especially with Justin and Coop poking fun at the Lieutenant, and when Jordan Rowe tears into him over his apparent lack of wits. Such scenes deliver terrific entertainment without reducing the Columbo character to a capering buffoon who is openly playing for laughs. I give the writers and producers due credit for a job well done.

Falk’s performance is a treat. His interactions with Justin and Coop are priceless as he realises quickly that they’ve completely fallen for his bumbling old codger act and hams it up to them at every opportunity. Probably the best example is the scene at the frat party, when the wily Lieutenant cons the kids into falling for the ‘plane tickets to Phoenix’ gag.

“A key ingredient in the success of the episode is how tightly reined in the Columbo character is.”

When Coop laments that the purported shady hit on Rusk “is pretty scary stuff”, Columbo responds with a perfect parody of a tough-talking veteran trying to show street smarts in front of an inexperienced audience. “I’ll tell ya, sometimes it can be a pretty scary world,” he retorts, with a click of his teeth and a stern-set jaw. More fun follows when he tells Coop he’d be lost without the boys’ help, while placing a grandfatherly arm around his shoulders. On both occasions, Falk absolutely aces it.

The sights we’re given of Columbo’s inner steeliness are just as effective. When he notices the boys making fun of his mannerisms across a car park, his expression and knowing nod virtually scream out ‘you’re going down, boys’. And so it will prove in memorable fashion.

Columbo Goes to College frat party
Columbo cuddling Coop warms the cockles of the heart

Cast as Justin and Coop respectively, Stephen Caffrey and Gary Herschberger flawlessly come across as absolute douchebags: privileged, arrogant, idle and full of their own importance. Their performances are top notch. The only criticism I have is that they’re both so obviously way older than the 21-year-old college kids they’re supposed to be.

Caffrey was 31 at time of filming and looks it, while Herschberger, 26, is more boyish but has old man hands that give him away. Their believable and energetic turns, however – and the effectiveness of their playing off Falk – more than make up for this. These are guys that we can love to hate, and the white privilege and sense of entitlement they ooze feels just as relevant today as it did in 1990.

The two also come across as being genuine friends. I have no intel on the relationship between Caffrey and Herschberger before filming College, but it ‘s evident they developed a strong rapport. Heck, with the tickling, teasing, magic shakes and shirtless room sharing, Justin and Coop provide the series’ best bromance since Columbo and Sanchez hit it off in A Matter of Honor 14 years earlier.

Just as was the case in many of Columbo’s classic cases, the killers’ supreme self belief is their downfall. So confident are they that they’re playing the Lieutenant that they’re oblivious to the fact he’s playing them – until it’s too late. Yes, this is a bit of a Columbo trope but seeing it all pan out to the detriment of these cocky frat brats gives proceedings a delicious edge.

No review of Columbo Goes to College would be complete without some fanboy fawning over the return of the mighty Bobby Culp. It is so good to have him back in Columbo colours after a 17-year break, and even if he’s not playing the murderer here, he’s as snarling and unsympathetic as ever. Culp’s mere presence gives College a huge amount of additional clout, helping to validate the episode and elevate it to the highest level.

Columbo Goes to College Robert Culp
Robert Culp’s performance was basically one long, immensely enjoyable snarl

Welcome as his presence is, Culp’s appearance is also tinged with a hint of regret over what might have been had Rowe Senior been present for the demise of his son. It certainly wouldn’t have been hard to tinker with the script to allow for it, and the missed opportunity for one last explosion of rage, or a begrudging admittance of Columbo’s abilities, seems like a glaring omission.

The writers also missed a gilt-edged chance to present serious fans with an Easter Egg reference during Columbo’s initial lecture to the student body. While mentions are made of the Lieutenant’s previous cases, how good would it have been for him to have slipped in a passing mention of one of his legendary 70s’ cases, such as the take-down of Ken Franklin, Nelson Hayward or Nora Chandler? Allied with the Culp cameo, that would have delighted millions of long-time viewers. Why didn’t they do it?

The overly intricate nature of the murder offers both positives and negatives for thoughtful viewers. The crime is audacious and ludicrously far-fetched – J&C would have had to manoeuvre their truck microscopically for ages to precisely line up the fatal shot. Along with Dr Kepple’s use of subliminal cuts in Double Exposure, and Tommy Brown’s plane crash stunt in Swan Song, this is one of those crimes that it’s best simply to accept rather than think too deeply about.

The cliched uselessness of Joe Doyle failing to spot the killing on the CCTV camera is also something to be glossed over – although Joe’s squirming shame about his own ineptness does make for enjoyable viewing. One must assume he’ll swiftly be relieved of his duties to be replaced by something more reliable, such as an orange, a dippy bird or an inanimate carbon rod.

Columbo Goes to College Joe Doyle
Joe Doyle gives bungling security guards a bad name

Still, those are just about the only aspects of College I consider oversights. Pretty much everything else is top tier – including the gotcha scene. Some fans find it a bit of a cheat in that the writers essentially repackaged the awesome gotcha from A Friend in Deed. I’m not one of those nay-sayers. In fact, given the collegiate setting of this episode I think it works superbly.

In College, Columbo is playing the role of educator. What better way of teaching the killers a real lesson than by adapting one of his greatest triumphs to serve as an example to them all? It also underlines the fact that Justin and Coop are lazy students. Perhaps if they’d done their homework on Columbo the same way they genned up on the rap sheet of former con Dominic Doyle, they’d have been able to avoid his trap.

Had they been paying more attention in class, they might also have absorbed the vital lesson Columbo delivers about the importance of not giving away too much information to suspects. Instead, with their eyes fixed on the mini TV screen, Justin and Coop missed it completely, therefore failing to smell a rat when Columbo provides them with an avalanche of phony information later down the line. Silly boys

College is an episode packed with intrigue that demands the viewer’s attention throughout.”

Another strength of College is how effectively it makes use of its running time. Since its 1989 return, Columbo uniformly adopted a 90+ minute format (2 hour episodes including ad breaks), but this rarely seemed justified, leading to a deluge of silly, unnecessary scenes being thrown in to pad things out (Sex and the Married Detective’s tuba scene being a particularly foul example).

College is really the first of the new episodes to make a virtue of its ample length. There’s nothing here that doesn’t further the story and keep the mystery progressing. It’s an episode packed with intrigue that demands the viewer’s attention throughout to avoid missing a key clue – including a number of subtle inclusions early on that come full circle by episode’s end.

Note how Justin utilises the micro video camera on his RC car at the very start of the episode – the same equipment that Columbo will later reveal as having been used in the killing of Rusk. Notice, too, the fleeting glimpse of Dominic Doyle hanging out at brother Joe’s security station in the college building early on in proceedings – a fact that Justin later references in a bid to pin the murder on him.

Columbo Goes to College
Turns out that Mrs Columbo’s car really is nothing special…

Every little thing in this episode has been included for a reason, and none of it feels heavy-handed. Compared to the vast majority of Columbo episodes since 1989, this is a masterclass in writing. It’s a shame it took so long to attain this level of excellence.

To conclude, I’m sure it’s apparent just how much a fan I am of Columbo Goes to College. It’s far and away the standout adventure of the new era, but the final question to consider is how well it fares against the classic era cases. So far, only Agenda for Murder has favourably compared – but it still wouldn’t make my overall A-List.

College is a different animal. A high-energy, hugely enjoyable inter-generational conflict between old hound and young upstarts, this isn’t just good by new Columbo standards – it’s an A-Grade episode regardless of era, and one that definitively proves how sharp and relevant the show and character could still be in this brave new world.

Did you know?

Columbo Goes to College

College is one of the few occasions when we encounter Columbo before the murder takes place, and is the first time he’s the officer to discover the dead body. It’s also one of only seven episodes in which the Lieutenant references one of his previous televised cases, explaining to the students how he was able to use bitemark evidence to bring down Oscar Finch in Agenda for Murder. Read about the other six examples here.

How I rate ’em

You’d have to be the class dunce to not realise that I really dig Columbo Goes to College. It tops the current list, but would also be the first new episode to make the A-List in my overall standings (which you can see here).

If you missed any of my earlier ‘new Columbo‘ reviews, access them via the links below.

  1. Columbo Goes to College
  2. Agenda for Murder
  3. Columbo Cries Wolf
  4. Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
  5. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
  6. Sex & The Married Detective
  7. Murder, A Self Portrait
  8. Murder, Smoke & Shadows
  9. Uneasy Lies the Crown
  10. Grand Deceptions
  11. Murder in Malibu

If Columbo Goes to College merits an A+ in your professorial heart, you can even vote for it in the fans’ favourite episode poll here. No one could blame you…

Columbo Goes to College
Things are LOOKING UP for the Lieutenant again at last! *cries with laughter*

With that, it’s time to say farewell. It’s taken a while to get into my groove in 2021, but I hope it won’t be long before I’m back with a review of Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health – an episode that brings back another beloved guest star from the 70s: gorgeous George Hamilton. Don’t miss it, or you’ll be flunked from the class immediately. You have been warned…


This review is dedicated to all you kind, regular readers of the blog who have waited so patiently for this review to be published. You’re all my favourite!

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Columbo Goes to College Mrs Rowe
So THAT’s how it is in their family
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233 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo Goes to College

  1. “The crime is audacious and ludicrously far-fetched – J&C would have had to manoeuvre their truck microscopically for ages to precisely line up the fatal shot.”

    You’ve got that right, Columbophile! And that goes double for the police re-enactment of the murder in the final scene! In real life, the police wouldn’t let anyone NEAR the proximity of Cooper’s truck and the soon-to-be-demolished mannequin. Everyone would have to stand back 50-100 yards. What if Cooper parked his truck in his space somewhat differently than the way he did just before the murder? What if the police technicians placed the gun at a slightly incorrect angle? We do know the gun wasn’t left in place by the killers, since they planted it in Mrs. Columbo’s car. The technicians would have had to work fast, since the Lieutenant’s remarks in the lecture hall were brief. They had to make sure the trajectory of the shot would pass through one of the vent holes in the sporty truck’s hood — so it wouldn’t take a wicked bounce off the sheet metal and strike a hapless bystander. And they would have had to do this all without any test firing!

    After consulting Occam’s Razor, I came up with the following explanation for this (and all the practical objections to this episode posted on this board.) The Columbo series is faithful to police methods — but only up to a certain point! The rest is pure fable! The police re-enactment of the murder — indeed the entire episode — proceeds the way it does to maximize the audience’s enjoyment of the fratbrats’ comeuppance.

    Columbo himself is a mythical character. How can such a super-sleuth still be making only the equivalent of $11,000 in 1970s dollars? Wouldn’t his police union complain? Wouldn’t Mrs. Columbo? The Columbo character exists in a state of elastic reality, where he is always the lowly underdog who has to prove himself. He never grows from that position, much like Bart and Lisa Simpson exist forever in the fourth and second grades of elementary school.

     
    • Not to mention wirelessly broadcasting through an underground concrete parking structure with crystal clarity. A broadcast signal so strong (without an apparent antenna) that it completely overpowers a designated satellite signal, presumably miles away! When I worked in a tv studio 20 years ago, we had trouble sometimes with a clear signal between adjacent stages with cables. We could have used some of the technology these “kids” had.

      And even if we pretend that the camera rig does have that ability, (let’s say the apparatus is connected to the truck’s antenna in some techno-babble fashion that boosts the signal) we still have the matter of the car alarm/trigger device. I don’t know about anyone else, but mine works with a clear line of sight no more than 50 feet.

      Those boys were tech geniuses I tell ya!

       
      • All great points, Kevin! I’m glad you mentioned “the car ALARM/trigger device.” Cooper said he always locks his car — especially “in this day and age.” So how did the police open the car door so they could pop the hood without tripping the alarm?

        Yes, this series is a set of fables not to be taken too seriously. Notice Columbo rarely reads his suspects’ Miranda rights after he arrests them. Adding to the lullaby lore is Columbo whistling “This Old Man” as wraps up his tales.

         
        • Pardon me, I meant truck door, not car door in the posts above.

          When I say the series Columbo should not be taken seriously, I was only referring to some of the contrivances in the plots, as indicated above. On a deeper level, this series is meant to inspire us all to be the heroic Everyman (or woman) who speaks truth to power — and tries to piece together the ugliness and corruption all around us hidden in plain sight. I disagree with those who say there’s no social message here.

          On a somber note, the mythical nature of Columbo points to the sad fact that the psychopaths and the sociopaths are in charge of modern society. Just look at Justin and Cooper — two disgusting human beings if there ever were any, either in fiction or real life. They were well on their way toward having their way with the world, until Columbo put a stop to them. But what about all the rotten people who graduate from the most elite law schools and business schools? They go on to defend or promote domestic and international criminals, destroy labor unions, or make our soil, air and water unsafe for all but the most primitive forms of life. So when you hear Columbo whistle “This Old Man,” be wary of thinking all is now well. The real killers are still out there.

