How The Episode Guide Works
The first section gives you the title of the episode, its date of original transmission, and a one-line synopsis of the episode, just to jog your memory. Next we’ll give you some of the key personnel, like the writer, main cast and director.
We break the story into three sections. The first is the crime. We tell you who the murderer is, who their victim was and what was the murderer’s plan. The series is sometimes criticised on the basis that Columbo does very little actual detective work, but simply approaches the most famous guest actor he can find and annoys them until they confess. This is very unfair, since the cleverness of the initial crime and the tiny cracks which open up in the murderer’s apparently perfect alibi are among the chief pleasures of the episodes. So, we’ll point out the most significant clues and also let you know if anything was overlooked. We’re looking for three things – the murderer’s error, that first little slip-up which tells Columbo which way to look, or which causes him to first suspect that things are not as they seem. Out of the sometimes dozens of little inconsistencies which follow, one will generally be the one which the murderer cannot explain away and which definitively establishes this as a killing rather than an accident, or which puts the real murderer squarely in the frame. This is what we call the key clue. But usually, the final scene contains one extra helping of Columbo cleverness – either a final devastating piece of evidence, or – more usually – a devious trap laid by the crumpled lieutenant. This we detail under Howcatchem.
In the next section, we look at the Columbo formula. Each episode of Columbo has its own unique environment and often features a piece of new technology, sometimes central to the plot, sometimes just as an added detail. Over 69 episodes, the established formula was sometimes pushed and pulled, tested and stretched – sometimes with excellent results, sometimes with mixed results and sometimes with horrendous results. We compare the episode in question to the Platonic Columbo ideal under formula intact?
But the real reason to watch an episode of Columbo is to see the man himself go through his paces. We detail anything we learn about him that doesn’t fit into any standard category and then go through some familiar patterns. We let you know if Columbo is shown star-struck and if so by whom. If he has an obsession of the week, you’ll find that here. If he’s given a sidekick of the week, we’ll tell you about that person, and if Mrs Columbo is mentioned, or we find out anything new about her, we’ll provide those details.
Part of the appeal of the character is showing him as a Fish Out of Water and if this occurs we’ll provide the details. We’ll tell you about each Cigar he is seen smoking, and when he uses the Just one more thing ploy. And lastly, if This Old Man is heard at any point, you’ll know about it. The dog and the car we’ll leave under Columbo himself as the car is too rarely anything other than a prop and the dog appears in fewer episodes than you might remember.
We round out each episode with some choice quotes, some bits of behind-the-scenes trivia, and then an assessment of each episode’s strengths and weaknesses. We love Columbo, but that doesn’t mean we love all the episodes equally and are blind to their faults. The best are superb, but the worst are pretty dreadful. We’ll tell you which is which and where the makers went right or wrong.