Columbo episode review: Murder With Too Many Notes

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes

After a hiatus of more than two years since Ashes to Ashes aired, Columbo fans could have been forgiven for thinking they’d never see a new adventure featuring the man in the rumpled mac.

That all changed on March 12, 2001, when Murder With Too Many Notes quietly appeared on schedules with little fanfare. Peter Falk’s BFF Patrick McGoohan was at the helm, while the villain of the piece was – intriguingly – Scottish stand-up comedian Billy Connolly in a rare dramatic role.

After the ratings flop that was Ashes to Ashes, Columbo badly needed a hit in order to remain a viable proposition for Universal and ABC. Could this story of a past-his-prime movie composer slaying his young protégé hit all the right notes? Let’s see…

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes cast montage

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Findlay Crawford: Billy Connolly
Gabe McEnery: Chad Willett
Rebecca: Hillary Danner
Sergeant Degarmo: Richard Riehle
Sidney Ritter: Charlies Cioffi
Nathaniel Murphy: Obi Ndefo
Tony: Scott Atkinson
Marcia: Anne McGoohan
Directed by: Patrick McGoohan
Written by: Jeffrey Cava
Score by: Dick DeBenedictis

Episode synopsis

Movie musical Maestro Findlay Crawford is the John Williams of the Columboverse. Every motion picture he scores wins plaudits for the calibre of his musical interjections – and he even snared an Academy Award for his last great effort on prophetically titled blockbuster The Killer.

The only problem with this is that ol’ Crawford is well past his sell-by date. Nowadays, the best elements of his scores are cooked up by his apprentice Gabe McEnery – an eccentric but likable baby-faced fellow, who listens in via radio to Crawford’s efforts from the film studio roof and lets his instincts guide him towards musical perfection. These efforts are passed on to Crawford, who passes them off as his own.

McEnery, however, is fed up about his lack of stature and prospects at the studio after five years in the great man’s shadow. The score to The Killer was, McEnery claims, 75% his own work – and Crawford didn’t even thank him when accepting the Oscar statuette.

Due to this, McEnery is going to blow the whistle on Crawford and reveal to his long-time directorial cohort Sidney Ritter how the young pretender is really the one pulling the strings. He’ll even show Ritter Crawford’s original score and his own adapted version that won such critical acclaim. Crawford will be finished.

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes
McEnery’s lumberjack shirt was 40 sizes too big for him

The wily Maestro isn’t all too keen on that outcome, but is able to take advantage of McEnery’s unbelievably trusting and gullible nature. Spinning a cock-and-bull story, he tells his apprentice that he’ll reveal all to Ritter that very evening and will recommend that Gabe and not he scores the director’s next film.

Not only that, he’ll allow McEnery the honour of conducting the symphony orchestra himself at a special ‘Crawford Conducts Crawford’ event at the studio the following night. Amazed by the older man’s gracious offer, McEnery takes the bait and agrees to keep quiet – sealing his own fate in the process.

As soon as the young simpleton vamooses, Crawford puts a wicked scheme into place. He assesses the studio roof, where Gabe is wont to hang out and find musical inspiration as he listens to Crawford conducting the orchestra via radio. Bizarrely, Gabe chooses to conduct right on top of an old freight elevator trapdoor. The elevator hasn’t been in service for years, but a quick demonstration from el Maestro proves that it’s in full working order. Why does this matter? Wait and see, my friends, wait and see…

Next day, a chipper Gabe turns up early at the studio to rehearse for his expected conductorial debut. There, he opens a gift from his lover (and orchestral piano player) Rebecca, AKA Becca. She has thoughtfully provided him with a new baton, inscribed with a secret LOVE MESSAGE written in musical notes. He responds in the form of a musical stave of his own, which he prints and signs and slips into the inside pocket of the hired tuxedo he thinks he’ll be conducting in later on.

Some time later, Crawford arrives at his studio bungalow where a grinning Gabe – now resplendent in his full tux – is in high spirits. These soar higher still when Crawford tells him that Ritter has agreed to allow the young man to score his next movie. To celebrate, Crawford cracks open a bottle of Champagne, which Gabe throws back like a college freshman downing tequila shots. Sadly for him, the fizz has been drugged and the wunderkind is soon gasping for breath and dropping unconscious. As he falls, he cuts his wrist on the broken champagne flute – an incident you can bet will rear its head further down the track.