           
    • “How can such a super-sleuth still be making only the equivalent of $11,000 in 1970s dollars? Wouldn’t his police union complain?”

      Hi Robert. I would assume that there is a pay scale for all ranks in the LAPD and that Columbo is already at the top rate in his grade. In other words, he could not be paid more than another lieutenant with the same number of years served.

      The only way he could get a pay rise would be via promotion, which he might well have refused, as “the crimes don’t happen at the station”.

      I might be out of my depth here if anyone else knows how the LAPD pay structure actually worked circa 1990. Much better at discussing the scenes with girls in bikinis.

       
  2. “The writers also missed a gilt-edged chance to present serious fans with an Easter Egg reference during Columbo’s initial lecture to the student body.” He does mention one of his previous cases: Columbo: Agenda for Murder – the way he obtained bitemarks from the gum and cheese. Excellent review.

     
    • Yes, but I think what CP meant was that Columbo could have referenced one of his “classic” cases from the 1970’s, such as “the Hayward case” or even Suitable For Framing.

       
  3. Well, with a success obsessed win-at-all-costs father as Robert Culp plays here (and in all his Columbo appearances) one can see how the son turned out as he did.

    Needless to say Columbo didn’t believe the mob hit theory for a minute, as he had heard all that long ago from Ken Franklin.

    I didn’t feel the actors cast as the killers seemed too old for their roles as guys about to finish college. More plausible than mid 20s James Dean as a HS student in Rebel Without a Cause at any rate.

     
    • Hi Zach. I agree with you, and you make a good point about Ken Franklin. I don’t think any of the murders shown in Columbo were done by hitmen, apart from in Publish or Perish, and even then Eddie is not strictly speaking a professional contract killer.

      No doubt Columbo has seen several murders committed by hitmen in untelevised cases and is familiar with the way they work. (these may even be unsolved cases).

      But as soon as he sees something that doesn’t fit at the crime scene, the first person to suggest to him that the mob hired a hitman must be the killer. I’m not sure if this happens in any other episode, so maybe he had to wait best part of 20 years for it to happen again.

       
      • The Great Santini also (fittingly, as it’s Cassidy) posits that the mob killed Jesse Jerome.

         
        • Thanks for the heads up Tim. Yes, so that’s twice that “Jack” suggests it was a mob hit and once that he actually hires a hitman/patsy himself.

           
        • Doh! Harry Stone’s death in “Candidate For Crime” is also blamed on a “mob hit”.

           
  4. I only have one niggle. We’re shown several times that the setting is “Fremont College” yet it’s referred to as “the university” on several occasions and even “this great university.” And Justin says his dad expects him to go to Harvard Law. Harvard Law doesn’t recruit from small local colleges that no one ever heard of unless the person is a really brilliant student (which Justin certainly is not). It wouldn’t have been that difficult to make it look like it actually occurred at one of the “great universities” in California, without naming it.

     
    • I think it’s supposed to masquerade as Pepperdine University in Malibu with the gravitas and prestige of a UCLA or USC.

       
    • I think that Justin is “a really brilliant student”, or at least he could be if he wasn’t such a slacker. That’s part of the reason why Rusk is so annoyed with Justin and Coop, that they are wasting away their time at Fremont, when they could really be making something of themselves if they just used their brainpower. Even if Justin isn’t brilliant, his father certainly expects him to be.

      And is it not possible for a seat of learning to be a “university college”, as in “University College Oxford”, or is that just in the UK?

       
  5. Justin wears a horrendously patterned sweater in the scene where he and Coop are listening in on the conversation between his father and Columbo. It looks like the same sweater which caused headaches/nausea in “Uneasy Lies the Crown.” Does anybody else see this, or did the sweater burn itself into my retinas?

    And, far more importantly, I hope your daughter’s health is improving. Best wishes and prayers to her and your family.

     
  6. Guess what here in britain lockdown is easing so heres freedom of speech , i just dont know how or why goes under the guillotine and self portrairt 2 Bad new episodes could be placed higher than uneasy lies the crown which was a very decent new one with a decent script also
    I think caution murder can be hazardous to your health with george hamilton was one one of the very best new ones and i still think its review is long overdue
    Sorry if that sounds rude.

     
    • Steve, as you are aware, CP has far more important things on his mind now dealing with his young daughter’s health.

      Tell you what, maybe you could write your own (short) review of Caution Murder Can Be Hazardous To Your Health, add it to this thread, and we could discuss that episode here until such time as CP can give us his “official” review?

       
  7. Great episode. Just 2 things annoy me:
    – How would any top lawyer in LA not know who Columbo is? He’s been around for 30+ years now, solving high-profile cases with big-name actors, millionaires and politicians. Better if the dad had said “I know that Columbo guy – watch out. He’s smarter than he looks.”

    – A local TV station wouldn’t pay $2500 – or anything, really – for that video of the shooting. That’s not how U.S. journalism works, unless it’s a tabloid publication or etc.

     
    • Hi Namesake,

      Yes, after the events of “Columbo Cries Wolf” the whole world knows who Columbo is.
      It does make it all the more satisfying though, imagining Jordan Rowe’s reaction to his son’s arrest and realisation that Columbo was on to Justin and Coop from the first night.
      I think it’s rather like Mr Burns in The Simpsons “Simpson, eh? I’ll remember that name.”

      And that’s a good point about the TV station buying the video. I wouldn’t know about that sort of thing myself, but does anybody know if there might be a precedent for this? Bearing in mind that this all happened 30 years ago and things might have changed since then?

       
  8. First, thanks for this site, Colombophile! I remember the show when it first aired but did not watch it regularly. Now, in late middle age, I’ve seen most of the episodes on MeTV and greatly admire the show and Peter Falk. Your site is excellent and I’ll buy you a coffee.

    As to this episode, I agree with your high assessment. I’d rate with It’s All In The Game with the best ABC episodes (what I like about IAITG is the homage to Chinatown at the end…has anyone noticed that?)

    A pop culture resonance I noticed on this one that hasn’t come out in the comments is that at the same time this episode aired, Gary Herschberger was well known for playing essentially the same role in Twin Peaks. He was Mike, the sidekick of bad boy / nascent drug dealer Bobby, who in turn was one of Laura Palmer’s boyfriends. Mike / Gary then segued into a strange May-December romance with Ed Hurley’s wife Nadine. Remember that? Herschberger was as good in that role as he was here.

     
    • My wife and I just started rewatching the ABC era Columbos after many years of ignoring them. They really are terrible. We finished the third, Sex & the Married Detective, and that one highlights everything that’s bad about these. The over emphasis on music is just awful. The scene at the Music Center where Columbo plays the tuba and leads the children away is embarrassing. The fountains dancing to his tuba playing is ridiculous. There are elements of these that could have been strong but throwaway characters like the college students who look 35 and unnecessary music really detract from and diminish this great character. ABC did a terrible job in their handling of Columbo.

       
  9. Pingback: Episode review: Columbo Goes to College – Lt. Columbo

  10. Evidently I’m alone on this, but I love the tuba scene! I don’t really think everything on Colombo has to be serious, and I enjoy occasional goofiness. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy the series!

     
    • Jin, I agree. The show’s humor is a key ingredient, and Columbophile champions it often. I think it comes down to comic touches that feel organic – Columbo tumbling down the hill in “Greenhouse Jungle” or his bits in “Troubled Waters” – and something that feels labored or shoehorned, and many feel the tuba scene falls into that category. That said, differing opinions under the umbrella of being fans of Columbo is what makes the posts and discussions interesting.

       
      • I think that there are two reasons for the “tuba scene” in Sex and the Married Detective, which have nothing to do with padding.

        First, it shows us that despite all the terrible things he must have seen, Columbo is not cynical, but is still an innocent at heart, and enjoys making children happy.

        Second, it makes us think for a moment that Dr Allenby might just get away with retrieving her Lisa disguise unseen by Columbo.

         
  11. I wish I could like this episode half as much as the best of the ’70s episodes, or even half as much as the ’90s one McGoohan directed. Yes, I loved seeing Culp return, and he was excellent, and I also liked the security guard’s brother (who for some reason had the kind of ketchup and mustard dispensers usually only found at outdoor fast food restaurants). But I felt that the whole thing was contrived & unconvincing. Just for starters, the professor would never have agreed on that meeting in the middle of his lecture. (He would have said: “Have your father call me.”) I HATED that the college kids looked 10 years too old, and while yes, they were convincing as douchebags, they didn’t remind me in any way of real college students.

     
    • All of the new era, ABC episodes were below the standards of the NBC years. Not a single one approached the top tier of the classic episodes, this one especially. The Fay Dunaway episode was probably the best of the lot and even it was substandard. So much was wrong with these shows. I think Falk had been away from the role for a long time and was really just imitating rather than acting and I also think there was too much emphasis on music in some of the episodes and they were also very “jokey.”

       
      • That’s a sweeping statement for me.

        I don’t disagree about the point that few reach reaching the top tier – but remember there’s an awful lot of mulch in Series 5, 6, & 7

        Indeed, after ‘Forgotten Lady’ – i’d say that the average standard of the old Columbo’s was not much better than the the average standard of the entire new series

        Ironically, I can’t stand Columbo Goes to College and think it’s one of the worst episodes ever – but there are plenty of other good to very good episodes that simply don’t get the same benefit of the doubt in the same way that the 70’s seasons do

         
  12. Glad this episode is well liked! It’s always been one of my favourites, period. Since I watched it 10 years back or so.

     
  13. I sometimes wonder why Rusk reacts the way he does when he discover that the boys have stolen the test paper. Sure, he’s angry at them for cheating, when they have so much ability and privilege, but why does he keep it to himself, while he can’t decide wether to flunk them or have them expelled?

    Could it be that he has a guilty conscience over his own “cheating” with June Clark? It’s not the first time he’s strayed and June is a married woman, but Mrs Rusk is willing to take him back if he ends the affair.

    He in turn is willing to be lenient to the boys after he hears what Jordan Rowe has to say. And that’s the irony. Having been given another chance himself, he might have let them off with a warning.

    When Coop says “Who does this jerk think he is?” I always think, “He’s your teacher, El Schmuko, and he’s doing his job!”, but maybe Coop is fuming over Rusk’s hypocrisy?

     
    • To me the strange part is not only his decision to put the situation on pause but his reaction as a whole. Why is Rusk so angry at them? It surely must not be the first incident of cheating in his class. Every experienced teacher runs into something like this from time to time and develops his own routine pattern of reaction. But Rusk instead of simply and calmly flunking them stages this angry confrontation as if he considers their cheating a personal insult to himself, almost betrayal of trust. Why? Coop and Jus doesn’t look like star students he would never expected to do something of this sort. Then why all the rage? We don’t know anything about their prior relationship but maybe there is something there that determines Rusk’s actions?

       
      • Well, I think that Rusk is really angry at himself for “cheating” on his wife, and for hurting her feelings, and June Clark’s. Basically, his life is a mess at the moment and he’s taking his anger out on the boys. But he realises that he’s doing that, and does not want to make a decision until he can think rationally again.

         
      • I think it has as much to do with his own guilty conscience at being a serial adulterer, but yes, you are right, Rusk is thinking of the bigger picture regarding the college’s finances.

         
      • While I doubt the inner workings of Rusk’s psyche was ever a consideration for the show’s production, one element does provide a layer of workable subtext: the infraction of cheating. Rusk is condemning Cooper and Justin because they “have everything” and still resorted to cheating. But Rusk is doing likewise. He has a devoted wife, prestigious position on campus, etc., but still resorted to cheating (with a colleague’s wife) and selfishness. In theory one could argue that the mirror reflection is what caused his anger and panic, and explains the decision to break off his secret relationship an hour later.

         
        • That’s a pretty sound theory. I agree, I don’t know if the writers thought that deeply about it (I doubt it), but in terms of a fan theory, it makes sense to me.

           
        • Thank you Tim. I think that answers my original question very nicely. Sorry Kevin, I don’t go along with the bribe theory, as I don’t think Rusk would have done anything that was actually illegal.

           
  14. Did anybody (other than me, anyway) notice the cast and credit listings on this one?
    One of the coeds was Elizabeth Swackhamer, the daughter of the director, Egbert W. Swackhamer –
    – whose wife, Bridget Hanley, played the widow Ruskin.
    Nice how they kept it in the family like that …

     
  15. Two things I like about this episode which I don’t think have been commented on elsewhere:

    The use of “Poor Rich Boy”, the theme from the Dudley Moore movie “Arthur”.

    Stephen Caffrey’s very good impression of Columbo. Is that how he got the part?

