Episode review: Columbo Goes to College

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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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