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes Gabe McEnery
No human has ever known happiness as heavenly as Gabe’s glee here

Putting his scheme firmly into action, Crawford finishes dressing Gabe by putting shoes from the tuxedo bag on the slumbering lad’s feet and stealing his house key. He also clears up the broken wine glass and somehow lugs Gabe’s limp form all the way from bungalow to studio roof, in broad daylight, without being seen. Here, he leaves Gabe on the elevator trapdoor that will fling him over the edge of the building to certain death once it opens, and places the new baton in the luckless youngster’s hand before he splits to get ready for his triumphant evening.

Cut to the waiting audience, three minutes ahead of the curtain going up. Catching up with Ritter, Crawford pretends to have left his baton in his bungalow and urges his compadre to start the intro without him. He uses this time to jallop down to the basement and send the slow-moving elevator on its way to the roof before jalloping back up and emerging right on cue to warm applause from the gathered crowd.

The only potential fly in the ointment appears to be that the creaking of the decrepit elevator appears to have been picked up by the sensitive equipment being used to record the show. Will this come back to haunt the murderous Maestro? Time will tell…

Anyways, Crawford does his thing (wagging his arms vaguely in time to the music) as the elevator creeps inexorably towards the waiting Gabe’s comatose form. Once it reaches the trapdoor, Gabe is catapulted off the roof and plummets to the alley below where he falls at the literal feet of late-running concertgoers Tony and Marcia, who sound the alarm. Cue chest-beating, teeth-gnashing and general commotion as the audience dashes out to gawk at the tragedy.

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes
We first encounter Columbo as he rolls in an alley gutter

Naturally enough, police are soon at the scene – chief amongst them our mate Lieutenant Columbo, who is down on all fours, nosing around Gabe’s corpse when we first encounter him. Observant as ever, the detective immediately notices the wet blood from Gabe’s crumpled-in head and the dry blood on the graze to his wrist. Grilling the eye-witnesses, he ascertains that the deceased fell from the roof in complete silence. No Wilhelm scream, no ladyish gasp – not a peep. Strange, no?

An inspection of the roof with his sidekick Sergeant Degarmo further highlights the lack of logic behind Gabe’s silent, deadly plunge. There are only two viable explanations, says Columbo. Gabe was either unconscious or already dead at the time of his fall. (Click below for suitably dramatic musical cue).

The Lieutenant finds his way to Crawford’s bungalow, where the composer is gulping Scotch with gay abandon to ‘recover’ from the ‘shock’ to his system brought about by his protégé‘s demise. He makes general sympathetic noises and does little to arouse suspicion. All Columbo comes away with is Gabe’s tuxedo bag and backpack for further examination – plus the intel that Gabe (of course) used a baton when conducting on the roof. This is another loose end for Columbo to clear up because they find no baton with Gabe’s body nor on the studio roof.

What follows is nearly seven minutes of televisual FILTH as Columbo offers to escort the inebriated Crawford home by road, driving ahead of him at approx. 10 miles per hour, causing rage to Crawford, other road users and viewers alike. Pretending to run out of gas, Columbo then takes the wheel of Crawford’s car and drives him home at a similarly pedestrian pace. The stunt achieves little beyond extending the episode’s running time. Ho-friggin’-hum.

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes Findlay Crawford
My feelings precisely, Maestro…

Having found no house key in Gabe’s personal effects, Columbo gains entry to his home via the skillz of a police locksmith. There he encounters a sleepy Rebecca, whom he leaves to her misery taking only a framed photo of Gabe with Crawford at some awards bash in which both are wearing tuxedos. Some aspect of the photo strikes a chord with the detective, who studies it with a magnifying glass before punching the air in a manner that can only indicate he’s arrived at some important conclusion.

Then it’s off to the tuxedo rental joint where he hears that Gabe asked for a discount on the hire if he didn’t take the shoes with it. However, he was in so excitable a mood that he ended up with shoes anyway, although the shop clerk had to guess the shoe size as Gabe was in a world of his own and unresponsive to basic questions (?).