    Although it was common in the real world,I think it’s the only time in the show that anyone impersonates Columbo.

     
    • Yes, it was an excellent impression of Columbo/Falk, even though I didn’t like him mocking our protagonist like that! My guess is that Falk had to sign off on that, given that they were (indirectly) making fun of his glass eye.

       
      • Just one more thing:
        After yet another viewing and some reflection, I am changing my tune (slightly) about the “Phoenix” angle. I now see how effective it is, as Columbo puts the carrot out there, and Justin takes the bait.
        I still don’t like when the Lt, makes things up…but it was sly here and didn’t spoil the episode for me.

         
    • For me the true test of which episodes rate the best are when I have watched them several times and they stand the test of time. Columbo goes to college is one of those episodes that does. It’s well written, the actors represent their characters well, it meets the classic formula of Columbo matching wits with the suspect’s, it introduces multiple suspects and it showcases Peter Falks character in a believable way. In some eposodes the screen time is almost exclusively Columbo and the main suspect, but in “College” he interacts with and mentally spars with multiple characters which ads to the plot. Even though the viewer knows who the murderer’s are, the sub plot of a mob hit, two wife’s with motive and a career criminal as suspect’s add believable alternatives. In fact had the traditional Columbo formula of showing “who done it” in the beginning not been used it would have been a believable murder mystery. Lastly having the most recognizable actor, Robert Culp in a supporting role is refreshing.

       
    • The poor boy rich boy intro music was a plus also she drives me crazy at the start of cries wolf was excellent , if any body can think of any more good musical scores from the new batch let us know.

       
  16. I’m posting this as a new comment, although technically it is a reply to a reply to a reply — but those can get buried (and often appear in a very narrow column, difficult to read).

    This concerns while I’ll call the “Phoenix gambit,” that I mentioned in my first “College” comment. CP and Chris Adams replied that, at this point in the story, Mrs. Rusk and Mrs. Clark are still legitimate suspects, along with Justin and Coop, and the “Phoenix gambit” helps Columbo to eliminate them from the list.

    Three brief points:

    1. Does Columbo really still suspect either Mrs. Rusk or Mrs. Clark at this point? If he did, it would be highly inconsistent with the Columbo formula — that some early clue clicks the tumblers in place for Columbo, who then doggedly pursues one and only one suspect (or a duo working together) from that point on. Oh, he may question others — but doesn’t pull investigate stunts with them. In “College,” at least for me, that moment is at the end of the Darlene’s Bar & Grill scene, when Justin is identified as “Mr. Rowe.” Look at Columbo’s face. He knows. Furthermore, he is staring directly at Justin and Coop while making the phone call that sets up the “Phoenix gambit.” This wasn’t about Mrs. Rusk or Mrs. Clark.

    2. In the best Columbos, the killers are smart and give the best possible answers to Columbos questions. It is a hallmark of Columbo that the killer has a good answer for everything — until Columbo can up with the one question for which there is no answer. “Swan Song” is a great example of this. Tommy Brown has a great answer for every little loose end Columbo throws at him. Justin and Coop’s response to the “Phoenix gambit” was just plain stupid. They could easily have said: “We know Prof. Rusk was writing an exposé on organized crime, and was doing a lot of research into the mob. Could he have gone to Phoenix for that?” That would have been the smart Columbo killers’ way to plant the red herring they wanted to plant while answering Columbo’s question. Plus it has the added benefit of being true. How did concocting more on the spot improve the smokescreen they wanted to feed Columbo? It served no story purpose other than to expose the boys as dumb — and Columbo isn’t about catching dummies. [In the original script (that I linked in my first comment), they add even greater unnecessary details (see pp. 62-65) which, thankfully, were omitted from the final script.]

    3. None of this explains the initial Columbo-Malloy phone call. What was the reason for that call? There’s only one I can think of: to tell the viewer that what Columbo is about to tell others is a lie. In my book, a scene that only serves that purpose is bad writing.

     
    • Hi Richard, thanks for the name check.

      1. Columbo might not suspect Mrs Rusk or Mrs Clarke at this point, but officially they are still suspects. To be fair to Justin and Coop, Columbo has to be able to say that he asked the two most likely suspects about Phoenix.

      2.it’s not so much that the boys are “dumb”. but rather that they are young, cocky and think that they know everything. They are not as clever as their lack of life experience makes them think they are.

      3.Yes, they phone call to check that there were no plane tickets in the briefcase is to alert the viewer that Columbo is about to tell a lie. What’s wrong with that? We have already seen Columbo and his men search the case, and Columbo is double checking to make sure that if he gets a reaction from any of the suspects, it’s probably an indication of guilt.

      Justin and Coop are so plausible with their story about Rusk’s supposed trip to Phoenix that I had to watch this episode a couple of times before I realised that they were making this up as they went along!

       
      • Why does Columbo have to be able to say that he asked anyone else about a story he made up? Lying to one suspect doesn’t compel you to lie to another. And which is it: are the boys not as clever as they think they are, or are they remarkably plausible with their story? As for the Malloy call, it is the dramatic equivalent of the curtain going up on the maid, feather dusting while on the telephone, telling some unidentified caller all about where her boss is and what he’s doing, to set the stage for the action to come. Purely expository writing is bad writing.

        But ask yourself this: strip the entire “Phoenix gambit” out of the episode and what have you lost? Jordan Rowe can still berate Columbo for not knowing about Rusk’s project. So the mob connection — and hence the Dominic Doyle connection — isn’t affected. The only thing you’d lose is length — and that’s why I believe the gambit was included.

         
        • Richard,
          you’ve convinced me that the whole “Phoenix” thing is to add for the network’s running time.

           
        • It’s both. The boys are clever enough to concoct the whole Phoenix story on the hoof, but not clever enough to realise that the “dim” detective is lying to them, and leading them into a trap.

          It is an important part of Justin’s plan that Rusk’s life really has been threatened by gangsters. He’s not intending to frame June or Mrs Rusk, he’s trying to make it look like a mob hit and frame Dominic Doyle, so he jumps at the opportunity to make that look more plausible.

          Columbo of course knows that Justin and Cooper are the killers, due to the “Mr Rowe” incident and the bullet casing being found not in the garage, but on the street where Justin had just driven Cooper’s car. June and Mrs Rowe have legit alibis for each other, but they could just possibly have been in it together. Columbo tries the “Phoenix gambit” on them as part of a control group. He’s not expecting an answer other than “no” and he doesn’t get one.

          The whole Phoenix thing is an example of him falsifying “evidence” as he was asked about in class. As usual. He doesn’t do this with the intention of presenting it in court, but to trick the killer into giving themselves away.

          The difference here is that it happens in the middle of the story, instead of at the end. And let’s not forget that Columbo realises that the boys are mocking him, so the Phoenix gambit is his way of mocking them without them realising it.

           
          • Just to correct myself: Justin (and Cooper) are of course trying to throw suspicion onto June Clark, but they are making a serious effort to frame Dominic Doyle as a contract killer by using Joe Doyle’s gun.

            The boys don’t care if it’s Dominic, June, Mrs Rusk or even Joe who is arrested, just so long as it’s not them.

             
            • Excellent points, Chris!
              That’s what’s great about this comment section….the opportunity to clear things up and provide analysis on plot points that we’ve might have missed.

               
    • When Sachs asks Columbo if he had ever falsified evidence, he tries to avoid the question by telling the students about the recent case where he tricked his way into Oscar Finch’s office to get some legitimate evidence. This makes sense, as the “Agenda For Murder” episode would probably have been seen by the TV audience in 1990.

      But it would have been sooo much better if Columbo had told the kids about how he sometimes faked evidence, not to get a conviction in court, but to trick the killer into giving themselves away. I agree with CP that it would have been good if he had told them about say, the Paul Galesko case, or even the time he framed someone he knows to be innocent in order to get a confession from the real killer.

      And I wonder what became of Sachs, Sara, and the other kids after this case? Did they form a team to solve crimes with the help of a talking great dane, talking dune buggy or a friendly ghost? Or did they just go to the police academy and make detective before they turned 30?

       
      • Other than Neil Cahill (“Mind Over Mayhem”), did Columbo ever frame someone he knew to be innocent to get a killer’s confession?

         
          • Actually, that stratagem already has provoked a lot of comment on this site. It’s the one Columbo tactic I consider over the line.

             
            • it is a dirty trick, which Columbo apologises for. The redeeming aspect is that Columbo has no intention of bringing any of this totally fabricated evidence into court. He is not interested in making an arrest and getting a conviction of an innocent person just to keep his quota up.

               
              • Mental Anguish. That could be a result of framing and arresting someone. Without wishing to revive the moral discussion of Columbo’s tactic, I’ll just add that the writers (incl. Steven Bochco) were remarkably tone-deaf as to how this would reflect on Columbo’s character.

                Columbo did arrest an innocent person in “Old Fashioned Murder”, and while the frame was from the villain, the result was roughly the same, as Columbo used the arrest to help squeeze a confession out of poor old Ruth Lytton. Another terrible gotcha, too.

                 
              • Faslifying, rigging, planting evidence, whatever you want to call it, is a common police practice and Columbo certainly wouldn’t be beneath doing it. But any of these antics he undertakes simply guide the villain into taking responsibility for the crimes. And sometimes it’s necessary. With Commissioner Halperin for instance, it was necessary to create the false report with the fake address in order to nail him.

                 
              • There is a line, however. Whether or not Columbo ever had any intention of prosecuting Neil Cahill doesn’t change the fact that his intentionally unlawful arrest of Neil, solely to coerce Marshall Cahill’s confession, will negate the admissibility and reliability of that confession. His falsification of scientific evidence in “Uneasy Lies the Crown” could cause the same result. These initial false deceptions were so excessive that they will be a burden on Columbo’s case whether he likes it or not.

                 
                • Well, in “Uneasy Lies the Crown” the falsified scientific evidence is of something that is evidently not possible chemically. And it does not involve the victim. This is a good example of something that would never stand up in court, and shows that Columbo has no intention of using it in the prosecution.

                   
                  • Again, you’re missing the point. Whether Columbo intends to use something in court is not the issue. The issue is whether the tactic is coercive. Police are allowed to use some tricks, but not others. It’s a very fine line. Some (e.g., “Death Lends a Hand”; “Short Fuse”; “Dagger of the Mind”; “Deadly State of Mind”) don’t bother me. Those tricks gave the killer a nudge; the killer did most of the work. But the tricks in “Mind Over Mayhem” and “Uneasy Lies the Crown” drove the killer all the way out on a limb into an apparent, albeit false, no-way-out position. That’s coercion.

                     
                    • Hi Richard. I’m clearly out of my depth discussing legal points with a lawyer, so perhaps I should just stick to commenting on girls in bikinis, something I understand?

                      Nah. I’m not sure how the stunt that Columbo pulls in “Uneasy Lies The Crown” is coercion?
                      It seems to me that if an innocent person saw Columbo’s demonstration, their reaction would be “So what?” or “Big deal” and they wouldn’t then admit to a crime they had not committed.
                      How does this compare with the “gotcha” in “A Deadly State of Mind”?

                      I think that Columbo does cross the line in “Mind Over Mayhem”. I’m not sure that the innocent person was actually “arrested” (although it would have felt like it) and I have always wondered if the witness Columbo produces was actually a desk sergeant at the precinct, but it is a very dirty trick. (And the person that confesses might have been innocent and only did so to protect a loved one?).

                      I think the problem some of us have with this behavior from Columbo is that he is a police officer. When Sherlock Holmes pulled these kind of stunts, or bent the law, he could excuse it by saying that he was not a policeman.

                       
                    • You’re right. I rewatched the end of “Deadly State of Mind.” I had recalled the sighted brother’s account as more circumspect, not overtly false. It wasn’t. It was an explicit lie, presumably orchestrated by Columbo. That’s a problem. What might save the case there is that the lie did not cause Collier to confess. Collier fought back. The lie did not break him or overbear his will to deny his guilt.

                      Coercion applies to the guilty as well as the innocent. The decision to confess cannot be compelled — including compelled by excessive fraud.

                       
                    • Hi Richard. Thanks for explaining that. I think I understand your point about coercion now. And thanks also for rewatching the “Deadly State of Mind” gotcha. Much appreciated.

                      There is an interesting difference between the two gotchas. The killers are both medical men, and Columbo exploits the fact that Collier has had “a little medical training” as well as the fact that he knows something that only the killer would know. Whereas, the dentist has not had enough medical training, and Columbo exploits his ignorance.

                      Right, back to the girls in bikinis!

                       
                • To reference a discussion elsewhere on this page, the arrest of a totally innocent man would not be valid if Columbo or his officers deliberately did not read him his rights.

