Before the likes of Denny Crane and Ally McBeal brought their courtroom hijinks to the airwaves, there was a fellow by the name of Ben Matlock. Well, actually, before Ben Matlock there was a big, broad-shouldered guy named Perry Mason (who had a better theme song), but that’s another story altogether… we’re talking about Andy Griffith here. Deal with it.
Back in the mid to late '80s, television execs really got into giving some of their old TV stars new series, and giving their geriatric viewers at home something else to watch besides primetime soaps. Sometimes, the new series weren’t even new (e.g. the revamps of vintage shows like Burke’s Law — that Perry Mason guy’s name comes up again on that list, too), while other times, like in the case of Matlock, the names and places may have been changed, but the character was still the same good ol’ country boy that we saw policing the dirt roads of Mayberry back in the '60s.
Ben Matlock is undeniably Andy Taylor. Don’t even argue with me on it. But that doesn’t make Matlock any less enjoyable. Despite my disdain for country bumpkins in general (something that makes Perry Mason stand out in a crowd, let me tell you), Matlock is that rare breed of hillbilly that managed to make it past grade school… and high school… hell, he even made it through junior college for that matter!
By the time Matlock’s second season rolled around in late 1987 (has it really been that long?), a big change was made in the casting department: Linda Purl, as Matlock’s daughter Charlene, had left the series (her character never to be seen again), leaving co-star Nancy Stafford (and her big '80s hair) as Ben’s junior associate moving up a notch. Frankly, I don’t think anyone noticed… much like those later Perry Mason episodes.
Season two actually starts off with something that is quite unheard of these days — location shooting. Yes, the entire cast (save for that annoying Cassie girl — tell me, just why did all of the female Matlock co-stars have blonde hair? Was Andy Griffith a Nazi or something?) got to fly over to London, England for its fun two-hour season premiere (something I don’t think Raymond Burr ever had the pleasure of doing) before returning to the States (with co-star Stafford in hand) for the remainder of the season. Nowadays, they’d just shoot it in Canada like they always do, only insert some digital fog and slap a grey-colored filter on the scene so it looks like the real deal — the thrifty bastards.
Since television from 1987 and 1988 never looked good to begin with, you’d have to be a complete moron to expect any sort of remarkable video presentation here — and yet, despite the archaic film and video stock used during that time period, CBS/Paramount has nevertheless given Matlock: The Second Season as nice of a transfer as you’re bound to ever see. The full frame (1.33:1) image suffers from occasional softness and blurriness (sometimes even a little jumpiness), but it’s still a far cry from what I used to see on the TV when watching this show with my grandparents (who would always chuckle at the amusing antics of Kene Holliday, or, as they called him, the “colored guy” — you have no idea how much it hurt me to actually write that).
Sound-wise, CBS/Paramount has included a modest stereo surround audio track. Some of the dialogue tends to sound a bit low in places, no doubt due to the replacement of copyrighted incidental music — something CBS/Paramount is receiving a lot of bad publicity for (c‘mon, fellas, get it right). No subtitles are offered, but the discs are closed captioned.
I about felt like Fred Sanford when I saw the words "Special Features" on the back cover of this release; to my surprise, CBS/Paramount included the three alternate endings for the episode “The Hucksters”. Originally, “The Hucksters” had a call-in gimmick when it was first aired, in which viewers could dial a 1-900 number and choose the identity of the killer. CBS/Paramount has given us the option to choose the ending once again (if you so desire), as well as placing all three episode finales as stand-alone extras. Each ending is 2:24 in length and contain ending credits (the only thing different about them is the identity of the killer). Since I don’t remember having seen the episode when it first aired (and I’d be seriously worried if I in fact did remember a complete episode of Matlock after 20 years), I can’t say which ending aired way back in 1988.
If you’re looking for something to cheer up your elderly relatives or just want something that comes from the more innocent side of television crime dramas prior to shows like NYPD Blue (and Dennis Franz’s ass), try Matlock: The Second Season. It may have a rather hefty $54.99 retail price tag, but it’s a lot cheaper than Matlock’s $100,000 fee for services rendered (and Perry Mason’s, too).