You can see Peter Falk playing the dishevelled LAPD detective Lieutenant Columbo on one or another channel most days, but Sunday afternoon now seems to be the main time, with ITV, ITV3 and 5 USA all regularly showing episodes.
Except for a few, the ones from the seventies are still watchable — the only real duds are those based on foreign "stock characters": Dagger of the Mind set in London's theatreland, A Matter of Honor with its Mexican bullfighter, and A Case of Immunity with a dodgy cast of Arab diplomats hamming it up in headscarves at a US embassy — and I've got them all as a box set, but the nineties ones are another matter, lacking the calibre of acting, sublety of plot, and above all modish Southern Californian atmosphere of the originals.
I find it hard to name a favourite episode, but my top five in no particular order are:
The Most Crucial Game
Robert Culp plays the general manager of an American football team who bumps off its playboy owner (Dean Stockwell). I like the technical stuff, with radios and bugged telephones, and the comedy scene with secretary-cum-escort Eve Babcock (Valerie Harper). Veteran Hollywood actor Dean Jagger adds gravitas as the victim's scheming attorney.
Any Old Port in A Storm
Donald Pleasance stars as a winery owner who murders his greedy brother to stop him selling the land on which the vineyard stands, and is then blackmailed by his secretary after she lies to give him an alibi. Columbo gets to show off his Italian, learn about wine, and even comes to sympathise with the murderer who killed to save the one thing he really loves.
Blueprint for Murder
Patrick O'Neal is an architect who kills the businessman bankrolling his ambitious building project when he threatens to cut off the funds for it. There's another comedy scene as Columbo goes to the planning department to get the permits he needs to dig up a concrete construction pile and bluff the murderer into revealing the whereabouts of the victim's body.
Robert Culp again (he also plays the murderer opposite Ray Milland in Season One's Death Lends a Hand), this time as the head of an advertising agency who Columbo finally catches by using a trick he's learnt from him, splicing subliminal cuts into a promotional film.
An Exercise in Fatality
More technical stuff — spliced sections of recorded telephone calls, laces tied the wrong way — and comedy scenes as Columbo forsakes his trademark cigars and joins a gym (!), before tangling with an officious computer operator.