                  He was probably taken to the station and, as Columbo says, released within the hour. A very unpleasant and undeserved experience for him, but with no chance of prosecution or conviction. In other episodes, such as this one, the “arrest” of an innocent person (even if they have a criminal record) is done with their cooperation as it’s all in a good cause.

                   
                  • The arrest of a person you know to be totally innocent is unlawful without regard to the reading of rights. The reading of rights has nothing to do with the validity of an arrest. The reading of rights is only relevant to the admissibility of statements made while in custody. But the issue here isn’t only the unlawful arrest of Neil Cahill. It is the intentional coercive effect of that unlawful arrest on his father. Releasing Neil after using his unlawful arrest to coerce Marshall’s confession doesn’t remove the taint on the confession. (Didn’t Columbo also try this tactic in “RIP, Mrs. Columbo”? But it didn’t taint the evidence against the real killer.)

                     
                • Richard…I agree with you about “crossing that line.”
                  I’m not particularly fond of it when Lt. Columbo crosses that line. It feels like cheating, a little.
                  It’s funny- I’ve seen this episode quite a few times, but I don’t ever recall being too critical of the “Phoenix” angle until this latest review and re-watch. In fact, the “Phoenix” thing was forgotten by me.
                  I think that’s one of the great things about this website…even avid fans can come here and debate certain scenes in each episode. I’ve become a much more “keen” viewer since finding this website a few years ago.

                   
                • Agreed. When I first saw that episode, I assumed he’d somehow persuaded Neil to go along with the fake arrest, and was genuinely horrified to realise he hadn’t.

                   
      • In my view, too much of the 90’s Columbos were played for amusement value. The original series took itself more seriously. The crimes were more real, the criminals more credible. Sure, the premise was never 100% realism; it was never intended to be. And there always was humor. But it’s a matter of degrees, and the 90’s episodes went much farther toward comedy.

         
        • I felt the 90’s Columbo was very jokey, and there was a greater emphasis on music in some of the episodes. ABC did a terrible job of handling Columbo.

           
        • Dear Richard,
          With my respect for your opinion, but the architect in Blueprint for Murder was not an architect, and his office wasn’t an architect’s office. The building site, even while it was filmed on a real-life building site, didn’t function as a building site. There’s no consistency between the building project, and the model we see in the office. In a famous scene, we see Columbo himself (who should have a team for that kind of time consuming jobs) going himself to the municipal building planning authority, for a procedure that doesn’t make sense. And when the workers break down the pile, a lot of people turn around, who shoudn’t be admitted on the building site. It isn’t credible, and neither is the murder itself, or the fact that the police didn’t look for the body. But it’s told and shown in a very amusing way.
          Do we have to believe, in Lady in Waiting, that the meeting at the summit of the ultra-successful advertising agency, is a real meeting of that kind of firm? and that the lieutenant continues his investigations after the decision of the court?
          Can a Chess Grandmaster (the Most Dangerous Match) leave his hotel in a foreign country without being followed by the men of his team, by the local police or by journalists?
          Does a television and movie company function as we are shown in “Make Me a Perfect Murder”?
          I don’t think the Phoenix scene is less credible than those 70’s scenes.

           
          • Jef, I’m a lawyer. I know what can be done at a criminal trial, and what cannot. There are very few courtroom dramas that get it exactly right. Nonetheless, even most that don’t are still serious attempts. They try to present a realistic trial (with a bit of dramatic license, which they need because a lot of a real trial is, frankly, boring). They are trying to take themselves seriously.

            The fact that the 70’s Columbos may not have gotten every detail exactly right isn’t the issue. These were serious attempts. They were trying to get as close as they could within the overarching reality of the show’s premise.

            I’m not an architect, so I don’t know what an architect’s office really looks like. For me, Markham’s was perfectly credible. (The model in the office was not of the building currently under construction. The model was of a “city” he hoped Bo Williamson would fund.)

            It’s hard to take the remote control murder device in “College” seriously. It’s hard to take Justin and Coop seriously. Even the most egotistical of classic Columbo killers knew better than to treat Columbo as a figure of fun. And both boys had long enough track records of screw-ups to have as much self-confidence as they display.

            My issue with the Phoenix business is that it added nothing. Take Jeffrey Bloom aside. Ask him about the development of the “College” script. Odds are he will tell you that the Phoenix material was a revision when the script didn’t fill the two hours.

             
            • I should add that not every 70’s Columbo took itself seriously. I wrote here previously that “Dagger of the Mind” is a pastiche. And director Patrick McGoohan upended whatever serious tone writer Jackson Gillis may have intended for “Last Salute to the Commodore.”

               
  17. After Columbo, Justin and Coop talk to the bartender, they go outside and we get one of our occasional Columbo treats, an attractive young lady in a swimsuit, sunbathing. Real good lookin’. (She looks like she might be related to the pink bikini girl in Swan Song).

    But no sooner do we clock her in the background than Justin stands in front of her, totally blocking our view, the berk. Never mind murder, Columbo should put the cuffs on him there and then!

     
      • It just occurred to me that the lady might have been a real employee of the establishment who was sunbathing in her lunch hour? As such, she was not meant to be in shot and that’s why Justin blocked our view of her?

         
  18. Overall I liked this “new” episode but as usual their explanation of technology providing a convenient discovery is way off. A satellite dish picking up the signal from the camera is simply not possible. They are two totally different technologies and frequencies. A better explanation would have been “someone nearby picked up the signal from their TV roof antenna and was changing channels on their VCR when they came across it”.

    Another totally improbable part of the signal even being picked up in their classroom, let alone far away from the campus, is that the signal wouldn’t pass out of the concrete underground garage. They’d need a large antenna on both ends and would still only get a best a fuzzy picture.

    But we’re not supposed to take these things too seriously, are we. 🙂

     
    • I’ve often wondered if the gimmick about the car locking device would work. I assume that it would have the range, even in 1990 (I’m not a driver) but would it be able to get through the several feet of steel, bricks and concrete between the classroom and the garage?

       
  19. I was a freshman in college when this premiered in December of 1990.
    It is also the first full episode of Columbo I ever saw… and I didn’t see it until around 2015 on DVD. So, I was a late Columbo bloomer.
    Also proving how late a Columbo bloomer I was, my first encounter with Columbo- of any kind- was flipping through the tv channels one day in the early 2000s, only to land on a “gotcha” scene which I really enjoyed. It wasn’t until 15 or 16 years later that I learned that it was the gotcha from “Murder By The Book.” (I don’t know why I never followed up on Columbo immediately thereafter)
    Being the first full Columbo I ever saw, “Goes to College” will always hold a special place in my heart. But it’s also a solid episode, despite not having a “star” murderer.
    I have never sat down and rated all the episodes myself, but thinking now about it, “College” is in the top three of my favorite “new” Columbo episodes….maybe even top two. (For me, “It’s All in The Game” is my favorite “new episode……”College is right up there with “Jackpot” for me)

    Something new I noticed during the latest viewing: right before Columbo and his students find the professor’s dead body, Columbo is talking about “the Devlin case.” He mentions something about a woman and a racetrack. I thought the “Devlin case” was supposed to be about “The Conspirators?” I don’t recall anything about a racetrack in that Irish-themed episode, do you?

    And, a little gripe I have…and it’s not just Columbo related……there’s a scene in “College” where Justin kisses his mother on her neck while she is putting on jewelry.
    I find it creepy. Is it just me? I’ve seen similar scenes like that in several films and tv shows over the years. Same thing with brothers and sisters.
    I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most “physical” or “touchy” person in the world, but the thought of me giving my sisters or mother anything other than a quick hug or a peck on the cheek grosses me out. Anybody else like me, or am I just a weirdo? LOL.

    More later…maybe after another re-watch!

     
    • Justin’s kiss with his mother is extremely creepy! I was going to reference it in the main review but it was running pretty long, so I limited it to just a photo cap at the end. Theirs is a seriously weird mother/son dynamic!

       
      • Ah….that’s what I get for not reading your review BEFORE I posted!
        From now on, I’ll make sure to read your excellent reviews (and comments) before I comment.
        CP….I hope you are doing well. I really enjoy your website!

         
      • It is creepy but not much worse than Rip Torn banging his niece-in-law in Jackpot, or Tyne Daly banging her nephew-in-law in Bird in Hand, or every other scene in Murder in Malibu.

        A lot of the new eps dabbled in gross incest-lite plotlines. As if the studio asked for more sex not knowing the writers’ room was overpopulated with perverts.

         
        • A large portion of this episode reminded me of the show “Beverly Hills 90210.” BH 90210 also premiered in the Fall of 1990.
          This was more like the early college years of 90210, with the fraternity and the crooked professor.
          Also, Donna Martin’s (Tori Spelling) mom in 90210 was in this episode….she played June Clarke!

           
      • Justin’s relationship with his mother could possibly be creepy, but maybe not. We know that he hates his father, and he clearly loves his mother, but if there is anything Oedipal in their relationship, Mrs Rowe seems unaware of it. I always think of her as a dim, but likeable lady.

         
    • I think we can assume that there are two “Devlin” cases. Perhaps this was intended as a tribute to The Conspirators episode? Or perhaps the writers had forgotten about Joe Devlin?

       
  20. Like some of my other favourites episodes from ABC Columbo, such as Agenda for Murder and It’s All in the Game, this entry would make the B-list. I truly don’t think any of the newer cases reaches the top rank.

     
    • Nothing from ABC Columbo makes the top tier for me. There’s not one ABC Columbo episode I’d go out of my way to watch. Just terrible.

       
  21. Its finally up and published and on its top spot months late and even if its brilliant gotcha was duplicated from a friend In deed1974 it still deservesvtop roolst but however i like death hits the jackpot slightly more
    But please let there not be any huge gaps begween reveiewss again please.

     
    • Well, it’s not “months late” because these offerings aren’t rooted in a set structure. We get them when we get them. Second, Columbophile addressed his personal issues earlier in a post explaining his absence.

       
      • Hey, I’m sorry if my comment should post a double but I think I had posted it under another comment, but I don’t see it; in short, I just wanted to say it’s a great review, especially considering your previous post mentioning the surgery and was wondering, would you have any more precise idea where this would rank in the overall A tier list?

         
    • Surprising comment, Mr Steve, given our hosts publicised challenges of late. Will you give him a hard time if he’s unable to post for several weeks after having surgery? I hope not.

       
      • Columbophile is so well presented that it is easy to get the impression that it is produced in a suite of offices, by a team of writers with girl type secretaries, instead of being a labour of love by just one person.

         
  22. Yes, College is a solid episode, but for my taste too “workmanlike” to be compared with the early seventies classics. Unlike some of my favourite Columbo killers, Justin and Coop are not so much flawed characters (eg Keppel) as human flaws without any character.
    I have to disagree with the author about the merits or otherwise of extraneous or “ex plot” scenes – which can add colour and eccentricity – as in all the Raymond Chandler stories. Memorable examples from the early seventies include the art gallery scene in Playback and interminable queueing in Blueprint. We can have fun in trying to guess the director’s thinking, while our erudite enjoyment is unspoiled by tedious or manipulative plot devices. This is obviously much more difficult than it appears – as often evidenced by Chandler’s many copiers. When it goes wrong (eg Tuba scene), it reminds us how much talent is actually required.
    Robert Culp had a remarkable ability to command the viewer’s attention in any of his scenes.

     
  23. One other nitpick: Robert Culp plays yet one more high-end L.A. criminal defense attorney who has somehow never heard of Columbo.

     
    • This is one of those Columbo conceits that its best we learn to live with. If the villains ever came to realize how formidable an opponent Columbo is, they would never underestimate him enough to be snookered into defeat. Dr, Flemming recognized the psychology of Columbo way back at the beginning: “You pretend you’re something you’re not. Why? Because of your appearance. You think you cannot get by on looks and polish, so you turn a defect into a virtue. You take people by surprise. They underestimate you, and that’s where you trip them up…..You’re an intelligent man, lieutenant, but you try to hide it.”

      It’s actually pretty amusing that obscure Mexican Comandante Sanchez knows more about Columbo’s detecting prowess than anyone in Los Angeles.

       
    • Or maybe Jordan Rowe caught some of the humiliating TV coverage of Columbo searching every inch of the Bachelor’s World’s mansion, “crying wolf” over the disappearance of Dian Hunter. Particularly if Mr. Rowe missed the conclusion of that case, the initial reporting would have left a very bad taste.

       
  24. Maybe there’s another link with the Leopold and Loeb case — a case which I didn’t know.
    As I understand, the murder was the keystone of their friendship. There’s no greater mutual dependancy than the fact of having committed a murder together. Also, they were each others “public”. Each one of them needed a public of his “intelligence”, and that they were the one for the other.

