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Featured TV on DVD Review: Matlock: Season Five

July 17th, 2010

Matlock: Season Five - Buy from Amazon

Matlock: Season Five marks the halfway point in this courtroom drama series, which throughout its run had numerous changes, including at least half-a-dozen major cast changes and a network move. This is arguably the show's most iconic lineup with Ben Matlock being joined by Nancy Stafford as his legal assistant Michelle Thomas and Clarence Gilyard Jr. plays his P.I. Conrad McMasters. His most common courtroom foe was Julie March, played by Julie Sommars. Meanwhile, Don Knotts continues to have the occasional guest shot on the show.

The Show

The basic formula for the show is very similar to Perry Mason. Ben Matlock is Perry Mason, Conrad McMasters is Paul Drake, Michelle Thomas is Della Street, while Julie March is Hamilton Burger. We see the characters introduced, a murder take place, and Ben take the case. Throughout the episode we see the investigation and the climactic finale of each episode usually involves Ben cross-examining a witness until they crack and confess. The formula can be an easy way to pick on the show, but within the confines, there is a lot of variety.

The season starts with a solid outing in The Mother, which has a mother taking the fall for a murder her daughter committed. (As a B-plot, Michelle Thomas and Conrad McMasters have a bet whether or not Michelle could successfully flirt with Ben. She says if a woman puts out the right signals, she can get any man she wants. He says Ben is too clueless to be hit on. It has no bearing on the main story, but it's funny.) Nowhere to Turn is a two-parter that has Ben traveling to L.A. To defend a client, only to be framed for murdering the judge in the case. As usual, these two-part episodes are highlights, as they can build a much bigger story and they have more freedom from the formula.

In The Personal Trainer, a husband is charged with killing his wife's personal trainer after he learns he had an affair with his wife. ... and his mistress. ... and his step-daughter. Wow, that guy had stamina. It's a real case for exercise. The Narc is not one of the better episodes this season, but it does have a good guest shot by Tony Todd. The Secret is another two-parter, this one about a problem gambler who is accused of killing his bookie.

Strangely, while you can fit four episodes on a DVD, they split the two-parter to two DVDs with the second part leading off disc three. On a side note, the episode comes up short by about 5 to 7 minutes. I assume this is because a jazz number or two had to be cut due to musical licensing problems. Next up is The Brothers about a plastic surgeon who was murdered in the house of a disgruntled patient. Ben is asked to defend the doctor's partner's brothers, who are twins. Confused much? Just an average episode for the season, which is a shame, as it is the first Don Knotts episode. It also has an appearance by Patricia Heaton. In The Cover Girl, Conrad McMasters' new girlfriend, a model, gets involved in murder when her agent is killed and her photographer is accused of the crime. It's an above average episode, made more interesting by guest shots, in this case Amy Yasbeck as a scary model and Lisa Waltz as the photographer's over-energetic assistant.

The Biker has a judge approaching Ben to help his son, the biker, who is charged with killing a well-known movie star after the two had a fight. This is a good episode with a number of threads throughout. The Broker is also a very strong episode, as it deviates from the norm by focusing on Julie March. The episode starts with her investigating a murder at a brokerage firm, but when the man she indicts commits suicide, she decides to keep digging. The Fighter is the second Don Knotts' episode of the season, and it is a lot better than the first. In the film, a boxer is accused of killing a journalist that accused him of taking steroids; however, the journalist was fed bad information and was looking into who might has given it to him. The Critic involves the murder of a critic that gave a bad review to a courtroom musical, a play Ben was a consultant for. So when the playwright is accused of murdering him, Ben has to take the case. (I've never been murdered for giving a bad review, by the way, but I once got a nasty e-mail from one of the screenwriters of The Core.)

Disc Five starts with The Parents. Michelle's friends are having a baby, by surrogate, and Michelle is going to be the godmother. However, when the surrogate changes her mind, and then winds up dead, Ben is brought in to defend the couple. Ben is being named The Man of the Year, but on his way to the ceremony, he's hijacked by a clip show. Moving on. The place where Ben buys his suits is struggling because they are not keeping up with today's fashions. One partner wants to burn the place down and collect the insurance money, but after he is murdered the other partner is accused of his murder. A research scientist has his formula for a hair growth elixir stolen by the company he was just fired from and his friend offers to steal his notebook back, but gets caught in the process. Then when the scientist denies asking him to steal his notebook, or even being fired, and later ends up dead, Ben has to defend him from charges of murder.

The final disc starts with the final two-parter of the season, The Trail. This is one of the better episodes of the season and has one of the bigger twists. In it an A.D.A. is murdered and the Attorney General asks the one person he thinks will be able to get to the bottom of it to investigate and lead the prosecution, Ben Matlock. It also has guest shots by Diana Muldaur (Doctor Pulaski of Star Trek: The Next Generation); Mike Farrell (Captain B.J. Hunnicut of M*A*S*H); and Thom Sharp ("Who?"). For those who don't live in Canada, Thom Sharp has been the face of Goodyear Tires for the past several years. The Accident is the last Don Knotts episode of the season. In the episode, a ambulance chaser is killed and a disgruntled client is accused. However, the lawyer has a lot of enemies. The Celebrity ends the season on a high note. In this one, Julie March travels to L.A. to meet with an old friend, who is also the sister of a movie star / cosmetics queen, Catherine Welden. However, Catherine is being blackmailed by an ex-boyfriend, and when he winds up dead, Ben follows her to L.A. to take the case.

There are nearly 20 episodes in season five, including a few that are two-parters. Of those, I actually remembered quite a few before the ten-minute mark was up, which says something about the quality. There are a few misses here and there, but for the most part, this is one of the best seasons of the show's nine-year run.

The Extras

On the other hand, there are no extras. There are subtitles, proper chapter placements, and play-all buttons.

The Verdict

If you are a fan of Matlock and have purchased the previous seasons, then Season Five is also worth adding to your collection. The episodes maintain a high quality level throughout and while the lack of extras is a disappointment, it is not unexpected.

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