First broadcast: 1990
“There can be few murderers who the viewer will despise as much as these two, for this is an episode which is essentially the battle of the classes.“
After a lecture, law students Roe and Cooper are called to the office of Professor Rush who confronts them on a discovery he made - that they stole the paper for an important test and therefore cheated on it. In his anger with them, he proclaims he's going to wait overnight to make a decision on what to do with them.
It's the least of the problems for the two lazy, playboy students. Cooper has just got a girl pregnant - the third one in 18 months, whilst Roe's father doesn't like to "see him fail". If they get kicked out of college, it's curtains for them - their lives, and wealth, will be over.
Between them they concoct a plan.
Meanwhile the class's visiting lecturer has been announced - a homicide detective named Columbo. On the night of his lecture, Roe and Cooper put their plan into motion.
Before the lecture they speak to the Professor, proclaiming that Roe's dad wants to see Rush to talk about the incident - but it has to be that night as Roe senior is flying out on business. Reluctantly Roe agrees to a meeting at a campus restaurant during the lecture.
Mid way through Columbo's lesson, Rush sneaks out and heads to the parking lot. Using a small, hidden CCTV camera, the student duo watch him. As Rush comes into range, they trigger a gun shot by remote control and kill the professor stone dead.
At the end of the lecture Rush's absence is noted and the students try to persuade Columbo to join them for a drink in a bar. As they go down to the parking lot, they discover Rush's dead body. Roe leaps into his car and drives out of the building to raise the alarm with the security guard who had been watching a baseball match on his TV rather than watching his monitors.
With more police on the scene, the investigation begins. A bullet casing is found outside the car park and the Professor's briefcase spotted in his office suggesting he would be returning. The duo suggest looking at the CCTV cameras and reviewing them shows that no one is in shot, making the whole thing a mystery.
Cleverness of the way Columbo catches out the murderer
Being on the scene, Columbo naturally starts digging. Finding a cholesterol pill in Rush's things, he believes Rush might have been meeting someone on campus for some food. He sets off for a tour of restaurants and cafes looking for a clue. He can find no booking in Rush's name, but eventually finds one place where Rush has left a message - for Mr Roe. However there was no booking for Mr Roe and no customer of that name.
Heading to the bar where the students are drinking, Columbo learns the surname of a certain student named Roe who is busy setting up a story about the Professor fooling around with the ladies - namely Coach Clark's wife. Visiting her house she proclaims she'd split with Rush some months before.
News of Rush's and Clark's affair has spread to the TV news who are camped outside her house and Roe and Cooper are there too. Believing Columbo will swallow anything they feed him, they take him to the bar where Rush and Clark used to meet where the barman proclaims they had been in the previous week. The duo feed more dirt to Columbo and leave him to it.
Feeling suspicious, Columbo creates a phoney story about Rush having an airline ticket to Arizona. He asks Rush's wife about the none existent ticket and she naturally knows nothing about it. Nor does Mrs Clark. Funnily enough Roe and Cooper do, using the opportunity to spin a yarn about Rush meeting the FBI - Rush had written books naming names of gangsters and wrong-dooers, and Roe gets his father along. Roe Senior is a legal advisor to the university and hands Columbo a dossier of names and information. Playing along, Columbo mentions the help he's been getting from Roe Junior and Cooper, proclaiming "I wonder what I'd do without these guys".
Later, Columbo is fed more information from the pair - that security guard Joe's brother Dom has a criminal record. Finding Dom in a bar, Dom proclaims he has no gun and whilst there a TV report comes on which says a new video of the murder had been discovered. It's a close up of their camera, showing the professor being killed. The picture, it transpires, had been picked up by a satellite dish and recorded by accident in place of a film.
Having told Cooper and Roe that Dom had an alibi (in the form of a "bottle" he sets up another phoney story, accidentally giving them Dom's car details. Cooper finds the car at the bar and phones the police. A gun is found in the car. Dom is arrested.
Having pieced it all together, at the next lecture Columbo proclaims the class is going to recreate the murder and show them all how it was done. He demonstrates using a miniature camera how the murder was viewed. He then shows the class a gun wired up to a remote control and the gun is fired from the parking lot.
Taking the class down to the parking lot, he proclaims that Roe didn't unlock his car when he rushed out on that dark night, and points out the car had a remote control locking system.
Placing a dummy where Rush had stood, he invites Roe to press his car door key. A gun fires. Columbo points out that the gun was concealed under the bonnet of the car.