    In “College”, we see two students who think they are very smart, and courageous. They show it the one to the other, by committing the murder, sealing their friendship and their mutual dependancy.

    However, a strange point is one doesn’t need to be two to commit the murder we see in “College”. In fact, the only role of Coop is to own the car, as I understand, and to be the witness, the public of his friend’s cleverness. It’s Justin who does everything and, I guess, had all the ideas. The plot could have been written with one murderer. A secound one, a complice, isn’t necessary. But Jeffrey Bloom and Frederick King Keller wrote it with two. The discussions between the two giving us a clear view in how they think.

    And here comes a ressemblance with “A Friend in Deed”. When there are two murderers (and here they needed the one the other, for the alibis), or a murderer and a complice, Columbo (or, the police) can easily use the one against the other (in very different ways, however): “Prescription”, “A Trace of Murder”, “It’s All in the Game”, or even “A Deadly State of Mind”.
    In “A Friend”, he doesn’t use the one against the other, altough it would have been rather easy: Hugh Caldwell is a very weak character. .
    In “College”, he doesn’t either.

     
    • Hi Jef…
      I think Coop had an indirect motive. At the very beginning, Coop’s father tells him that “one more screw up of any kind” and he will be out on his own. (He had gotten three girls pregnant in the past 18 months, as well as some other shenanigans, if I recall correctly)
      Getting caught cheating on an exam would definitely be “one more screw up.”

       
      • Great to see Robert Culp in this episode of course, but it’s also good to see Alan Fudge (Publish Or Perish, Columbo Goes to the Guillotine) in a cameo role as Coop’s father. Shame we didn’t see a bit more of him later.

         
      • You’re right Chili. Coop has a motive. I don’t discuss it.
        What I meant is that one murderer is enough to commit the murder. Coop is in the story so that he can admire the cleverness of Justin, and that they can mock together.

         
  25. I had to laugh when I noticed Justin wearing Columbophile’s favorite sweater as captioned in photo from Uneasy Lies The Crown with Dr. Corman.
    Justin only has it on when he and Coop are earwigging the conversation
    between Falk and Culp.
    It’s the sweater that keeps on giving…
    Sooo happy you are back Columbophile and now I know what will be the first item on your next Christmas list.😁

     
  26. CP marks his glorious return to reviewing with a spot on hilarious reference in the first photo caption. Kudos sir!

     
  27. Corrected post…

    Two quibbles on the quite enjoyable College:

    1) While it was enjoyable (in a dramatically ironic sense) to watch the conceited kids mocking Columbo — which could also serve as a winking dig at critics of Falk’s preceding performances that risk bordering on self-parody — doing so within eyeshot of Columbo was a cartoon bridge too far. J&C could have more believably saved their antics for the car, and we would hate them just as much. Instead, the scene spoonfeeds the suspects’ two-faced nature to Columbo (who is peering through the bar window in the hopes of, what, seeing Coop do a sweet burnout in his boss whip?). The series shines when there’s a true battle of wits between detective and killer. But we see too early on that J&C are completely outclassed and basically nothing more than irrepressible jackasses.

    2) Using Leopold and Loeb as inspiration for the script was fine, but the finale foolishingly leans into that oft-told tale after the first act had successfully pivoted away from direct homage. As I recall, for both real-life L&L and the movie Compulsion, the point was a motive-less crime being unsolvable. Those killers were thrill-seeking, maladjusted, Nietchze-loving nihilists whose only goal was to prove they could get away with murder. But there’s little of that philosophy in the J&C characters. Rather, J&C are sniveling wannabe yuppies who are scared of being cut off by their parents and are desperate to avoid the consequences of their cheating. Yes they are arrogant like L&L, but they do have clear motives. So Justin suddenly saying they did it because they knew how doesn’t track. It references L&L but belies what the episode has showed us up to that point. And for Justin to double down on his perceived intellectual superiority (like L&L) after being outmaneuvered by Columbo at EVERY turn and then publicly embarrassed in the gotcha doesn’t compute. He then even drops his dad’s name as a likely ally in getting him off, despite his initial motive being driven by his dad’s “last chance” threats (and reinforced by radio eavesdropping). Huh? We get two of the most unsympathetic villains in ths series run … only to learn out of the blue in the final seconds that they may in actuality be mentally ill?

    It’s a really strong episode on the whole, but those two scenes annoy the hell out of me.

     
    • Totally agree with you about the scene outside the restaurant where Justin and Coop mock Columbo in plain eyesight. It makes Columbo have to “work less” to have an idea of whodunnit.
      Speaking of restaurants, right away Columbo leaps to a conclusion that the Professor had to have gone to “not fast food” restaurant within 15 miles of campus. He was right, of course, but what a guess! How convenient!

       
      • It’s not a guess about the restaurant, it’s a deduction. Columbo is on the same anti cholesterol medication as Rusk, and knows that he would not be planning to eat in a fast food joint.

         
          • Not really. Columbo knows that in order for the medication to be effective, Rusk would avoid eating in certain places and be more likely to eat in others, thus speeding up the check of nearby restaurants considerably.

             
            • You’re correct, Chris.
              I’m just saying that Columbo is one very smart man to come to this conclusion! But that’s our guy!
              Cheers!

               
              • Thanks CNC. Earlier in this episode Columbo tells the students that a detective needs luck. It is a lucky coincidence that Columbo is on the same cholesterol medication as Rusk, but instead of just thinking “how about that” he realises the significance it has in helping to speed up the investigation.

                And I always liked the polite but efficient way that he talks to the young cop about checking the phone book for nearby restaurants, and the quick response. It shows that Columbo does not do it all by himself, and knows how to get the best out of the officers under his command.

                 
      • I’ve expressed my qualms with College and did so thinking I’d be in the minority considering this is the top ranked new ep on the reader poll. Should have known better than to underestimate the eagle-eyed commenters on this site. 🙂

        But I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that College remains a very fun watch for me. There’s so much to enjoy — from the dastardly villains, to the class full of wannabe detective proteges, to Culp’s cameo, to Columbo’s finessing of both wife and mistress, to a satisfying gotcha burn.

        While not in the same class, College reminds me of Double Shock, which also had some plotholes and strained believability at times (hopping a plane to Vegas just to learn one brother gambles, killing Julie Newmar on the fly and framing the lawyer, etc.), but who really cares when you’re cracking up and dying to see what happens next?

        Don’t let yourself get fixated on the spelling error in the game program while your favorite player is hitting a home run.

         
    • Well, I suppose that Jordan Rowe could have killed Rusk in order to cover up for his son (and his friend) but the way that he’s depicted he’s more likely to have broken every bone in Justin’s body. It might be fair to say that in this story, the Robert Culp character (as well as the Alan Fudge character) are the reason why the murder is committed.

       
      • Another good reason for Robert Culp not to be playing the killer is that Jordan Rowe is not trying to hide anything when he talks down to Columbo. Therefore, we can enjoy the fact that Jordan is just a complete and utter pillock.

         
  28. I think most of my comments have been already addressed in the previous comments, especially the ending. I think that recycled bit was disappointing, especially since I thought it was so perfect in “A Friend in Deed”. One thing that has always bothered me about the murder. I can ignore the fact that lining up that shot is like “catching lightening in a bottle” (from another of my favorites, Candidate for Crime where Columbo is talking to the murderer about how its almost impossible to line up the car light properly to illuminate the garage. What I don’t get is why there was a gun under the hood for the finale. Did Columbo put it there? He seemed surprised when it went off (and what if someone had gotten accidentally shot standing in front of the truck). Since they put the murder weapon in the decoy car, that space should have been empty and nothing would have happened when they pushed the alarm button on the key fob.

     
    • Not only was there a gun under the hood at the finale….there was the whole remote-control murder gizmo! In the episode’s timeline, several days have passed. The boys kept the killing contraption in their truck, all set up for a convenient demonstration?

       
      • I think we’re meant to interpret the gun under the hood setup as having been constructed by the tech guys who were helping Columbo arrange the garage crime scene when Justin and Coop came in to park their truck. The boys may be cocky, but I think even they’d be cautious enough to remove all the rigging. Plus they planted the actual murder weapon in Mrs Columbo’s car.

         
        • That might be why we don’t see Robert Culp at the finale LOL. As the lawyer pappy, he might be inclined to object to the cops rigging up the murder contraption into the truck without the boys’ knowledge before they were arrested for the crime.

          Just one of those dramatic stretches for television……

           
            • Hey, there, columbophile, considering your recent message about surgery, I’m pleasantly surprised you found the time for this review, took really long to read but was interesting, however like always when it comes to these good episodes I wonder: more precisely, where would it rank in the overall A-list? I was guessing top 10, would you have any insight of that?

               
              • Sorry for double post btw, this comment didn’t seem to have gone through, so I re-tried further up in the page.

                 
              • Hi Roberto, thanks for your kind message. I’m not sure exactly where I’d rate College (when I’ve reviewed all the new episodes I’ll create a master rankings list), but it wouldn’t be top 10. Quite likely top 20, though.

                 
                • Ah, all right, being this the standout episode of the new era I was hoping it’d make the top 10, but yes, looking forward to the master list, thanks for the answer and the good work!

                   
            • I think we can assume that the boys were read their right immediately after the “freeze frame”, if not before they were put in the police car than certainly before they left the underground car park.

               
                • You are correct, CP. Miranda warnings must precede custodial interrogation. Both elements, custody and interrogation, preceded this statement. Columbo told the officers to “book ’em,” and both J&C were placed in handcuffs. That’s enough for custody. And Columbo’s question — expressly phrased as a “question” — qualifies as interrogation. So the “why we did it” statement would likely be suppressed on Miranda grounds.

                   
                • I’m sure that would be the case, if it were true. But how often do we actually see the killer being read their rights? Did Jackie Cooper and Richard Kiley get away with it? did Ross Martin?

                  I think it stands out here because the killer is usually a middle aged person who doesn’t put up any resistance, whereas Justin and Coop are two fit young men who Columbo would have trouble arresting on his own. In this story there are a lot of cops about, and an audience of gob smacked students. Compare this with Tommy Brown, who is relieved to have been caught by Columbo, in the woods, by himself. I think we can assume that Columbo reads Tommy his rights in the police car, right after the freeze frame, so why not the boys?

                   
                  • Nelson Hayward, Mark Halperin, and Dale Kingston were never shown in custody. And none of them made incriminatory statements in response to custodial interrogation. So the issue of “rights” isn’t relevant. If we assume they were thereafter arrested and questioned, their rights would have been read to them before questioning began. (Tommy Brown’s statements in the car could be a problem, but he likely repeated everything and more after getting his warnings.)

                     
                    • Ken Franklin should have been as well, but the telephone evidence he left behind (particularly the fact that the call from his SD cabin to Joanna that immediately preceded her call to the police — times phone records would show — was the gunshot call, not Ken’s “patched up our differences” call, as he claimed) was never fully explored.

                       
        • If the lab guys set up the gun gizmo why would he put a live bullet in the gun? I would think that would be dangerous and not necessary. The reaction Columbo had when the dummy’s head was shot made me think he was surprised as well which of course lead to the confusion on why the rig was still there and where did the second gun get put in there?

           
          • A live bullet has to be used in order to demonstrate that the gun could have been fired from that direction and that distance to kill Rusk with a head shot.

            (Lucky they didn’t use dynamite).

            Columbo is not surprised but he is famously gun shy and doesn’t like the noise, especially in an enclosed space.

            All of that said, I have always wondered why Columbo doesn’t warn any of the students to stand back a safe distance. Sachs might have been in on it, but one of the other kids could have been hurt.

             
  29. Being a second generation academic, I always enjoy seeing stories set in colleges, often unfortunately finding flagrant mischaracterizations of college life. Usually it’s something like a professor having an unbelievably opulent and spacious office or some indication of a lavish salary that in real life only administrators receive. (Grumble, grumble.)

    Having been a professor at a very expensive university in the northeastern US I have to admit that I enjoyed seeing these obnoxious arrogant kids get their comeuppance because they are reminiscent of a couple of students I’d had. By the way, that university from which I got my graduate degrees and also taught at was Peter Falk’s alma mater, Syracuse University. One of Falk’s daughters was a student when I was there but I never had the opportunity to meet her.

    Here’s my pish-pish on this one. If I were a professor who had the LAPD’s best murder detective as a guest speaker, I’d never run off during his lecture to see my mistress. I’d sit with rapt attention, hoping the air of an expert in my field would rub off a little on me, especially when the guest lecturer confirms things I’d taught in class previously. Afterwards I’d have a few drinks with my guest. She would have had to be one hell of a mistress for me to forego all that.

