My 10 favourite episodes of Columbo

Peter-Flak-as-Columbo-007

* Prescription: Murder (20 February 1968) – Peter Falk debuted in this ‘one-off’ TV movie, told entirely from the point of view of the killer (a psychiatrist played by Gene Barry who offs his wife and gives himself an elaborate alibi).

* Murder by the Book (15 September 1971) – the first episode once the show went to a series. Written by Steven Bochco and directed by Steven Spielberg, it’s about a crime novelist who wants rid of his writing partner. The murderer’s played by Jack Cassidy in the first of three Columbo-killer appearances.

* The Greenhouse Jungle (15 October 1972) – which is notable for the murderer being Ray Milland, surely a piece of knowing casting. He also played the bad guy in Dial M For Murder, a Hitchcock movie that’s more or less a pilot for the Columbo format.

* Any Old Port in a Storm (7 October 1973) – Donald Pleasance is superb as a wine-connoisseur murderer who uses a clever way to shift the apparent time of death.

* Forgotten Lady (14 September 1975) – a devilishly clever script, in which Janet Leigh kills her husband. Why she did it, why she shouldn’t have done it, and what happens next are all marvellous twists.

* Now You See Him… (29 February 1976) – Jack Cassidy returns to play a charismatic magician who uses his act to stage an alibi.

* The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (22 May 1977) – Theodore Bikel plays a member of Mensa-type club who murders his colleague. Columbo has to go toe-to-toe with a genius to prove he’s a killer.

* Agenda for Murder (10 February 1990) – Patrick McGoohan (in one of his four murderer roles) won an Emmy for playing a lawyer who kills someone who’s blackmailing him. McGoohan also directed the episode.

* Butterfly in Shades of Grey (10 January 1994) – in perhaps the series’s most ingenious plot, William Shatner plays a radio shock-jock who wants to kill a man who’s helping his daughter.

* Columbo Likes the Nightlife (30 January 2003) – the show got bonkers near the end, with episodes that broke from the formula, involved Columbo going undercover and cosying up to the mob, and even one without a murder. In this final episode, the show goes all Quentin Tarantino for a flamboyantly directed thriller about a nightclub. British actor Matthew Rhys was the show’s last ever killer.

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