From here, Columbo races to the studio where he interrupts Crawford and his orchestra rehearsing. After some excruciating moments during which Columbo joins a sing-song of That’s Amore before failing to recognise iconic scores from Psycho and Jaws, he hits on some luck. A playback of the concert recording from the night of Gabe’s death reveals some grating and rumbling noise in the background. It’s a snippet the Lieutenant squirrels away for later.

In conversation with Crawford, Columbo reveals what so interested him in the photo he took from Gabe’s house: he was wearing sneakers even whilst in a tuxedo. Indeed, he always wore sneakers. So why was he in dress shoes on the night of his death? Crawford responds the way any sensible person would, suggesting Gabe probably hired them this time because he was about to conduct in front of a live audience for the first time and wanted to look his best. So far, the investigation is leaving him completely unruffled.

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes
Idiot old man Columbo gurns along to ‘That’s Amore’

Once darkness falls, we find Crawford letting himself into Gabe’s modest home with the stolen key. ‘Why would he take such a risk?‘ I hear you scream? Well, it’s because he wants to get his hands on some crucial evidence and it’s not long before he finds it. Tucked away under the bed is a box of Gabe’s musical compositions – including the reworked score to The Killer, which won Crawford the Academy Award. Without that, it’ll be tough for Columbo to prove motive against him.

Columbo, meanwhile, has been musing on Gabe’s AWOL baton. Perhaps it fell down the elevator shaft? To that end, he gets a tour of the basement from Ritter and spots clear evidence of clutter recently being moved to enable access to the elevator itself, and a distinct lack of dust on the up and down buttons. However, when the Lieutenant attempts to get the lift moving he draws a complete blank. What he does find, though, is that pesky baton – and it will help the detective blow the case wide open.

Taking it to show Rebecca, Columbo is finally dished some useful dirt. She explains that Gabe had been pulling Crawford’s strings for a considerable time, and that pretty much every note of The Killer’s score was Gabe’s handiwork. Of course, she can’t find the amended score to back up her words, because (as we know) it’s now in Crawford’s oily clutches. It leaves Columbo facing an uphill battle to prove foul play.

Things aren’t going all Crawford’s way, though. Now unable to harness Gabe’s creative magic, the score for his latest film is going nowhere fast. Ritter brays that “it stinks” and gives Crawford a day to make it right. It’s at this opportune moment that Columbo emerges and makes a bad day worse by revealing that he’s treating Gabe’s death as murder. Maybe Crawford can help him find the killer?

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes
Haven’t seen hair this unkempt since Troubled Waters…

Although Crawford scoffs at the very notion, Columbo starts slapping down some hard facts. He’s discovered what caused the noise caught on tape in the background of his concert on the night Gabe died – the freight elevator. He theorises that it was sent on its way up to the roof during Ritter’s introductory comments and reached its destination shortly after Crawford began waggling his baton on stage. To demonstrate, he takes Crawford and Sergeant Degarmo on a little jaunt up to the roof with him.

When they arrive, they’re not alone. Becca is there, seated at an electric keyboard. Tony and Marcia, who witnessed Gabe’s body crash onto the ground, are there too. It is now that Columbo explains that finding the baton in the basement is what convinced him the elevator was used to slay poor Gabe. After all, the baton handle is too wide to allow it to fall through the trapdoor unless it was wide open.

So why didn’t Gabe simply hear the elevator coming up the shaft and get off the trapdoor, Crawford asks. Because he was unconscious, Columbo explains. And he can prove it. The dried blood on Gabe’s wrist revealed traces of secobarbital – a strong sedative that swiftly metabolises in the bloodstream. Although no trace of the drug was found in Gabe’s body, the dried blood was full of it. Ergo, Gabe cut himself shortly after ingesting the secobarbital and was unconscious long enough for it to metabolise. That’s why he didn’t hear the elevator approaching – and why he didn’t scream as he nosedived 80ft to his death.