    With that said, I thought this was an episode that so far during the series reboot that bears most resemblance to the classic period. Robert Culp is indeed a high spot of this episode, the thoroughness of his wrath makes the ending that much more delicious. It would have been great to see him eat crow at the end. That they didn’t use him later could have been something as mundane as being another day on the shooting schedule and they couldn’t get him either because of his schedule or not being able to pay him for another day. Some ideas are just not in the budget.

    I did have a hard time believing the murder weapon was feasible, but again, my enjoyment of the story lets me accept that a little bit more. Never let the facts, it is said, get in the way of a good story.

    I was too busy in grad school to have seen the new Columbo episodes when first aired so these are all new to me. I hope that this is not an outlier but a taste of good things to come. Unfortunately, thus far I’ve not been too impressed, but this episode is an exception to that.

    Oh, and just one more thing…it’s only after I post a comment that I see some error but your site doesn’t let me go back and make corrections.

     
      • Oops! It’s actually been a while since I watched this episode, but I suppose I could have read the plot synopsis more carefully so I wouldn’t get those plot points garbled. But you know us wooly-headed academics….

        Still, I wouldn’t leave Columbo’s lecture to meet anyone, and yes, Rowe is pretty heavy-handed guy but I have a hard time believing an expert in his discipline would leave a lecture from such a notable practitioner as Columbo that I’d invited to my class.

        You’d think by now the rich and famous of LA would all know of Columbo’s reputation of always solving the case involving the rich and famous of LA. Makes me wonder how Columbo would have handled the OJ Simpson case, or that of Bobby Blake and Phil Spector.

         
        • While the premise of a late-arriving request to meet Jordan Rowe – delivered by Justin of all people – feels shoe-horned, I think the unease Rusk feels during the lecture is well conveyed. He clearly has an ego in his own right, but also he has misgivings about rejecting Jordan, who carries weight in the hallowed halls of the campus.
          As for Columbo being notable in the eyes of Rusk, that’s not what we see. When uber-nerd Sachs asks who is the upcoming guest speaker, Rusk has to refer to a crumpled piece of paper to jog his memory.
          On that note, while I see this episode as one of only two true bright spots in the 1989-2003 run, I bristle at the manipulation of what can be considered canonical characterization: Columbo’s tortured English in the fun dressing-down scene with Culp’s Jordan. Columbo tells Jordan of how he came to be the guest lecturer after “….the Cap’n come up to me…”. Boo.

           
          • Certainly a professor who’s supposed to be an expert in crime should know of such a capable detective who’s solved so many high-profile cases right there in LA. This is further indication of how despite Columbo’s track record it seems he hasn’t acquired a public reputation for his uncanny ability to solve so many high profile cases. I’ve always taken as a given that his reputation within the LAPD must be recognized, which is why he keeps getting assigned to murders committed by the rich and famous that certainly would receive a lot of news coverage. But you never see a any of murderer say, “If I kill this person they’ll send Columbo after me,” or “Now I’m screwed, Columbo is after me.”

            But that’s a suspension of disbelief that we have to allow for in order to enjoy the story, much like how we take for granted that so many aliens in Star Trek speak 1960s colloquial English or that Spock can have parents who come from different planets. As the folks in Mystery Science Theater 3000 sing, “Relax, it’s just a show.”

             
            • Yes, there is much to take with an enormous grain of salt within the “Columbo” universe. And, of course, we are seeing the distillation of his greatest hits over the years; the most high-profile cases. But even then there are are indications that he often will, as he’d say himself, go where they send him. Tomlin Dudek was initially a missing-person case when they sent Columbo. Eric Wagner was at the time, per the coroner, an accidental drowning. “Geronimo” Leslie Nielsen was initially reported as a violent mugging. Both Paul in “Ransom for a Dead Man” and Tony in “Greenhouse Jungle” were only kidnapping cases when Columbo became involved.

               
            • It’s not mentioned often in Star Trek, but Starfleet (and possibly some of the aliens) employ a “universal translator” device. It’s also unlikely that the crew of the Enterprise are speaking colloquial 1960’s American English, so the UT works for us as well. And Spock’s parent’s probably had some advanced 23rd century medical help in conceiving him. Sorry to digress Columbo fans, but Shatner and Nimoy are both Columbo killers, so that’s my tenuous link.

               
            • I don’t think there is anything to indicate that Rusk does not know who Columbo is? Columbo tells Rowe Sr that he had never heard of Prof Rusk until his captain asked him to go to the college and talk to the kids. maybe Rusk asked for him, or maybe the captain just sent his best detective?

               
            • I love this episode, it is my favourite of all the “new” Columbo’s. It does require a suspension of disbelief that Jordan Rowe has never heard of Columbo, but it is worth it to see him make a fool of himself with his “cross examination” of Columbo when he lambasts him for never having heard of Rusk.

              Did it never occur to Rowe Sr just why the LAPD sent Columbo to lecture at the college? Could it be that he is their best detective? Or that the respected Rusk might have asked for him?

              And given the worldwide publicity he got in the “Columbo Cries Wolf” case, Columbo is officially “famous”, so the college kids should certainly have heard of him. Coop probably kept Bachelor’s World going single handed during their lean years.

               
    • I knew an expectant mother who was having a hard time picking a name for her child. Whenever she thought of a name she liked, her husband, a high school teacher, would reject it because he had once had a student he disliked with the same name. At the time, I thought that a pretty silly reason to reject a name but after seeing this episode I understand. Nobody who has seen “College” would ever name their kid Justin or Cooper.

       
  30. Welcome back, CP! I have been anticipating this review as “Goes to College” is my hands-down favorite from the 1989-2003 crop, and along with “Agenda for Murder” are the only two episodes from that era that I truly enjoy. In fact, I would rather watch “Goes to College” over any episode from Seasons 6 and 7 excepting “Fade in to Murder.”

     
    • I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch any of the new era episodes. “College” and the Faye Dunaway episode would rank near the bottom of the classic era for me, above only “Commodore” which we never watch. Saturday night is Columbo night and we watch the episodes in order on DVD. We have the ABC new era but haven’t watched them a second time yet. I think they do a big disservice to the classic era.

       
      • I fully agree about the 1989-2003 run. All in all a blight upon the “Columbo” franchise. While there are many to select from as far as the weakest offerings, I think the unholy trinity of “No Time to Die”, “Undercover” and “Murder with Too Many Notes” resides at the bottom of the 1989-2003 barrel.

         
  31. Super enjoyable later years episode and i can see why it ranks #1 with a lot of fans for the ABC years. It is my second favorite for the later years episodes and stands up to half of the 70’s era runs. The two actors who played the killers did a great job portraying as CP puts it “absolute douchebags”. This is an episode i can always watch,

     
  32. A little nitpick here, but if you write “needless to say” why do you say it anyway?

    It’s a needless, cliched piece of writing.

    Hold on!

    Please scratch my comment because it, too, is needless to say.

    Just one more thing: I’m quite sure Colombo would subtly blow cigar smoke in my eyes if he read my comment. Have a light-hearted Sunday. 😉

     
    • I think Columbo might also misspell his name in his flip-page notebook, but unlike my mistake he’s probably faking his.

       
  33. Good to have you back in the virtual Peugeot for us!

    On the point about referring to previous cases, I know it’s a stretch – hey all the best cases need a little leap of imagination! – but in the part of the scene where the lieutenant is giving the lecture but there’s no sound, he lifts his legs and points to his shoes. So I always like to think – with no actual evidence apart from the old gut instinct 😉 – that he’s referring to the Milo Janus case.

    As I say no proof but since when did that stop us following a hunch!?

     
  34. Welcome back, CP. I had a sinking feeling we would disagree on this one. “Columbo Goes to College” is a bit too cartoonish for my liking. A cartoonish crime, two cartoonish criminals, and a cartoonish relationship between Columbo and his prey. The wiseacre kids versus the goofy old man was overdone by half for my tastes. Sad to say, even Culp’s Jordan Rowe was a cartoon version of Culp on Columbo. His previous Columbo performances never were this one-dimensional. This was Brimmer, Paul Hanlon, and Bart Kepple on steroids. [And remember, his displays of temper in “Death Lends a Hand” weren’t just Culp being Culp; they served an important element of the plot.] If his presence here stirred nostalgia with long-time viewers, maybe that’s because “College” too often left me feeling that I’ve seen this all before.

    Columbo did a lot of recycling in the early 1990’s. “Columbo Cries Wolf” recycled “Blueprint for Murder.” “Uneasy Lies the Crown” recycled an old McMillan. “It’s All in the Game” recycled the murder from “Suitable for Framing.” But “Columbo Goes to College” outdistanced them all. It recycled not only (1) the old Leopold and Loeb story, but also (2) the same red herring — a victim silenced because he was writing an exposé on organized crime — used in “Murder by the Book”; and (3) the gotcha from “A Friend in Deed,” with Dominic Doyle as the new Artie Jessup. (I half-expected Columbo to reach into the back seat of his wife’s car and say: “These are her shirts, this is her underwear.”)

    If you look in the Wikipedia article CP references about Leopold and Loeb, under “In popular culture,” you’ll see “Columbo Goes to College” listed as one such work. The original was a notorious case of two narcissistic college students from rich, privileged families who conspired in 1924 Chicago to commit what they thought was the perfect murder. In the novel and film “Compulsion,” their alliterative last names became Steiner and Straus (played in the film by Columbo veterans Dean Stockwell (“The Most Crucial Game”; “Troubled Waters”) and Bradford Dillman (“The Greenhouse Jungle”)). In “Columbo Goes to College,” they become Redman and Rowe. But it’s all the same basic story. Only the technology has changed. Redman and Rowe even justify their crime with the same pretense of intellectual superiority (“We did it, Lieutenant, because we knew how to do it.”) as the originals had. [That line was not in the initial “College” script, which you can read here: https://cemp.ac.uk/scriptzone/script.php?type=download&id=766.]

    As far as I know, “College” is the only Columbo based on a true crime. Occasional Columbos have spun off real-life sources (“The Most Dangerous Match” and the Fischer-Spassky chess championships; “Try and Catch Me” and Agatha Christie), but no notorious past crimes that I can recall. (Columbo refers to the Ted Bundy case at the end of “Agenda for Murder,” but the two crimes have nothing in common.)

    I wrote an article once about stage thrillers (https://framedthriller.wordpress.com/2018/04/25/at-long-last-a-new-stage-thriller/) in which I said that “no other genre places as high a premium on originality.” I hold Columbo to the same high standard.

    It is convenient to excuse all of this recycling on the ground that the new Columbos were directed at “a generation perhaps entirely unfamiliar with the concept of the show.” Columbo’s loyal fan base of more than twenty years’ standing hungered for new Columbos, too — Columbos as new and original as the 1970’s NBC episodes.

    I also disagree with the view that: “There’s nothing here that doesn’t further the story and keep the mystery progressing.” What about Columbo’s elaborate fabrication that Prof. Rusk had plane tickets to Phoenix? What was that supposed to demonstrate? And why was it so important that Columbo first confirm with Malloy that Rusk had no plane tickets? Was the Columbo-Malloy phone call solely for our benefit — so we knew the story was a lie? And was the lie concocted only to test whether the boys would try to verify it somehow? If so, then why also ask both Mrs. Rusk and Mrs. Clark about the “plane tickets”? To eliminate the possibility that Columbo accidentally had concocted something true?

    The whole sequence invested too much deception for too little return. The Rowes (both father and son) would have told Columbo about Rusk’s investigation into organized crime without this phony plane-tickets story. And then the whole Phoenix issue was dropped before revealing any proof of anything. I don’t get it. I don’t see how this ruse served either the investigation or the story much at all.

     
    • Speaking of recycling, when the professor discovers the cheating, he calls the students into his office and gives a talk that amounts to “I have uncovered your wrongdoing and this is the trouble I’ll cause you if you don’t murder me.” That reminded me of “An Exercise in Fatality.”

       
    • I liked College and disagree with Rich’s overall take. However, I’ll throw my support behind two of his critiques.

      1) While it was enjoyable (in a dramatically ironic sense) to watch the conceited kids mocking Columbo –which could also serve as a winking dig at critics of Falk’s preceding performances that risked bordering on self-parody — doing so within eyeshot of Columbo was a cartoon bridge too far. J&C could have more believably saved their antics for the car, and we would hate them just as much. Instead, the scene spoonfeeds Columbo (peering through a window in the hopes of, what, seeing Coop do a sweet burnout in his boss whip?) his suspects’ two-faced nature. The series shines when there’s a true battle of wits between detective and killer. But we see too early that J&C are completely outclassed and basically nothing more than irrepressible jackasses.

      2) Using Leopold and Loeb as inspiration for the script was fine, but the finale foolishingly leans into it after the episode had successfully pivoted away from the oft-told take. As I recall, both real-life L&L and the movie Compulsion kept the killers’ motive as thrill-seeking by maladjusted Nietchze-loving nihilists who only want to prove they can get away with murder. But there’s little of that philosophy in the J&C characters. Rather Justin saying they did because the College and disagree with Rich’s overall take. However, I will throw my support behind two of his critiques.

