Columbo is a crime drama TV Series that started airing in 1971 and ran till 2003. It was one of the most popular TV shows airing in that era. The show had 69 episodes in total, and we will look at the best Columbo episodes.
Columbo was insanely popular. However, it got canceled once during its lifespan but was renewed by a different network. First, it aired on NBC from 1971 to 1978. However, after 11 years. ABC revived the show between 1989 and 2003.
Despite the show being so old, it is still trendy. So if you are planning to rewatch this classic show, don’t worry. We have picked the top 20 best Columbo episodes for you.
But before we dive into that, let’s explore the overall plot of Columbo.
Columbo is a mystery crime drama show. It revolves around Lieutenant Columbo, a polite homicide detective who sets out to solve some of Los Angeles’ most brutal, cunning, and covert murders.
The show ran for ten seasons in total. Each episode features a new and exciting murder mystery. Therefore, it is enjoyable to watch Columbo follow through with the clues to reach the culprit.
Peter Falk played the character of Columbo, and various co-stars joined him in every episode.
We have explicitly ranked the 20 best Columbo episodes in terms of popularity. This list would be helpful for anyone who’s jumping into the show for the first time or wants to rewatch it. You can choose one of these episodes and enjoy the show’s peak.
So, let’s jump into it.
We are starting off our list of best Columbo episodes with episode 7 of season 1. This episode is titled “Blueprint For Murder.” It aired on February 9, 1972.
In this episode, An architect murders his business partner and purposefully makes Columbo suspect him, leading Columbo to believe that the corpse was concealed in the foundation of a building under construction. However, Columbo manages to outsmart him.
Blueprint For Murder is the final episode of season 1, and Peter Falk directed it. Moreover, it is the only episode that Peter Falk directed. He definitely did a fine job.
“Publish or Perish” is the 5th episode of season 3 of Columbo. In this episode, a publisher sends a bomb enthusiast to assassinate Alan Mallory, a successful writer. Lieutenant Columbo takes the case.
This episode aired on January 18, 1974. It is written very carefully, and it keeps the mystery unpredictable. Furthermore, the character of Riley Greenleaf is fascinating.
Even though the episode’s runtime is usual, you feel like it ended sooner than expected. Overall, it is definitely one of the best Columbo episodes.
The 3rd episode of season 2 of Columbo is titled “The Most Crucial Game.” This episode aired on November 5, 1972.
In this episode, we see Lt. Columbo solving a case in which a football team’s manager murders the team’s young owner. He makes it appear as if the young man drowned in his swimming pool.
The main highlight of this episode was the actors. Some actors reappeared in this episode in new roles—particularly Ray Milland and Robert Culp. Moreover, the production values were top-notch, and the music was also quite good.
Altogether, these elements make it one of the best Columbo episodes.
17. Episode 5, Season 4
Next on our list of best Columbo episodes is the 5th episode of season 4. This episode is titled “Playback.” It aired on March 2, 1975.
In this episode, a gadget-obsessed inventor kills his mother-in-law. To give himself an alibi, he videotapes her death and then plays it to the security officer.
This episode is pure fun. It features some comedic moments as well. Even though the storyline is simplistic, it is pretty interesting as well. In addition, the episode gives us a satisfying ending, and the script is full of surprises and humor.
Episode 3 of season 3 is titled “Candidate For Crime.” It aired on November 4, 1973. This episode features a Senate candidate for office who murders his campaign manager by making it appear as if he was the target of the killer’s bullet.
The political crime storyline of this episode makes it quite interesting to watch. However, the best part about this episode is that both; the campaign manager and the Senate candidate were evil in their own ways.
Overall, Candidate For Crime is a very well-made episode. The unique subject of this episode puts it on our list of best Columbo episodes.
Another episode from season 4 is making its way on our list of best Columbo episodes. The 3rd episode of season 4 is titled “By Dawn’s Early Light.” This episode aired on October 27, 1974.
