"Columbo" is the greatest mystery/detective show ever.
Wait, I need 100 words minimum. OK, I'll go on, even though the first sentence is absolutely true. The best way to prove the above to someone is to show them an episode, really any episode of the 1970s NBC run of the show. (More on the 1980s revival in a bit) A format that turned the mystery series on its ear with a "how" rather than "whodunnit." Indeed, every "Columbo" save one follows this rule, and it heightens the suspense of how the killer who has just committed his or her "perfect crime" will be apprehended. Taut scripts, clever crimes dreamed up by some of TV's best writers (including Steven Bochco and Jackson Gillis), dynamic guest actors dropping by as killers and victims, and anchoring it all was Peter Falk.
An Academy Award nominee and four-time Emmy winner as Lt. Columbo, Falk displays consistent acting brilliance. He doesn't just wear the raincoat and say the lines, he BECOMES Columbo in a way I haven't seen duplicated in a TV (and in very few film) actors. His improvisational use of props, the way he can speak volumes with a hand wave. Falk never turns in a bad performance, and is watchable in every one of these shows. He was a perfectionist and drew better work out of those around him, and chose to work with the very best. Donald Pleasance, Dick Van Dyke Patrick McGoohan, Martin Landau, Jack Cassidy, Ruth Gordon and Vera Miles were among the guest killers in the show's original seven year run.
What added to the greatness of this show were the scenes in the final moments when Columbo confronted a suspect with a key piece of evidence. Rarely (if ever) did they launch into a Perry Mason-like confession or go into hysterics. They would usually hang their head in a silent admission of defeat, and be peacefully led away by an officer, leaving Columbo to shake his head at another case closed. Brilliant.
ABC revived the series in the late 80s, and these episodes are going to start coming out on DVD in April. While not bad by any stretch of the imagination, they lacked the quality in acting of the originals, and suffer in comparison to those earlier shows. But it's still Peter Falk in that coat, and he's just as sharp and ready for action as he was back then. In other words, the newer "Columbo" episodes are better than anything except the older "Columbo" episodes.
A must-see for any mystery fan, or someone who just enjoys quality television that is well written and acted, both of which we see less and less of today.