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes

Add into the mix that damning, missing musical score, the missing house key and the odd fact that Gabe was wearing dress shoes two sizes too big for his feet and you (allegedly) have a recipe for murder. Despite the flimsy nature of the case against him, Crawford cheerfully submits to police custody. We’re left with the heart-warming sight of Becca teaching Columbo how to play This Old Man on the keyboard as credits blissfully roll…

Episode analysis

Patrick McGoohan is an undoubted Columbo icon, but one who leaves something of a chequered legacy. One the one hand, we have a magnificent actor and creative mind who gelled so well with Peter Falk that he would have a connection with the show stretching nearly 25 years as a co-star, writer and director.

On the other, McGoohan’s appetite for eccentricity, for encouraging Falk to ‘push the boundaries’ of the established Columbo character and for extensive rewrites of the episodes he was involved in contributed nearly as many negatives as positives.

For all the nuanced brilliance of his performance as Colonel Rumford in By Dawn’s Early Light, and for the majestic directorial touches displayed in Identity Crisis, there was too often madness in the method. Few can forget (or forgive) the debacle that was Last Salute to the Commodore – a fine mystery on paper that was ruined by over-indulgent silliness by Falk and director McGoohan.

Columbo Patrick McGoohan
Saint or sinner? Which version of McGoohan would rear its head this time?

An excellent – and largely restrained – dual role as co-star/director of Agenda for Murder in 1990 resulted in one of the best Columbo adventures of the new era, and while his reappearance as a killer in 1998’s Ashes to Ashes was a welcome boost to an ailing series, his script tinkering and injection of camp nonsense (such as the God-awful Funeral Director’s awards musical medley) took some of the edge off a decent story.

Alas, Ashes to Ashes bombed in the ratings, pulling in Columbo’s lowest ratings of the 90s. However, with pre-production on Murder With Too Many Notes already well underway when Ashes aired in October 1998, McGoohan and Falk were given another chance to dance a last tango. McGoohan wouldn’t star in this one (although he was Falk’s first choice) but he did agree to direct and promptly gave Jeffrey Cava’s original script a damn good thrashing to get it into what he considered suitable shape ahead of filming.

Agonisingly – for both Cava and viewers – the changes he introduced seemingly served only to dilute the strength of the original mystery, and to cater to McGoohan and Falk’s fondness for fooling around. I recommend reading David Koenig’s 2021 epic Shooting Columbo for more detailed intel on the production of this episode. In a nutshell, though, McGoohan tore the heart out of Cava’s story, jettisoning several crucial clues and replacing them with mindless filler, such as the aforementioned scene of Columbo escorting Crawford home, and the absolute TOSH of the Lieutenant shambling through failed attempts to identify iconic movie scores.

We haven’t encountered a Columbo characterisation as annoying as this since Last Salute to the Commodore, but whereas that Lieutenant irked due to his stoned demeanour and touchy-feeliness, this one enrages due to his presentation as a borderline-senile idiot on numerous occasions.

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes
Come along Grandpa, let’s get you back to bed…

I’ve shown the series some tough love during my reviews of the revival-era episodes, largely due to some gimmicky production decisions (tuba!) and the inconsistent, increasingly cartoonish nature of the Columbo portrayal. This episode is the culmination of that descent, with pretty much everyone Columbo encounters throughout the episode’s 98-minute running time having justifiable reason to consider him a picnic basket short of a picnic.

Early in the piece, Columbo’s sidekick, Sergeant Degarmo, looks quizzically at his superior officer when he starts to conduct an imaginary orchestra on the studio roof. Columbo later struggles to come up with the word ‘unconscious’ without Degarmo’s prompting, and even launches into random conversation about the cuteness of walruses with the Sergeant and a bemused Findlay Crawford.

Far worse, though, is his behaviour when escorting the drunken Crawford home by road. Columbo drives at no more than 10mph and repeatedly stops his vehicle and dashes over to Crawford’s to raise minor points relating to the case. Faking an empty gas tank, he then gets behind the wheel of Crawford’s Bentley – and continues to drive at no more than 10mph. How we laughed

It’s a scene that eats up more than 7 minutes of screentime but does nothing to further Columbo’s case. We’ve seen him engage in shenanigans in the past to unsettle his quarry (e.g. dropping in unannounced to get Alex Benedict’s autograph and snoop at his house, asking Paul Galesko for a pin-up photo of a cocker spaniel), but this is taking that to the nth degree. There’s no pay-off from this scene, and absolutely no charm. Columbo is simply being an annoying presence – to both Crawford and the viewer at home. Bah humbug!