In this episode, a military academy’s commandant assassinates the chairman of the board, who is conspiring to overthrow him. Lt. Columbo takes up residence in the barracks to find the murderer.
This episode’s story is full of thrill and mystery. It has no dull moments. In addition, the music is quite fitting to the visuals. Peter Falk is great, as he always is, and Patrick McGoohan gives an outstanding performance.
“Suitable For Framing” is the 4th episode of season 1 of Columbo. It revolves around Dale Kingston, an art critic, murdering his uncle for his priceless collection of paintings. However, all of the evidence points to the deceased man’s first wife.
This episode aired on November 17, 1971. It is written very neatly with many intense moments. Furthermore, the overall production of this episode is also top-notch.
Overall, Suitable For Framing is considered one of the best Columbo episodes due to the perfectly balanced script and brilliant performances.
The very first episode of Columbo’s fourth season aired on September 15, 1974. It is titled “An Exercise in Fatality.” In this episode, a health club owner murders his colleague and makes it appear as an accident.
Robert Conrad is the highlight of this episode. He plays the role of Milo Janus, a health-obsessed gym owner. Especially, watching him unfold his plan and how Columbo solves this crime is a treat.
In short, this episode is quite good, and it is memorable thanks to the appearance of Gretchen Corbett in one particular scene.
Episode 4 of season 3 is titled “Double Exposure.” This episode aired on December 16, 1973. It revolved around a self-described “motivation research specialist” who commits murder using subliminal signals.
Double Exposure features an interesting subject. In addition, the villain of this episode is also quite interesting. However, the episode starts out a bit slow but eventually picks up the pace.
It has a very thoughtful ending, and the entire episode is very entertaining. As usual, Peter Falk brings his energy to the role of Columbo. Overall, it is a decent episode.
“Swan Song” is the 7th episode of the 3rd season of Columbo. This episode aired on March 3, 1974. The storyline of this episode follows a gospel singer who wishes to kill his passionate wife. But a murder disguised as an airplane accident does not mislead the intelligent Lt. Columbo.
This episode is iconic because it features an actual singer, Johnny Cash, playing a mysterious singer. Being a non-actor, it is obvious that he isn’t 100% perfect in his role. However, his presence is enough to make this episode legendary.
In addition to Johnny Cash’s appearance, this episode features superb directing and an exciting storyline.
The second season of Columbo kicked off with an episode titled “Etude in Black.” This episode aired on September 17, 1972.
In this episode, a sadistic conductor kills the talented pianist with whom he had an affair. However, he made her death look like a suicide by suffocation from kitchen stove gas.
Cassavetes, who plays a conductor, gives one of the best performances ever seen on the show. While the script for this episode was very smartly written, Cassavetes is the one who makes this episode memorable with his chilling performance.
Thanks to his performance and the intelligent storyline, this episode made its way on our list of best Columbo episodes.
Season 3’s finale is the next entry on our list. This episode is titled “A Friend in Deed.” It aired on May 5, 1974. This episode follows a police commissioner who creates a phony alibi for a wife killer, demanding one in return.
The premise of this episode is exciting because Columbo needs to take down his own boss. So naturally, the interactions between Columbo and his boss, Mark Halperin.
The entire storyline of this episode is very similar to a well-known Alfred Hitchcock movie called Strangers On a Train. That is why this episode is considered one of the best Columbo episodes.
The 6th episode of season 2 is titled “A Stitch in Crime.” It aired on February 11, 1973. It revolves around a surgeon who devises an excellent method to murder his research project colleague, but a nurse discovers the plot.
A Stitch in Crime is a very memorable and vital episode. One of the reasons for its popularity is that it featured Captain Spock. Yes, Leonard Nimoy played the role of an evil heart surgeon.
Peter Falk is always brilliant in his role, but Nimoy brings a lot of energy to his role. He proves to be a fitting rival for Lt. Columbo. Moreover, the story is very neatly written, and it is a very worthwhile episode.
