A lot of people will tell you that between shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad, the last 10-15 years may represent the greatest period in the history of television drama. This is a defensible argument, I suppose, but it overlooks one important fact: Johnny Cash played the murderer in a 1974 episode of Columbo titled “Swan Song,” and it was amazing.
How amazing? Well…
Johnny Cash plays some sort of Gospel singer/televangelist named Tommy Brown. Turns out Tommy is an ex-con who has been carrying on an affair with one of his underage backup singers, which Tommy’s wife uses to blackmail him into pumping all the earnings from his shows into the mega-temple she’s planning to build. So, Tommy, who is also a pilot, obviously, decides to take care of both of his problems at once by taking his wife and underage mistress up in a plane together, drugging them, then jumping out of the plane and parachuting to safety — with a parachute he made himself from the nylon they used for the robes worn by his backup singers — as it crashes into the side of a mountain.
So, to recap: We’ve got crooked religious types, a scandalous underage affair, blackmail, homemade parachutes, and a staggeringly elaborate murder that involves (a) drugs, and (b) a last-minute escape from a small plane as it screams toward its fiery demise. And all of that happens in like the first 20 minutes. And then the rest of the episode features Columbo trying to outwit Tommy. And, again, Tommy is played by Johnny Cash. Who sings a lot. Often for no discernible plot-based reason. It’s on Netflix. You should watch it.