Every Columbo episode ranked

Who sits where in the Columbo pantheons of greatness?

Now that I’ve completed my reviews of all 69 Columbo adventures comes the really hard task: ranking every episode in order of preference.

Comparing the Lieutenant’s revival and classic era instalments is no straightforward task, so disparate they often are in tone and presentation. Nevertheless, I’ve given it some serious thought and have managed to compile what I now consider my personal ultimate Columbo episode ranking.

As many of you will know, the upper echelons of my Columbo favourites’ list is an immovable feast. My top 10 has been well established for years and officially chronicled on this site. There will be no surprise entries there from the Lieutenant’s 1989-2003 catalog, although I can confirm the presence of at least one new Columbo in my overall A List.

Can the worst dross of Columbo’s ABC years deny the dreaded Last Salute to the Commodore the wooden spoon at the foot of the standings?

The greater level of interest for readers, I suspect, will lie in how many new episodes appear in total across my A-C lists (i.e. those I consider extremely-tolerably watchable), and whether the worst dross of Columbo’s ABC years plumb sufficient depths to deny the dreaded Last Salute to the Commodore the wooden spoon at the foot of the standings.

And lest viewers worry that I’m damning non-A List episodes with faint praise, it’s worth pointing out again that I consider my A List simply to be the best of the best. Episodes on the B List still represent outstanding viewing, and are adventures I’m happy to return to time and again. Even episodes on my C List still have plenty to recommend them, so if your favourites don’t correspond with mine, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I consider them woeful television.

To aid in your understanding, I have categorised my categories in simple terms: –

  • A List = Incomparable TV. Will never tire of watching
  • B List = Outstanding entertainment with numerous magical moments
  • C List = Would happily watch anytime they came on TV, but rarely select from DVD collection
  • D List = Lesser efforts with some redeeming features
  • Z List = Will only watch under extreme duress

Now all that’s left to do is dive in and see what ranks where in the Columbo pantheon of greatness…

Columbo Murder Smoke and Shadows

My complete Columbo episode ranking list

(ABC era episodes in bold print)

  1. The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
  2. Suitable for Framing
  3. Publish or Perish
  4. Double Shock
  5. Murder by the Book
  6. Negative Reaction
  7. A Friend in Deed
  8. Try & Catch Me
  9. Death Lends a Hand
  10. A Stitch in Crime
  11. Now You See Him
  12. Double Exposure
  13. Lady in Waiting
  14. Troubled Waters
  15. Any Old Port in a Storm
  16. Prescription: Murder 
  17. Columbo Goes to College 
  18. A Deadly State of Mind
  19. An Exercise in Fatality —B List starts here—
  20. Make Me a Perfect Murder
  21. Identity Crisis
  22. Swan Song
  23. The Most Crucial Game
  24. By Dawn’s Early Light
  25. Etude in Black
  26. Candidate for Crime
  27. Greenhouse Jungle
  28. Playback
  29. Blueprint for Murder
  30. Ransom for a Dead Man
  31. Forgotten Lady
  32. Columbo Likes the Nightlife
  33. Agenda for Murder
  34. Requiem for a Falling Star
  35. Death Hits the Jackpot
  36. Columbo Cries Wolf
  37. Fade in to Murder
  38. Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo —C List starts here—
  39. Murder Under Glass
  40. A Case of Immunity
  41. Ashes to Ashes
  42. It’s All in the Game
  43. Dead Weight
  44. The Conspirators
  45. The Most Dangerous Match
  46. Lovely but Lethal 
  47. How to Dial a Murder
  48. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine 
  49. Short Fuse 
  50. A Matter of Honor
  51. Sex & The Married Detective
  52. Mind Over Mayhem
  53. Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
  54. Butterfly in Shades of Grey
  55. A Bird in the Hand…
  56. Murder, A Self Portrait —D List starts here—
  57. Murder, Smoke & Shadows
  58. Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star
  59. Uneasy Lies the Crown
  60. Old Fashioned Murder
  61. Dagger of the Mind
  62. A Trace of Murder
  63. Strange Bedfellows —Z List starts here
  64. No Time to Die
  65. Grand Deceptions
  66. Undercover
  67. Last Salute to the Commodore
  68. Murder With Too Many Notes
  69. Murder in Malibu
Columbo Murder in Malibu
Malibu, rock bottom of the standings? I can’t imagine why…

To give you an at-a-glance- breakdown, I have just one new Columbo episode on my A List (Columbo Goes to College) and a further four on my B List (albeit it none of them in the top 30). If that makes for depressing reading, this dearth of top-tier episodes is somewhat off-set by my ranking eight more of the Lieutenant’s ABC outings on the still-watchable C List. That gives largely positive rating to 13 out of Columbo’s 24 new episodes – a shade over 50% of them.

The gulf in class between Columbo’s two televisual eras is most evident in the D and Z Lists, which are dominated by new episodes (11 out of the remaining 14 stories, and six out of the bottom seven). Much as I detest Last Salute to the Commodore, it was comprehensively outdone in the stink stakes by Murder With Too Many Notes and the utterly wretched daytime soap stylings of Murder in Malibu.

Of note, two out of those three episodes (Last Salute and Too Many Notes) were directed by Patrick McGoohan – a perennial favourite guest star to countless Lieutenant lovers, but a man responsible for some calamitous Columbo crimes. His series legacy will be explored in a future article.

Columbo Bye Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case will forever hold the #1 place in my heart

Now I turn things over to you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my final rankings. Am I being too harsh on the new Columbo episodes with so few entries making my top 40? Which classic episodes can you not believe I rate lower than certain revival counterparts? And am I right in ranking Murder in Malibu rock bottom of the standings? All opinions welcome, as long as they stay respectful and courteous to your fellow fans.

Now it’s time for me to make like a banana. Come back soon for more (hopefully) rib-tickling breakdown of the highs and lows of Columbo’s ill-fated ABC years.

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Columbo Murder in Malibu
Wayne Jennings took the news of Murder in Malibu’s low ranking predictably badly
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