High-profile Atlanta defense attorney Ben Matlock loves hot dogs, strums mountain tunes in his office, and isn’t clear on whether it is "do lunch and take a meeting" or vice versa. But he is, as one of his employees observes, "a real class act." Matlock is more urban than Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show
, but while both characters have a folksy Southern charm, no one underestimates Matlock; not at his fee ($100,000!). No matter how carefully a killer plans and no matter how guilty Matlock’s client appears, Matlock always seems to know "something," which he reveals in a dramatic "moment of truth" in the courtroom worthy of Perry Mason
. In some episodes, as in "Blind Justice," audiences are clued in as to the killer’s identity, but in most, we are in the dark. Matlock
was one of television’s top 15 shows in this second season. It’s no mystery. Credit Griffith’s down home appeal. He’s as comfortable to viewers as Matlock’s favorite well-worn pair of shoes, which he replaces in one episode with a new pair exactly like it). Credit, too, clever writing, and some sly touches that manage to take Matlock
just a little outside its comfort zone. The episode, "The Network," takes the format of a celebrity gossip show that reports on Matlock’s latest case, his defense of a Hollywood TV producer accused of killing a studio programming chief. Then-current NBC stars, including Betty White, Corbin Bernsen, Rhea Perlman, and even Alf, cameo as themselves talking about the less than admired victim. A stunt episode, "The Hucksters," in which viewers were invited to call a toll-free number to vote on the killer, is presented here with all three alternate endings. Season two saw cast shake-ups; Linda Purl, who portrayed Matlock’s daughter and partner, departed the series, opening the door for Nancy Stafford as Michelle Thomas, who is introduced in the season-opening two-parter, "The Billionaire," in which Matlock travels to England to defend a man accused of murdering his tycoon father. Kari Lizer also joined the cast as Matlock’s cute new law clerk, Cassie. Kene Holliday returns as Tyler Hudson, Matlock’s questionable investigator. A more worthy foil for Griffith and Matlock is Julie Sommars in her Golden Globe-winning role as feisty prosecutor Julie Marsh. They’re not exactly David and Maddie from Moonlighting
, but their playfully combative relationship gives the show some sparks. This season features some great guest stars, including David McCallum (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
, David Ogden Stiers (M*A*S*H
), Max Gail (Barney Miller
), Marg Helgenberger (C.S.I.
), Mason Adams (Lou Grant
), and David Carradine (Kung Fu
). But this is Griffith’s show all the way. There were certainly edgier, contemporary series, but Matlock
endures as the last name in comfort television, whose old fashioned pleasures of watching justice be served never get old. --Donald Liebenson