Matlock: Season 2
One of the earliest and most beloved genres used on television is the lawyer show. Typically it depicts a young defense attorney setting out to help those wrongly accused and fight for justice. Sure, there are some shows that have the other side of the coin with the prosecutors but many of the favorites defend their clients. It is difficult to get a unique twist of a genre that is this well used but CBS did it with ‘Matlock’. Here the titular character, Ben Matlock, is not a young, urban lawyer. He is a good old fashion older man practicing law in the same area for as long ass anyone can remember. Portraying Matlock is a legend of television, Andy Griffith. This series was at the height of its popularity during the mid eighties and lasted for nine years. At this time CBS was creating series that targeted a mostly forgotten demographic; older adults. Most shows try to get that lucrative teen and twenties market but CBS realized that there were a lot of people out there who could more readily identify with an older leading man. More than that most of us grew up watching Griffith on television. He was a familiar face and by then came across as a kindly old grandfather that is visiting. CBS may have changed their lineup with the new high tech crime dramas like the ‘CSI’ franchise but this is what many people loved in that time period. It had a modicum of action; mostly involving younger co-stars, but the foundation of the show was Matlock. Even now over twenty years later the series can hold its own. Like many of the best shows from the era the DVD distribution rights are held by CBS Paramount. This is a fact all of us who love vintage television should be extremely grateful about. They have been releasing their incredible catalog of series at a steady pace. If they don’t have your favorite out yet the chances are they will soon. In this case they are just starting on the DVD releases for ‘Matlock’ has just begun. They are now up to the second season and it is great. When you get tire of modern shows that are trying too hard to push the limits break out this one and pop it in the DVD player. Have the kids watch it to some them that even older folks can provide mystery and drama; something they might not realize. The series as been the punch line of many senior citizens jokes and perhaps some of that is warranted by this is a show that everyone can and will enjoy.
There was something comforting and reassuring about Andy Griffith. He had been coming into our homes via television literally for generations. Griffith was a regular on early TV variety shows like ‘Dinah Shore’, ‘Garry Moore’ and ‘Steve Allen’. He hit his big break playing a country bumpkin solider in ‘No Time for Sergeants’ and leveraged that to his own television series, ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ but almost everybody called it ‘Mayberry’. Throughout his career he played characters that city slickers would dismissed as country and therefore naďve and uneducated. As Sheriff Taylor in Mayberry he was the source of common sense and old fashion pickle barrel wisdom. This series is basically what would happen if Sheriff Andy took law school classes and became a country lawyer. Matlock is smart but his grandfatherly demeanor frequently makes his adversaries underestimate his abilities. Ben Matlock may be many things but his momma didn’t raise a fool. He is an excellent, Harvard educated lawyer and able to command a fee of $100,000. He does have his standards. The client has to be able to afford him, the case has to pique his interest and he has to believe that the client is wrongly accused. He is more on hands than most attorneys preferring to check out the scene of the crime personally. Although he is very wealthy he has a tendency to be a little on the cheap side. Matlock is always found in his seersucker suit and freshly shined shoes. His practice is almost exclusively devoted to murder although he has been known to branch out to other forms of the law on occasion. One of his favorite foods and a running gag in the series is the hot dog. Matlock enjoys grabbing one from a vendor outside the courthouse as he prepares his case.
Every lawyer needs a competent team to help out with the grunt work; especially when the leading man is a bit older than usual for television. In this season Matlock’s youngest daughter Charlene had left only to be replaced by Michelle Thomas (Nancy Stafford). He meet her while on a case in London during the first episode of the season, hired her and brought her back to practice with him in Atlanta. In order to track down all the clues the police seem to commonly miss Ben also has a private investigator on the payroll; Tyler Hudson (Kene Holliday). Tyler is a former lieutenant in the United States army and is more than willing to go undercover when the need arises. He is also an excellent chef and is often thinking of investing in some business or another. Both of them constantly have to deal with the hot headed temper that Matlock can frequently exhibit. In this way Matlock is a lot like the grumpy grandfather who hollers and swears but is still loveable. The formula worked both on screen and off. Not only did Matlock win most of his cases the show only ended when Griffith decided to retire from the business, not due to cancellation.
The stories typically followed the classic format set by ‘Perry Mason’ or ‘The Defenders’. A murder is about to get away with the crime having framed someone. A cat and mouse game ensues between him and Matlock with the faith of the innocent person hanging on the outcome. In one episode Michelle takes on a case defending her friend from collage. She is accused of killing her boyfriend who was known to be abusive towards her. Matlock comes to the realization that it was the victim’s blind best friend who had the motive and opportunity but the difficult part of the case was discovering how a blind man could off such a perfect plot. Usually Matlock is up against the district attorney for Atlanta, Julie March (Julie Sommars). They are very friendly when not in court and have a mutual respect for each other but in almost every instance Julie is bound to lose.
This is classic, old school television that provides engaging and fun to watch murder mysteries. It may be a gimmick to have an older leading man and it did attract many viewers of similar age but this is a show that the whole family will certainly enjoy.