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes
I’d happily have seen Crawford throttle Columbo at this juncture

Even this pales in comparison to the skin-crawling AGONY of his visit to Crawford and his orchestra during rehearsals, which is hands-down one of the worst Columbo scenes of any era. The detective’s vacancy and pained facial expressions as he attempts to recall the titles of two of the world’s most popular and unforgettable films (Psycho and Jaws) after hearing their entirely distinctive theme tunes is embarrassing enough. Having the entire orchestra shout out the answers to him as if he were a simple child is an insult to viewer intelligence.

Again, it’s several steps beyond Columbo’s usual bumbling schtick. He may want to ensure Crawford underestimates his threat level, but has no reason to make an idiot of himself in front of a whole orchestra – yet that’s exactly what he appears to be. If I’d been an eyewitness to his antics here I’d have been calling the LAPD to seek assurances that he was actually on their payroll and not just some elderly weirdo who had lost his way on a studio tour. For a character who has provided so much delight, and exhibited such mental dexterity over the decades, it’s unforgivable to present him this way.

Falk isn’t alone in being lampooned in this scene, though, with the scripting and direction also serving to make a complete monkey out of Crawford. For starters, McGoohan has him jigging impishly at his keyboard to the backdrop of a sinister film score and leading his orchestra in a sing-song of That’s Amore. Would John Williams indulge in such silliness? I have my doubts…

Crawford also spouts some utter piffle about how moviegoers never notice a film score if it’s good – only if it’s bad. This is palpably untrue and a very odd thing to have a renowned, Oscar-winning composer even think, let alone say aloud. It’s indicative of McGoohan’s overindulgence when redressing the script. Sadly, Falk apparently was in no mood to reign him in, as the disastrous scene below clearly indicates…

It also appears that McGoohan took a number of liberties with the clues provided in the original script, amending or omitting several that would have helped Columbo create a much stronger case against Crawford. For all his endeavours, Columbo has almost no concrete evidence against Crawford by episode’s end. It makes the gotcha scene a decidedly weak one – just as the Ashes to Ashes gotcha was in our last outing.

The only meaningful proof Columbo amasses is that poor Gabe McEnery was sedated prior to his death. The traces of secobarbital in the dried blood wound on his wrist are proof of that. His lack of a death scream also suggests that he remained unconscious to the end, when the studio freight elevator door popped him over the edge of the roof to his demise four storeys below.

What this patently does not prove, however, is that Findlay Crawford was responsible. No witnesses saw them together prior to the evening show. No one saw Crawford shift Gabe’s unconscious form around the studio lot and onto its roof in broad daylight. No one eyed Crawford as he slunk into the basement and set the freight elevator on its way to the roof. Yes, Columbo can infer that someone did all this, but there’s nothing to say it was Crawford.

For all his endeavours, Columbo has almost no concrete evidence against Crawford by episode’s end.

Even Becca’s revelation that Gabe wrote almost all of the Oscar-winning score to The Killer is really neither here nor there, because there’s no proof of that beyond her word. Having already robbed Gabe’s house and removed the incriminating, revised score, Crawford can simply deny it and counter-claim that Gabe was developing delusions of grandeur.

Likewise, Columbo discerning that someone else must have put dress shoes on Gabe because the ones hired were too big, and that he always wore trainers, falls well short of being damning. How about having Columbo reference the laces being tried incorrectly like in Exercise in Fatality to give that clue a bit more clout? As it is, it’s all just a load of unsubstantiatied, circumstantial poppycock.

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes
“Gee whizz, I forgot to bring any real evidence with me…”

Crawford remains jovial to the end, quipping with Columbo about whether there are any penitentiaries with a decent music program he could contribute to. Many viewers consider this to be a confession of guilt, but Crawford could always later spin it and say he was merely playing along with the ludicrous nature of the investigation and has no real idea what the Lieutenant was talking about. It certainly wasn’t a full-on confession like that of Investigator Brimmer or Justin and Coop in preceding years.

