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Watching Columbo Is the Only Foolproof Way to Escape the News, So Here Are Some Episodes of Columbo

Jack Cassidy and Peter Falk in a still from the Columbo episode "Murder by the Book." Cassidy sits in the foreground, smirking; Columbo stands behind him asking a question.
Just one more episode!
NBC

By now, most Americans have discovered that surviving the Trump years will require us all to draw deeply on psychological resources that we may never have had to tap before: perseverance, faith, a reliable source of indica-forward hybrids testing at 26% THC or higher, courage, and, of course, lots and lots of Columbo. It’s never been more satisfying to watch the decadent rich lose games of wits with a dedicated public servant than it is today, as the decadent rich dedicate themselves to ruining public services. So Netflix’s decision to drop the series from their streaming service three weeks before Trump’s inauguration will no doubt come to be seen as one of the greatest human rights abuses of the Trump years not actually committed by the Trump administration. Most of the show’s run can still be rented from Amazon Prime for $2.99 an episode, but the age of free, fair, and competitive Columbo streaming ended right when we needed it most.

But although the Columbo boom years are over, you don’t have to import the 35-disc Japanese Blu-ray box set to escape our unpleasant reality into the carpeted haze of 1970s television: You can do it right here! The official Columbo YouTube channel is mostly supercuts and clip shows, but it does have six full episodes of classic Columbo, ready to watch or embed at will. As a result, Slate is pleased to announce the launch of our very own over-the-top streaming service, which the marketing department is calling, “All of the Episodes of Columbo We Could Legally Embed on a Slate Dot Com Post for Free.” That’s right: We’ve secured the non-exclusive streaming rights to every episode of Columbo that we could embed on our website without paying anyone any money to secure any rights, which is six more free episodes of Columbo than Netfllx, HBO, Showtime, Amazon, and Disney Plus combined. As for the monthly cost for a subscription, well, how much have you got? To pass the time while you fill out our blank check, here’s some Columbo.

“Murder by the Book”

The first episode of the Columbo series proper—there are two earlier pilots that are harder to find—“Murder by the Book” is famous for featuring the work of an up-and-coming television writer named Steven Bochco and an up-and-coming television director named Steven Spielberg. Their ambition shows from the first shot, a pull-back/zoom-out that swoops from Sunset Boulevard up through the floor-to-ceiling windows of an office on 9000 Sunset. Everything that makes Columbo great is on full display here: A whirlwind tour of the grotesqueries of wealth, an over-the-top performance from Jack Cassidy as the murderer, and of course, Peter Falk as Columbo, already fully committed to his unique investigative method, based primarily on annoying suspects until they trip up. Fun trivia: Cassidy’s character lives at 944 Airole Way in a glass box of a house that was the epitome of 1970s excess; the building has since been replaced by a much, much bigger glass box of a house that is the epitome of 2010s excess.

“Étude in Black”

This episode may not be the most famous collaboration between Peter Falk and John Cassavetes, but it’s the only time they collaborated to tell a story about Lieutenant Columbo solving a murder, which gives it a leg up. Furthermore, it’s the only time either man worked with detective-from-another-era Myrna Loy—one of those cross-generational moments that happened on Columbo all the time—and if that weren’t enough, Blythe Danner’s in it too. And it’s a classic example of a plot point in Columbo episodes that recurs almost as often as writing partners murdering each other: Lieutenant Columbo gets a break in the case because he happened to be watching television at exactly the right moment, an important reminder to always be watching television, especially when Columbo is on. Also, Columbo gives a stirring rendition of “Chopsticks” onstage at the Hollywood Bowl.

“Any Old Port in a Storm”

Most viewers know Donald Pleasence for his role as James Bond’s cartoonishly evil nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, which means they are overlooking his role as Columbo’s cartoonishly evil nemesis Adrian Carsini. Equally successful as a classic Columbo episode and a history of the go-go years of California’s wine industry—wait, on closer inspection it’s only successful as a classic Columbo episode. Still, when Pleasence discovers his vineyard is being sold to “the Marino Brothers,” he throws the best tantrum in the history of viticulture:

You are an adolescent imbecile, Rick! Do you think I’m going to sit by and let some muscle-bound hedonist throw me out of what is rightfully mine? … I have given! Twenty-five years! Of my life! To this land! Do you think I’m going to let some ignorant Neapolitan turn it into a wino heaven?

Also, director Leo Penn—yes, that’s Sean, Chris, and Michael’s father—was clearly fascinated by the machinery used in industrial wine production, so if you like your murder mysteries to include cheerful footage of bright green bottles being filled with wine at great speed, this is the Columbo episode for you.

“Publish or Perish”

This episode opens with a bombmaker who lights the fuses on his cartoonish sticks of dynamite by setting an open fire in a 1970s kitchen mixing bowl, which he stores right next to all his other bombs. Seriously:

A man in a trench coat holds a cartoonish dynamite prop. He is lighting the fuse from flames that rise from a green mixing bowl, which is next to several other bombs.
Boom!
NBC

And yet that ridiculousness is nowhere close to the most fun thing about “Publish or Perish,” because Jack Cassidy is once again playing the murderer. In “Murder by the Book,” Cassidy played a writer who murders another writer, but this time he tackles a very different role: a publisher who murders a writer. The big period touch in Spielberg’s episode was an extreme zoom; here, it’s split screens, and plenty of them. Plus, pulp novelist Mickey Spillane plays the victim, and watching him get murdered on television is fun for fans of Spillane’s work and also for fans of Kiss Me Deadly.

“Negative Reaction”

Dick Van Dyke is not to be trusted and this Columbo episode proves it.

“Try and Catch Me”

One of the all-time great Columbo episodes, this outing features Ruth Gordon as a woman who is certainly not Agatha Christie, in a case that revolves around the rights to a play that is certainly not The Mouse Trap. There are only so many different ways Columbo can face off against the people who create things like Columbo—he’s investigated television producers, an actor playing a TV detective, and a long line of mystery writers—but building an extremely literal locked-room mystery around an Agatha Christie figure was one of the show’s most satisfying looks in the mirror. That all comes down to Ruth Gordon, who is an absolute delight:

So far, those are the only full episodes of Columbo available on the Columbo YouTube channel, which means they’re the only full episodes of Columbo available on Slate’s brand new and entirely imaginary streaming service. Readers who need to spend longer than six hours, fifty-three minutes, and fifty-four seconds retreating from modernity will have to find other suppliers of pure, uncut Columbo, try to make do with shake and seeds like “The Best of William Shatner,” or rise to a prominent position in the civic life of Los Angeles, then attempt to commit a perfect murder. Barring that, there’s always that Japanese box set!