      1) While it was enjoyable (in a dramatically ironic sense) to watch the conceited kids mocking Columbo — which could also serve as a winking dig at critics of Falk’s preceding performances that risk bordering on self-parody — doing so within eyeshot of Columbo was a cartoon bridge too far. J&C could have more believably saved their antics for the car, and we would hate them just as much. Instead, the scene spoonfeeds the suspects’ two-faced nature to Columbo (who is peering through the bar window in the hopes of, what, seeing Coop do a sweet burnout in his boss whip?). The series shines when there’s a true battle of wits between detective and killer. But we see too early on that J&C are completely outclassed and basically nothing more than irrepressible jackasses.

      2) Using Leopold and Loeb as inspiration for the script was fine, but the finale foolishingly leans into that oft-told tale after the first act had successfully pivoted away from direct homage. As I recall, for both real-life L&L and the movie Compulsion, the point was a motive-less crime being unsolvable. Those killers were thrill-seeking, maladjusted, Nietchze-loving nihilists whose only goal was to prove they could get away with murder. But there’s little of that philosophy in the J&C characters. Rather, J&C are sniveling wannabe yuppies who are scared of being cut off by their parents and are desperate to avoid the consequences of their cheating. Yes they are arrogant like L&L, but they do have clear motives. So Justin suddenly saying they did it because they knew how doesn’t track. It references L&L but belies what the episode has showed us up to that point. And for Justin to double down on his perceived intellectual superiority (like L&L) after being outmaneuvered by Columbo at EVERY turn and then publicly embarrassed in the gotcha doesn’t compute. He then even drops his dad’s name as a likely ally in getting him off, despite his initial motive being driven by his dad’s “last chance” threats (and reinforced by radio eavesdropping). Huh? We get two of the most unsympathetic villains in ths series run … only to learn out of the blue in the final seconds that they may in actuality be mentally ill?

      It’s a really strong episode on the whole, but those two scenes annoy the hell out of me.

       
    • Of course, I can’t prove it , but I have always entertained the idea that Exercise in Fatality and Death Hits the Jackpot might possibly have been based on real life events.

       
    • Spot on as always Richard. After watching it several times the edge of cartoonishness (word?) does play out more. I do agree though this was a full two hour script though, unpadded with Columbo trips to the local chili place. While the toon like nature catches up a little, I love it in “Death Hits The Jackpot”, played to the hilt by the brilliant Rip Torn.

       
    • Agree about the Phoenix ticket thing. To this day I have no idea what that adds to the story. Who was that whole ticket thing for?

       
      • It’s an efficient means of disqualifying potential suspects, or at least allowing perps to incriminate themselves, which he employs to fine effect. Justin and Coop are already taking a much greater interest in the car than might be expecting, as well as attempting to lead Columbo’s investigations in a particular direction, which is something he almost always finds suspicious. He cooks up the ticket gag to give them a chance to hang themselves, which they duly take. I’ve always regarded it as shrewd police work and other example of using his vast experience to teach a lesson to the young upstarts.

         
      • At this point in the story Columbo suspects the victims wife, lover, and the over helpful college kids. He checks that there were no plane tickets in the briefcase, then asks the suspects if they know anything about a trip to plane Phoenix. The wife and lover know nothing about it of course, but the boys come up with a whole elaborate (and equally fictional) story about fraud at a savings & loan company. That’s when Columbo knows that they are the murderers. They think it’s a stroke of luck that the “tickets” showed up, and have no idea that they have been stitched up a treat.

        This episode goes back to the basic premise of the original stage production of “Prescription Murder” (and of the earlier TV episode with Bert Freed) that of an older cop (with many years experience) pretending to be dim for the benefit of the smug, highly educated killer in order to “Give ‘Em Enough Rope” to hang themselves.

         
        • Thanks for the responses, CP and Chris.
          I get it.
          It can just be confusing when there are actually no plane tickets, and then they are just “made up” by the protagonist.
          I would have liked to seen this whole “Phoenix” thing eliminated. There was plenty of other things Columbo could have picked up on.

           
    • At last!!!! Someone, who sees this episode for the utter tosh that it is

      Because so many I respect on here love this episode so much, I’ve just rewatched it.

      Now I was already in a mood because of how bad ‘Malibu is and it’s even worse now, because I don’t get how on any level this is anything but low grade Columbo

      The killing is utterly laughable. Arguably, the most unreal killing ever. So they could predict exactly where he would stand to that degree using a remote device lined up perfectly, with the crucial accuracy needed vowed on a 2″ screen???

      Add two killers who make you see Roger Stanford (Short Fuse) as some kind of serious cerebral genius in comparison!!!

      But it’s their ridiculous goading of Columbo, that puts this firmly in my all time bottom 10. Nobody that juvenile can have the assassination skills of The Jackal!!

      Why is their motive never discussed!! We end up with most contrived ending ever as clearly they were in a rush to wrap it up

      And who could blame them!!!

       
      • I’m totally with Columbophile on this one. It’s a very good, very enjoyable episode. This isn’t a documentary — it’s TV entertainment, fertheluvvagod! And for movies and TV entertainment, a modicum of suspension of (dis)belief is necessary; again, it’s TV! Although unlikely, the method of murder is possible, even if they just got “lucky” with the shot.
        And their arrogance and goading is totally “believable,” if you must insist that everything in “entertainment” must be 100% believable. The idea that “nobody that juvenile” can have the assassination skills of the jackal is just plain, er, um, silly. Since when is maturity of personality a requirement for any typle of killer?
        I knew 3 deadly hitmen from my old South Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1950’s and 60’s who were the dumbest, most immature lunkheads you could ever meet. But they were sharpshooting, cool, collected, efficient and quite deadly when they had a job to do. They were even scarier to me because of that mind-bending dichotomy. Of course, 2 of the three died in ambush mob hits themselves!

         
        • I’m fully aware that this is an ‘entertainment’ programme and some suspension of disbelief is needed, thank you very much!!

          For instance, I loved ‘Columbo Cries Wolf’ and also find people carping about the ‘gotcha’ in the very underrated ‘The Most Dangerous Match’, miss the point

          I can’t believe in the murderers. Simple as that. They give me nothing to be remotely interested about. Giggling incessantly in that wonderful juvenile way is fine, if we’re watching ‘Dukes of Hazzard’

          I don’t see why you think it’s “silly” to point out the sheer chance of that assassination working. It’s one of the least believable in the entire series and has too many flaws to be overlooked.

          Plenty of other ‘deaths’ stretch the imagination – like, those our host mentioned – but none are as ridiculous as this

          All my Top 20, either have utterly ruthless killers with the charisma to make you believe in them or are flawed characters out of their depth and all have ‘deaths’ that are at the least bit feasible

          I maintain that this death is not feasible and left far too much to chance, i.e. what if he’d rushed to his car and quickly got in it?

          And I’m simply not in to ‘cheeky chappy’ killers, which is why I’ve never warmed to any of the Jack Cassidy ones (although ‘Now You See Him’, makes my Top 30)

          And the character of the killer is vital into believing that they could execute the actual killing. Roger Stanford, who is otherwise another oaf, is a skilled scientist who understands how to make a bomb – that fact fits in with the plot.

          By the way this isn’t terrible TV, it’s just a terrible Columbo by the high standards

          Each to their own!!

           
      • The boys knew where Rusk parked his car and made sure they were parked directly opposite, with a direct line of fire. One of the boys (most likely Coop) had probably acted out the part of Rusk earlier, while nobody was about, so that the other could line up the camera. (You make a good point elsewhere that Rusk might have been too quick for them).

        But as to their motive: it’s discussed loads! In the scene where they are lying in their beds late at night. Rusk has discovered they are cheating on the exam and the boys are worried. Coop says that his father has already given him a final warning, and Justin replies that he hasn’t got anything less to lose, as his aggressive father expects him to become a hot shot lawyer like himself.

         
        • What I mean by ‘motive’ is that Columbo, who always sees finding this as vital – doesn’t establish one

          Mind you those two idiots are so dumb, with their daft goading, that even the hapless Sergeant Vernon (the amusing, er, policeman in ‘Candidate’ ) would have caught them without establishing motive

           
          • Ah, I see what you mean. Hence Columbo asking the boys why they did it. I guess this is one case where the suspects with obvious motives (the wife, the lover and the convicted contract killer) can all be ruled out, so Columbo has to go with what points to the killer: “Mr Rowe”, the spent cartridge on the street, being very, very helpful, and of course, “Phoenix”.

             
          • Lurker, just passing thru. While it’s true that Columbo does like to establish a motive and his underling in Now You See Him(?) lists motive as one of the things needed for a conviction, it’s not really required. Sure, it makes it easier to get a conviction, but if the perps hand him everything he needs, I’m sure Columbo would have no problem arresting them on suspicion of murder before asking why they did it. He really had no clue how it was done before seeing it on the news.

            My problems with the episode are why did Columbo let a kid drive out with part of the crime scene especially when Joe was just up the hall, and why did the boys use Joe’s .45 when they seemingly fell into the mob hit idea after Columbo asked them about Phoenix.

            Still, all in all, I think it’s a good episode with an enjoyable conclusion.

             
            • It was always the boys intention to frame Dominic Doyle, a convicted murderer, now living with his brother Joe.

              Joe is a nice man, and it looks like he got his brother a job as a janitor at the college to keep him out of trouble. If Dominic had been hired as a hitman to eliminate Rusk, he would have had easy access to his brother’s legally owned weapon.

              The whole Phoenix thing just gave more credence to their frame, or at least, so they thought. Good point about the boys car being part of the crime scene though.

               
              • I’d like to think my brother would use an unregistered gun for his hits. I always get a kick out of Rusk hopping in the truck, fumbling with the gate, driving up the hill, running into college down 3 flights of stairs to within spitting distance of where he started. Columbo used to get on a guy’s case for not flying. He was definitely off his game in his later years. Missed a great opportunity to demonstrate locking down a crime scene to those budding criminologists, also.

                 
                    • Yes, Mr Rowe. I often get mixed up with names that are similar. You did make a good point about “how much time do you really save?”. From a story point of view, the spent cartridge from the murder weapon being on the street and not in the underground parking lot is the first clue, and it had to get there somehow.

                       
  35. Just wait until Death Hits The Jackpot for a flagrant reuse of what many of us believe is the best gotcha of all time.

    Actually, I think that feeding misinformation to suspects is more-or-less SOP in police work.

     
  36. It’s just feels generally weak and next to the Faye Dunawsy episode, it was the best of the new era episodes. The premise is fine, Robert Culp is great, but it doesn’t measure up to the classic era which was the big problem with the new era of Columbo. When you start out with a source character that’s so immortal and a series with such an epic track record- maybe 2 of the originals weren’t very good- it’s a high bar when you bring it back and none of the new era episodes met the bar. Faye Dunaway and this one came closest, it just wasn’t there for me in the end.

     
  37. CP, good to have you back! Before you go dissing that inanimate carbon rod, just remember that it saved three astronauts, was on the cover of Time magazine, and got a ticker-tape parade.

    My bar is set low for 90s Columbos, and IMHO “College” struggles to wiggle over it. And, sorry, that faintest of praise is about all I can muster. In the Nov. 22 blog for the voting for Top 10 New Columbo episodes, I previously noted my issues with the Gotcha. In short, old-school Columbo manages to piece together the very modern mechanics of how the crime was committed without letting the viewer in on how he was able to do this. His solution is basically pulled out of thin air. To this, I will add:
    • Columbo doesn’t have a motive for the crime. Well, let me rephrase…He has plenty of motives for others in Prof. Rusk’s orbit, and he spends much of his time sifting through these. So why not for Rowe and Redman? I wouldn’t peg the boys as being very discreet with fellow classmates about their issues with Rusk, and it should have been easy enough for the writer to plant a stolen-test-related clue somewhere. In most episodes, motive is crucial to the case (Double Shock – “I’m very big on motive”), and Columbo clearly pays it a lot of attention here – except for his two chief suspects!
    • Why, oh why, do the boys keep pointing Columbo in different directions for possible suspects and motives, when all they had to do was sit tight and not do anything at all? They didn’t have to throw Columbo off their trail because…….what trail? All this does is provide the impetus for Columbo to suspect them even more.
    • Daddy Rowe is a big wheel Mr. Fix-It legal counsel to the university. Presumably, he could do something to avert the rather ordinary cheating charges against his son. You know, like, threaten a scandal or something else appropriately douchey. But no, there had to be a complicated and off-the-charts-degree-of-risk murder requiring meticulous timing, remote-control aim and accuracy, with precision-to-the-centimeter garage parking? I know that CP asks us to just roll with it, but the micro-exactitude required for success – to avoid a cheating charge! – is too much for me.