To my mind, Crawford has nothing to fear here. There’s little doubt that he’ll be a free man 20 minutes later when Columbo’s furious superiors release him due to lack of evidence – while simultaneously busting Columbo back down to Sergeant for sullying the good name of the LAPD. As finales go, this one is a real limp lettuce.

The person who must have been most hurt by all this was Jeffrey Cava, who was a young production assistant at Universal at the time, and who produced the teleplay on spec and worked hard to get it seen and read. Witnessing McGoohan undo so much of his work must have felt like a knife in the guts and I wonder what long-term damage it did to Cava’s confidence. Too Many Notes remains his one and only screenwriting credit.

The pity of it is that there are some strong elements to the murder plot of Too Many Notes, and the opening 25+ minutes are really rather engaging. The murder method is reasonably unique (notwithstanding borrowed elements from Murder Under Glass) and I’m interested in – if not enthralled by – the situation playing out between Crawford and young Gabe.

I wouldn’t say Billy Connolly is the world’s greatest thespian but he puts in a creditable turn as Crawford, particularly during the opening scenes when he has to display fallibility, affability and complete callousness in his interactions with Gabe. He’s also leaps and bounds ahead of fellow Columbo Maestro John Cassavetes when it comes to simulating conducting an orchestra, his arm waggling being at least somewhat in time to the music.

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes Billy Connolly
Art imitates life: a hard-drinking Scot cast as a hard-drinking Scot!

Interestingly, Jeremy Irons had been approached the play the role before Connolly but his price-tag was too high. Once Connolly was cast, the Maestro character was rewritten to be a hard-drinking Scot played by a hard-drinking Scot – something that famously caused some tension on the set during filming when a slurring Connolly was unable to remember or recite his lines with any clarity. It has been well documented that a fuming McGoohan stopped filming and delivered a very public down-dressing to Connolly, who retreated to his dressing room to sober up and commit his lines to memory.

Leaving that blip aside, Connolly is fine in the role, being neither the best nor worst of Columbo villainy, but at least committing to the role and being convincing enough given the episode’s cartoony presentation. Even the name of his character is an in-joke based on a stand-up sketch of Connolly’s in which he pokes fun of the names rich folk give their children – Findlay and Crawford being two examples he gives.

Chad Willett’s Gabe McEnery makes for a sympathetic victim, although one must club him together with the likes of Tony Goodland (Greenhouse Jungle) and Lily La Sanka (Murder by the Book) as gullible fools who didn’t cotton on to such obvious signposting that their lives were in jeopardy. Sadly, that’s a lesson that can only be learned once…

My favourite bit-part player is the impressively moustached Sergeant Degarmo, played by prolific character actor Richard Riehle, who has chalked up more than 400 credits since the late 1970s. Riehle also popped up as the same character in Ashes to Ashes and has a slightly expanded role here, notable for his genuine likeness to a walrus being cheekily referenced in the closing stages of the episode.

That aside, though, it’s pretty slim pickings for the supporting cast with even Gabe’s love interest Becca (Hillary Danner, niece of Columbo alum Blythe Danner, and cousin to Gwyneth Paltrow) relegated to a cursory background role that could easily have been fleshed out to give her something worthwhile to do. She gets a couple of decent scenes with Falk but her contribution to his investigation is negligible and is more notable for her busting out a rendition of This Old Man on the studio rooftop to a dah-dah-dahhing Columbo, which serves as the crowning turd on this most unimpressive adventure.

Columbo Hillary Danner
Do a Columbo, they said. It’ll be fun, they said…

Whatever potential Murder With Too Many Notes may have had in its original form, it’s final, McGoohanified version is a distinctly unsatisfying experience. And that’s not just my view. IMDB’s fan rankings place only three Columbo episodes below this one in the overall popularity stakes: Murder in Malibu, No Time to Die and Last Salute. I think that’s a fair enough assessment and the ABC network decision makers of the day were similarly unimpressed.

Despite filming wrapping up in December 1998, the episode was canned for nearly two-and-half years, finally rearing its ugly head in March 2001. In the interim, Falk and co. continued to plan for future Columbo episodes with no guarantee there would ever be another one. However, when Too Many Notes did debut it surprised and delighted ABC execs with a strong ratings performance that paved the way for Columbo Likes the Nightlife.