“Death Lends A Hand” is the second episode of season 1. It aired on October 6, 1971. After his client’s wife threatens to disclose his blackmail plot, a private investigator murders her. The client then hires the detective to help Columbo find the murderer.
After a very exciting pilot episode, Columbo needed to follow up with another intense episode. Death Lends A Hand definitely serves that purpose.
This episode is not only great in terms of storyline, but the production value, the music, and the acting are also top-notch. It is easily one of the best Columbo episodes in the show’s early life.
The premiere of season 7 aired on November 21, 1977. It is titled “Try And Catch Me.” In this episode, a mystery writer suspects her niece’s husband of murder. She takes her vengeance by suffocating him in her home safe.
Peter Falk and Ruth Gordon got along so magnificently in this episode. It is one of those episodes where the killer is actually likable.
In addition, the entire storyline is fascinating. The interactions between Peter Falk and Ruth Gordon are particularly entertaining to watch.
The pilot of Columbo aired in 1968. This pilot was presented as a TV Movie. It was adapted from a play of the same name written by show creators Richard Levinson and William Link. The play and the episode are titled “Prescription: Murder.”
In Columbo’s first outing, he solves a case about a dishonest doctor plotting to kill his wife for his young, attractive actress girlfriend.
This TV Movie helped establish the basic formula that was followed by Columbo episodes. Even though this episode was intended as a TV Movie, it is still considered the show’s pilot. Moreover, audiences got their first look at Peter Falk in action as Columbo and fell in love with him.
Considering its importance and the love it receives from the fans, this episode deserves a spot on our list of best Columbo episodes.
“Negative Reaction” is the second episode of the 4th season of Columbo. It aired on October 15, 1974.
In this episode, Paul Galesko, a brilliant photographer, intends to murder his wife, Frances, and frame an ex-convict named Alvin Deschler. His goal is to make it appear that Alvin kidnapped and murdered his wife before collecting the ransom money.
Negative Reaction is again another fantastic episode in the series. It’s well-written, with a well-thought-out mystery and excellent performances. It was a surprise to see Dick Van Dyke in such an intense role; however, he manages to pull it off.
The next entry on our list of best Columbo episodes comes from season 5. This episode is titled “Now You See Him.” It aired on July 4, 1977.
A magician murders his employer while making it seem like be a contract killing. It’s now up to Lt. Columbo to fool the master trickster.
We see the return of Jack Cassidy as a villain in this episode. Sadly, he passed away shortly after this episode, but he gave his fans a befitting final performance. He and Falk share incredible chemistry.
Now You See Him features an intricately written storyline with many interesting twists and turns. Overall, it is an excellent episode.
“Murder By The Book” is the real pilot of the show, technically. It aired on September 15, 1971. When one of the members of a mystery writing duo seeks to separate from his less creative colleague, he becomes the victim of a real-life murder case.
Steven Spielberg directs this episode. So you can say that it was one of his first significant works, and he definitely does justice to it.
Before this episode, there had been two installments for Columbo. However, Murder By The Book outruns them both. I mean, you can expect nothing less from a director like Steven Spielberg. He made it one of the best Columbo episodes.
The second episode of season 3 is taking the top spot on our list of best Columbo episodes. “Any Old Port in a Storm” aired on October 7, 1973.
In this episode, a wine connoisseur kills his half-brother to prevent him from selling the family winery to a merchant company so he can pay off his gambling debts.
Any Old Port in a Storm is hands down the best episode of Columbo. This episode has everything you want from a Columbo episode.
In short, this episode provides a near-perfect Columbo experience to the fans. It contains humor, mystery, drama, and Peter Falk at his peak.
So this was our ranking of the top 20 best Columbo episodes. We hope you enjoyed reading it. Moreover, this guide will help you re-watch some of the classic storylines of Lt. Columbo