year: 1976
rating: ****

This episode, during one of the final seasons where the writers knew exactly what to deliver, epitomizes everything great about the popular detective series: as scruffy Lt. Columbo busts high class people who think they've pulled off the perfect crime - which the audience sees in punctuating detail in the first fifteen minutes - by pestering them into submission and, while complementing their abilities to aid him at his job, underrates himself as being totally incapable without their help i.e. the bad guys basically screw themselves. William Shatner plays a TV detective, a "fictionalized" Columbo, who kills a woman (Lola Albright as a beautiful cougar) who's taking control of half his paycheck. The murder-motivation is somewhat thin but how Shatner provides his alibi, using Bert Remsen, spiked booze, and an early-model VCR, is quite clever. Several gloriously long scenes involving Falk and Shatner going back and forth with various theories is downright hypnotic: Falk doing what he does best and Shatner pontificating with his iconic halting-speech style which, since he's playing a bad actor, seems like intentional self-parody. Timothy Carey as a cafe owner, and Walter "Chekov" Koenig, provide nifty cameos.

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