To put it bluntly, Columbo himself is the most ruinous aspect of this episode.

While viewers of the day may have tuned in in sufficient numbers to prolong the Lieutenant’s lifespan, it’s an episode that stands up woefully today when considered purely on its merits. McGoohan and Falk had given fans plenty to cheer about over the course of their 25-year Columbo love-in, but whatever magic they had was conspicuous by its absence here.

Granted, Too Many Notes is not the shock to the system that Last Salute to the Commodore was in Columbo’s heyday, but this is a still a bad piece of television featuring some questionable storytelling and plunging the Columbo characterisation into unwelcome new lows. To put it bluntly, Columbo is the most ruinous aspect of this episode. Everything takes a nosedive once he’s in it. That should never be the case. Yet it happened, and it happened on McGoohan’s watch.

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes

Due to the time taken to get this review together, I was forced to endure Too Many Notes twice to ensure I didn’t overlook anything vital in the write-up. After that, I can’t envisage watching it again this side of 2030. For a Columbo contributor with as proud a history as Patrick McGoohan, Murder With Too Many Notes is one heck of a disappointing way to sign off.

Did you know?

Despite the row with McGoohan, Billy Connolly has nothing but good memories of his time on Too Many Notes. As recently as 2022, Connolly spoke of his Columbo experience with gladness in his heart, while also revealing that a framed photo of himself with Peter and Patrick takes pride of place on his mantelpiece. You love to hear it.

Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes Anne McGoohan
Left, Anne became the third McGoohan to appear in Columbo!

Meanwhile, keen viewers may remember that Patrick McGoohan’s daughter Catherine appeared alongside him in Ashes to Ashes and this time the familial love was shared again with with another of his three daughters, Anne. McGoohan Jnr. was cast as Marcia, one half of the husband-and-wife duo who encountered Gabe as he splatted on the tarmac. This was her sole acting credit.

Not only that, Hillary Danner’s father Harry also got a bit-part in this episode as some county morgue guy. With all this nepotism galloping around, it’s a wonder that Shera Danese didn’t get a walk-on part!

How I rate ’em

You don’t need to have the detective nous of Columbo to realise that I don’t consider Murder With Too Many Notes to be amongst the show’s finest hours. How bad is it? Very bad indeed… And while I won’t go as far as to place it rock bottom of the standings, it’s easily amongst the worst outings of either Columbo era.

To read my reviews of any of the other revival Columbo episodes up to this point, simply click the links in the list below. You can see how I rank all the ‘classic era’ episodes here.

  1. Columbo Goes to College — top tier new Columbo episodes —
  2. Agenda for Murder
  3. Death Hits the Jackpot
  4. Columbo Cries Wolf
  5. Ashes to Ashes
  6. It’s All in the Game
  7. Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
  8. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine — 2nd tier starts here —
  9. Sex & The Married Detective
  10. Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
  11. Butterfly in Shades of Grey
  12. A Bird in the Hand…
  13. Murder, A Self Portrait
  14. Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star — 3rd tier starts here —
  15. Murder, Smoke & Shadows
  16. Uneasy Lies the Crown
  17. A Trace of Murder
  18. Strange Bedfellows — 4th tier starts here —
  19. No Time to Die 
  20. Grand Deceptions
  21. Undercover
  22. Murder With Too Many Notes
  23. Murder in Malibu
Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes
In the original draft of the script, Crawford tipped Columbo off the roof here, bringing a premature end to his epic career

I’ve done my part, so now it’s over to you. Is Murder With Too Many Notes a true stinker, or do you find more to enjoy about it than I do? How does Billy Connolly work as a Columbo killer in your eyes? And what damage – if any – does this do to Patrick McGoohan’s legacy? Head to the comments section and share your views with the waiting world.

Now that I’ve finally got that review out of the way, I’ll be able to turn my attentions to the final stop on our epic Columbo marathon: 2003’s Columbo Likes the Nightlife. Can an episode involving murder most foul set against a rave scene backdrop possibly grant a suitable send-off for one of TV’s most beloved characters? We’ll find out soon…

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Columbo Murder With Too Many Notes Richard Riehle
Sergeant Degarmo was one of Columbo’s most likable sidekicks. Inset: in suit and tie
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