Looking scared and confused, Roe asks if Dom had done it using Roe's car. Columbo shakes his head and points out Dom was never arrested. Dom's car was actually Columbo's wife's and no one knew the details or where it might be other than Cooper and Roe. Arresting them, he asks them why they did it. The chilling reply is simple.
"We did it because we knew how to do it."
Convolutedness of the murder
Oh boy, is this a doozy! Minature TVs and remote controlled handguns? I mean we're talking 10 out of 10 for convolutedness alone!
Then you have to add in all the rest that's going on... Tablets, gangsters and, of course, two rich smug kids. Dude, this one's out of the window!
How annoyed does the murderer get with Columbo?
Oh these two could never get annoyed with Columbo. Oh no. They just think he's a bumbling simpleton who they can manipulate.
Instead it's left to Roe's father to get the most annoyed with our intrepid detective - his frustration and anger with Columbo whipped up by the two students and their cockiness, and the self-assured belief that only the Mafia or some other criminal gang could be behind the killing. But even then, he's just really a bit character so the annoyance level is still pretty low.
The smug-richness factor
If there was an award for the most smug, arrogant and annoying murderer in a Columbo episode, oh boy would these two win hands down. They have the smug arrogance you can only have if you were brought up believing you were incredibly rich, the most clever person in the state - nay country - and that one day you were destined to rule the world. In other words, these two will be aiming to stand for election in a few years time.
And worse is that you get to the end of this episode and you're worried - no, petrified - that money will ultimately get these two off the hook. But that's something we, thankfully, don't get to see.
Quality of sub-plot
This episode is so jam packed that there's barely any time to move in with a sub-plot. The closest we get is some back story on why the two students decide to kill their tutor - but getting a teenage girl knocked up and the other one's dad not liking his son to fail isn't really a sub-plot.
Mentions of Mrs Columbo
Mrs Columbo doesn't get a huge look in in this particular episode - instead it's her car that provides the breakthrough moment. In a moment of joy, Columbo finally ensnares the duo and it's a battered green vehicle owned by his wife that helps him do it.
What new-fangled thing does Columbo learn about this episode?
Sometimes you wonder how many things there are left for Columbo to learn about. Today it's tiny TV cameras and remote controls that can fire guns by a clever contraption. And he takes to it surprisingly well - not for this episode lots of confused scratching at heads. Oh no. Instead Columbo gets the idea and runs with it so far that he manages to completely replicate the murder! It's all rather unusual for a Columbo story, but then the story is so busy that there's barely any time for head scratching by a puzzled detective...
Was anyone given sedatives?
Yeah after writing so many of these reviews, frankly I'm wondering why I'm even asking. It's a late episode - so no.
Deviations from the norm and inconsistencies with other Columbo episodes
The obvious deviation is that Columbo's on the scene during the murder - well not far away anyway. This means we get that ultra rare thing of seeing Columbo in an episode before anyone dies.
As also noted, he seems to pick up the remote camera technology amazingly fast too,
Appearances by the Regular Cast
There is a mysterious absence of any familiar names. Even Vitto Scotti doesn't appear, and you're not telling me they couldn't have crow-barred in an Italian waiter into this episode somewhere!
There can be few murderers who the viewer will despise as much as these two, for this is an episode which is essentially the battle of the classes. The upper class snobs, smug and so self assured that they can never beat. That they can do whatever they want; that they are above the law; and that they'll get away with it.
Of course it's that sheer arrogance - and more arrogant murderers you'll be hard pushed to find in a Columbo episode - that ultimately ensures that Columbo them in the end. If they'd just left it after the killing; if they'd just gone quiet, well no one would ever have suspected them.
Instead they dug themselves a hole and buried themselves. The audacity of trying to build up a huge story to try and put Columbo off their scent was what undid them. I mean, if they'd just have let it lie, they'd have got away with - I mean, who really would have suspected them? True the second video footage may eventually have surfaced, but what would Columbo have had? Actually very little. However instead we see Roe and Cooper's stupidity betray them. Their belief that they can get away with it without repercussions ensures they are trapped.
Of course you do worry about what happens when this case comes to court. Their parents have a LOT of money - so much so that at least one family bought their son's way into the college. Money can buy good solicitors. But thankfully this is not Law and Order. We never see the Solicitor General discussing the case. That horrible moment when they maybe get off on some bizarre notion, or the inevitable point when they successfully nobble the jury, well that we don't get to see.
Instead we get to see Columbo at his most sleuthing finest. We see him bring down two rich, annoying, self-righteous kids. And we celebrate when he does.