    “College” certainly approximates the feel of a good episode (helped enormously by Culp) and hits some of the same beats as Classic Columbo. Of course we want to see loathsome, entitled kids get caught when they openly mock our hero, so I totally get why people tend to like this ep a lot. Once again, though, I remain disappointed when the (90s) credits roll.

     
    • Excellent points, Glenn. Of course, what you say about “all they had to do was sit tight and not do anything at all” could be said of many Columbo killers. It’s almost part of the Columbo formula that the killers underestimate Columbo so much that they think he is easily misdirected. Then again, if R&R were really so smart, they wouldn’t have to steal college exams.

       
      • Point taken, Richard. I would just add that in cases where the killer makes the extra effort to point Columbo in a different direction, it’s usually because there’s such a close or obvious relationship between Killer and Victim that any standard-issue cop would eventually have to poke around to see if there’s a connection (means, motive, or opportunity) that would boomerang back to the killer. It doesn’t mean the villain has to go full-on Riley Greenleaf to deflect attention, but at least there’s usually a reason for the murderer’s extra efforts.

        That doesn’t apply in “College”. Rusk has no obvious connection to the boys beyond being their professor, and all Columbo has as a “connection” is the tenuous mention of the name “Rowe”, which is terribly weak – and Justin didn’t even know Columbo had noticed that! Why all the effort to misdirect? Surely, Columbo would be doing his due diligence with the overflowing and obvious list of suspects like the wife, the lover, the mobsters, etc. Even Sergeant Vernon/Grover could have handled that (if he hadn’t already been fired in the 70s).

        The mobsters subplot adds an overabundance of suspects, and could have been easily excised to give Columbo more time to do some actual investigating of the chief suspects and not the decoys.

         
        • Let’s not forget that all killers have a natural curiosity about where Columbo’s investigation of their crime is headed. For example, Hayden Danziger’s initial interaction with Columbo about the Rosanna Wells murder — a crime to which Danziger had no preexisting connection — seems motivated by this curiosity. And I’m sure Columbo is tuned into this motivation, something the killer has more reason to display than a bystander.

           
    • ABC mishandled Columbo big time. They made him jokey, they place far too much emphasis on episodic music and the stories just weren’t very good. We have the NBC and ABC eras on DVD and never watch the ABC shows a second time. They just aren’t good. “College” was ok, it would rank near the bottom of the NBC era shows, right next to “Commodore”, the Faye Dunaway episode is probably the best, but would rank in the lower middle of the NBC era shows. Sadly, 90’s Columbo just isn’t very good. Which is too bad. I was excited when they announced it was coming back.

       
  38. Columbo episodes often end with a tinge of sadness, as someone of real talent or achievement is disgraced and taken to prison. Not this one! It is pure joy and relief to watch the arrest of these murderers. If the story had continued to their trials, I’m sure they would have turned on one another, each claiming, out of misguided friendship, to be a supporting player in a plot masterminded by the other.

    One great aspect of this episode is that it leaves some mystery about Robert Culp’s character. How intentional was he is misdirecting Columbo? Did he know his son was a murderer? Suspect but not know? Have no idea? The son seems awfully confident at the end that he will continue to get his father’s support.

     
    • But there’s nothing satisfying about their arrest. They were still grinning like idiots!!

      I love villains we can hate, because we get a delicious cutting off of their legs, so to speak.

      We got nothing here

       
      • Agree with you 100%,

        It’s perfectly okay for a Columbo villain to be morally contemptible but — for me at any rate — for an episode to work there has to be *something* about the murderer that strikes a sympathetic cord or is admirable, Even if it’s just showing enormous dedication to or talent for something.

        The kids in this episode don’t have a single redeeming human quality — the description “cartoon characters that someone gave really resonated — and for me it makes the episode painfully unwatchable. I can’t even get through it.

        Barry Mayfield is just as morally irredeemable, but I want to see him get his comeuppance by being brought down by Columbo. With the these boorish, lazy, and dopey contemptible kids, I wish they’d just get hit by a truck and die early on to save Columbo the trouble.

        Feel like the murderer has to be worthy of Columbo’s attention and these kids don’t cut it at all. Between that and the preposterous murder and equally preposterous satellite-recording clue, I doubt there’s any episode I find so completely unwatchable.

        But I guess that’s a the minority view since, though it’s very surprising to me, most other fans seem to think it’s good.

         
        • What I like about this episode is that we know the boys will get their comeuppance.
          They may be grinning and cocky as they are taken away, but they have no idea yet that Columbo was onto them on the night of the murder and totally conned them with the Phoenix ploy.

           
      • I wonder what Robert Downey Jr could have done with the role of Justin Rowe — as it certainly feels as if Stephen Caffrey was cast as a more affordable “Downey type.”

        While I still found the episode enjoyable on the whole, I agree that some scenes, especially the final one, did not land as they should have. There needed to be some quivering lips — Ross Martin style — at the stark realization that “oh crap, I’m going to prison for life.” Or, at the very least, visual evidence of crushing upper class shame after learning they had been bested by the “inferior” working-class Joe.

        The stubborn and unwarranted defiance we got was a bad artistic choice.

         
        • Good point, but as I said earlier, I think we know that the boys will soon get their comeuppance, they are just too smug and arrogant to realize it or accept it yet.

          Columbo’s world weary expression in the freeze frame says it all.

          They think that Columbo just got lucky, without ever suspecting that the whole Phoenix trip was just a ruse, that Mrs Rusk and June Clark alibi each other, or that Dominic Doyle is not that good a shot from that distance.

          I think that Justin gets all this from his father. Imagine Jordan’s reaction when he’s preparing the case for the defense, tries to dig up some dirt on Lt Columbo, and finally finds out just who he has being patronizing for half the episode.

           
          • I know it’s the writers. But I’ll never understand in this episode or many others how suspects (and sometimes other law officials ) don’t take Columbo seriously and thinks he’s a dolt. The man is a lieutenant for heaven’s sake. That rank doesn’t grow on trees. I know I’m taking it too seriously as the writers have a job to do but sometimes I just wonder. No matter what I still love the show.

             
            • I take your point, but it’s all explained in “Prescription Murder” when Dr Fleming sees through Columbo’s act. He realizes that Columbo knows that he can’t get by on looks or polish, so he exaggerates his scruffiness, absent mindedness, etc to put people off their guard. And even more so as he gets older.

              But Dr Fleming was a psychiatrist, with more insight than most people. Instead of being impressed that he’s a lieutenant, most people are amazed when they meet Columbo and think that the LAPD must have low standards or something.

              (Of course being a psychiatrist with a little medical training is no defense against Lt Columbo).

              And to add to my earlier comments, I don’ think that Justin and Cooper will ever fully realize or accept that Columbo was cleverer than they were. They will spend the rest of their lives blaming Rusk and Columbo for their plight, right up until the cyanide capsule falls into the bowl of sulfuric acid (and I hope that Columbo’s watching).

              I’m reminded of a Hercule Poirot story (no spoilers) where he visits the killer in their condemned cell shortly before the execution. The killer is so arrogant, they still have no idea of the silly little mistake they made that gave them away.

               
        • I think their defiance upon being arrested is appropriate. These are spoiled Daddy’s boys who have been rescued throughout their lives and the entitlement is coursing through their veins. In particular, Justin, who knows his father will go to great lengths to get him off. On this note I would suspect throwing Cooper under the bus would be the action taken. Perhaps even Culp placing blame upon himself for driving Justin to perfection. It’s Cooper who’s a sitting duck.

           
    • I get the feeling that the dad didn’t know his son was the killer. He just wanted to feel superior to Columbo and direct the investigation off-campus for the sake of the college.

       
      • Completely agree. Jordan Rowe is an arrogant SOB, but he has no idea that his son is the actual killer.

         
        • It would be interesting to see how he reacted when he found out his son was arrested. Denial? Shock? Despair?

           
          • All of those I think, but mostly anger. Anger as Justin for putting him in this embarrassing situation, and anger at Columbo, who had been playing him like an old banjo all along.

             
  39. A delightful read, great to have a full review to sink our teeth into. Is it my imagination or does your review make references to Ferris Bueller, The Simpsons, Star Wars and Scooby-Doo? Bravo sir.

     
  40. “A key ingredient in the success of the episode is how tightly reined in the Columbo character is.”

    Nail on the head. In my view this is by far the biggest factor in separating the worthwile ‘new’ episodes from the bad ones. Obviously it’s not enough in itself to make a good episode – sede ‘Grand Deceptions’ – but I do think it had a beneficial indirect effect by forcing the writers to concentrate on decent plotting and characterisation, rather than wasting loads of screentime on “haha Columbo so quirky”.

    I agree with most aspects of your analysis here, but unfortunately I have to disagree on the gotcha. It’s certainly good in itself, and I do like the clever use of cutting-edge (as of 1990) technology, but I can’t get past the fact that it’s straight-up plagiarised from ‘A Friend in Deed’. Perhaps if the writers had acknowledged this by having Columbo slyly bring up the case a few times, it might have felt a bit less like cheating:

    “Now I’ve had some hard cases, but I tell ya, the hardest of all was when I had to arrest my own boss – that would be Deputy Commissioner Halperin – for murdering his wife. Boy, that was a tough one. But you know what brought down the Commissioner in the end? He thought he was untouchable. Thought he was so smart that no one could lay a hand on him. But you gotta remember this: no one’s untouchable, and everyone makes mistakes.”

    This would underscore the extreme arrogance of Justin and Cooper by showing that a) they ignored a direct warning about trying to fool Columbo, and b) they didn’t even bother to research the time he cracked an ‘impossible’ case. It would make the re-use of the AFID gotcha look like a deliberate ploy to show them up, rather than the writers recycling an old plot.

     
    • I disagree that the gotcha is not rewarding because it’s so similar to A Friend In Deed. It’s perfectly understandable that a policeman would use similar techniques to solve different cases, MOF, it should be expected. Although we are an audience that wants to be entertained and shown something completely different each episode, when it comes to solving the crime, I think it’s great that the older Columbo reaches back for one of his past tricks to stymie newer, younger adversaries.

      We wouldn’t want Columbo’s personality to completely change from episode to episode, why would we expect him not to use some of the same techniques to solve crimes. And it obviously was MANY years between his using it on the Police Commissioner and on these college killers. Again, I think it shows the human, sensible and real-life side of a cop like Columbo to use similar techniques if they would help solve a case. And again, this is a rare “duplication” of gotchas in many, many episodes.

       
      • I realise it was inevitable that gotchas would occasionally be reused in such a long-running series, and as I said, I think this one is well done in itself. I just think it’s a shame that such a well-written mystery had to basically steal its conclusion from another episode (which happens to be my all-time favourite). If the writers wanted to have Columbo re-use his past tricks, I wish they’d at least acknowledged this with a nod to the earlier episodes.

         
    • I agree that a reference to the downfall of Halperin would have been really sweet. The conversation between Sachs and Columbo on the way to the car lot would have been the perfect time to drop that in. Shame they didn’t go there, because directly acknowledging the link to Friend in Deed would’ve been greatly appreciated by fans, I’m sure.

       
      • Sometimes it seems like the writers were actively trying to avoid any reference to the old series. You’d think someone would have brought up the Hayward case (‘Candidate for Crime’) in ‘Agenda for Murder’…

         
  41. CP, great to have you back — your review is so spot-on! Such a great “new” Columbo! The murderers were loathsome, but fun to watch. Columbo was older, but in top form. The murder was audacious and made great use of the era’s technology. The cat-and-mouse throughout was exquisite. The lecture hall scenes were a nice change of scenery and exposition for the Lieutenant. Culp, despite not being the murderer, was awesome!

    And, I agree — great use of the longer running time! This is not only my favorite “new” episode, it’s in may top ten of all Columbo episodes. I love that there were two equally-guilty murderers (who both were in on killing the same person — unlike A Friend in Deed, which had two different murderers for two different victims). I don’t think I’ve seen that before in Columbo — a murder plot hatched by two people for one single victim. CP, please correct me if I’m wrong about that.

     
  42. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Murder? A great pleasure to see them hoist by their own petards! (Is that an uncredited Toby Maguire as one of the students in the post lecture restaurant scene?) Good to have you back as well as a vintage Columbo.

     
  43. A new CP review is the perfect way to start my Sunday. A very welcome back, sir. It hasn’t been the same without your weekly missive.

     
  44. First of all many congratulations on posting a new review, I was hoping you’d manage to this weekend! I’ll read it more elaborately later, but I couldn’t wait commenting this now.

     

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