The fifth season of Matlock brought more of the same. If you’re a fan, that’s very good news indeed. What is that, you ask? Imagine Sheriff Andy Taylor older and now an attorney, and you pretty much have the setup for Matlock. Forget for a second that both characters were played by Andy Griffith. That’s not all they have in common. Matlock is every bit the “southern gentleman” that Taylor was. He might be a little smarter, but he walks and talks like Andy Taylor.
Matlock began life as a television movie from Dean Hargrove, who brought us Columbo. Hargrove would later work the same magic with Dick Van Dyke in Diagnosis Murder. In fact, the two shows could easily have been companion pieces. Both featured sit-com stars from the 1950’s and 60’s that had become somewhat iconic characters. Both would don the role of professionals. Both shows would subscribe to the “formula” mode of storytelling. Diary Of A Perfect Murder would set up the Matlock formula. It’s simple, really. Matlock was a lawyer in Atlanta. Some wronged defendant, usually charged with murder, would show up asking for Matlock’s help. Matlock and his team would investigate the crime with an eye toward, as OJ Simpson is fond of saying, finding the real killer. His team consisted of his daughter Charlene, herself a competent lawyer, and Tyler Hudson (Holliday), his private investigator. In the pilot the Matlock character was less Andy Taylor and a little more slick at first. I’m sure that while it was intended to show Matlock’s prowess as a high-priced attorney, somewhere along the line it became obvious that the show’s finest asset was Griffith himself and that southern charm he was already famous for. Whatever the reason, you can see the character soften significantly during the early episodes of the season. And that decision was a smart one, as Matlock would continue for nearly a decade.
So what is old Ben Matlock up to in his fifth year? Matlock has to defend himself this time when a judge is found murdered. Matlock is the prime suspect because the two got into a row that ended with Matlock cited for contempt in the two-part episode Nowhere To Turn. Matlock is in over his head when all he wanted to do was keep his head dry. He defends his roofer who is accused of murder under the condition that he finish his roof in The Personal Trainer. It’s a case of twin brothers in Brothers. One of them is a killer. The other is Matlock’s client. Matlock’s childhood buddy has written a play. But when the critic who bashes it turns up dead, Matlock’s buddy is the prime suspect in The Critic. Did I mention that I just loved everybody in that episode? Matlock is going to be honored as Man Of The Year, that is if he can get to the ceremony in one piece. The tables are turned in the two-part episode The Trial. Matlock is asked to become a special prosecutor.
Each episode of Matlock is presented in its original broadcast full frame format. There’s not a lot to love in this transfer. The picture is almost always grainy. There are too many overt instances of compression artifact. In general this was not a carefully-prepared transfer. I’m sure Paramount expects the fans to take it as it is. Colors are fair, but there is a subdued overall tone to the entire presentation. Black levels suffer the most and are quite poor.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track delivers exactly what you are looking for and nothing more. The dialog is clear, and that’s all you’re going to get out of this minimalist presentation. The jazz music theme comes out nice and clean.
Matlock is all about the charm factor, and this collection of episodes is no exception. The cases might often be a bit exotic, but it was always the characters that made the show a bit more unique. The show ended up playing quite well on syndication, and when it was finally available on DVD a lot of folks got in line to own it. If you don’t head out to get yours now, “You’re a regular Bob Hopeless”.