Matlock: The Sixth Season
Directed by Christopher Hibler et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Running Time: 1030 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround English
MSRP: $ 49.99
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Review Date: January 16, 2011
There were changes on the way for Matlock as its sixth season proceeded. Moved by NBC to an ill-fitting Friday time period, the show sank in the ratings and was let go (though ABC picked it up for the remainder of its run: three more seasons). Mini-movies and two-part episodes played a greater part in the season for the show than in past years. And the cast, though still intact from the previous season, was going to change fairly drastically by the start of season seven. Still, Andy Griffith returns once again in season six playing the wily Atlanta attorney whose folksy ways mask a diabolical ability to ferret out the truth from the tiniest of clues.
An above average courtroom mystery series, Matlock is easy going and easy to take, and the writers seemed to be trying this season to make up for the somewhat lackluster season five. There are a variety of unusual episodes this season, from a dream case where Ben, conked on the head, transports himself and his friends back to the Old West for a fun mystery to a black and white flashback episode where Andy Griffith plays Ben’s auto mechanic father who teaches his law student son a thing or two about outfoxing various suspects in crimes. In one case, he actually loses against a fiery, young D.A. and in another he decides to retire. The folksy, shambling charm of the Ben Matlock character is exaggerated even more this season to emphasize his pinchpenny ways (the 93-minute season opener wears on the nerves a bit as seemingly every person in Ben’s hometown taps him for a large money loan, and he grudgingly gives in to every one of them).
Nancy Stafford is back this season playing Michelle Thomas, Matlock’s junior partner in his law firm, though she would leave the show after this season, and it’s obvious she’s on the way out as she’s in fewer episodes than ever this season. In the season finale, Brynn Thayer (who’d guest starred in a couple of earlier episodes this season in other roles) is introduced as Matlock’s daughter Leanne who’d join the regular cast in season seven. Also part of the staff is Clarence Gilyard, Jr. playing Conrad MacMaster, Matlock’s investigator. Julie Sommars as prosecuting attorney (and platonic Matlock sweetheart) Julie Marsh, gets elevated to series regular this year, but she, too, was on the way out. Most of the episodes continue to feature David Froman as Lt. Bob Brooks, the official Atlanta police representative.
Though Matlock had required a $100,000 fee for his services in earlier seasons, by season six, the monetary transactions for his services aren’t mentioned very often, and he takes on a wide range of cases, often not representing affluent clients. As in Perry Mason, the mysteries are almost always solved on the witness stand and most are constructed along a standard formula: we’re shown a person with a number of enemies, the person is killed, and Matlock and company sniff out the killer. Occasionally, a Columbo-styled episode is attempted: we’re shown the murder first including who did it and how (the season’s first regular length episode “The Strangler” is one such case). Then, we watch as Matlock tracks down clues to lead him to the solution we already know though sometimes with an unexpected twist. The show never quite reaches the heights of surprise or suspense of Perry Mason or Columbo, but the episodes on their own are entertaining enough, especially with the congenial Andy Griffith playing the title character with charm and sass and always showing us the missing elements needed to solve the crime before the end of the hour. The writers also seem a little more willing this season to provide some telltale clues in the open for viewers to catch. In previous seasons, this was almost never the case.
Matlock did entertain some top guest stars and excellent character actors during its sixth season. Among the most recognizable ones are Kathleen Freeman, M. C. Gainey, Marge Redmond (in a recurring role as Matlock’s feisty Irish housekeeper), Andrew Prine, Ken Swofford, Matt Battaglia, Bryan Cranston, Aneta Corsaut (in a recurring role as a judge), Richard Burgi, Lonny Chapman, Constance Towers, Matthew Laurence, Andrew Robinson, Peter Haskell, Mitch Ryan, Doug McClure, Christina Pickles, Don Knotts (in the recurring role of an annoying neighbor), Randy Travis, Sharon Farrell, Dirk Blocker, Stuart Margolin, Rene Auberjonois, and Daniel Roebuck.
Here are the eighteen episodes contained on six discs in this sixth season set:
1 – The Witness (93-minute episode opens the season as Ben returns home)
2 – The Strangler
3 – The Nightmare (the Western dream episode)
4 – The Marriage Counselor
5 – The Dame
6 – The Suspect (93-minute episode: my favorite of the season)
7 – The Defense
8 – The Game Show
9 – The Foursome (Matlock loses a case!)
10 – The Picture (Part 1)
11 – The Picture (Part 2)
12 – The Outcast (91 ¾-minute episode)
13 – The Big Payoff
14 – The Abduction
15 – Mr. Awesome
16 – The Evening News (Part 1)
17 – The Evening News (Part 2)
18 – The Assassination (93-minute season finale)
The programs are framed in their original 1.33:1 broadcast ratio. Shot on video, the series does not look particularly good on DVD and never has. There are interlacing artifacts everywhere and sharpness really varies from shot to shot but never achieving the clarity and depth of the best film transfers. Black levels are good and color can be rich though the discs have a hard time handling bright reds without issue. There are intermittent scratches and some moiré patterns as well, but they aren’t major problems. Each episode of regular length has been divided into 6 chapters while the extended episodes have 9 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround mix features well recorded and nicely rendered dialogue in the center channel and with good spread across the front soundstage. Only the music occasionally reaches the rear channels and that happens not as much as one would like. It’s also sometimes too loud and drowns out the dialogue track though this doesn’t happen regularly.
There are no bonus features included with this set.
There are promotional trailers for The Andy Griffith Show – 50th Anniversary, Cannon, Jake & the Fatman, Walker Texas Ranger, Barnaby Jones, and Perry Mason.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Matlock had quite a few interesting cases during its sixth year on the air, and while changes in the show were coming, the season overall featured a stable cast of regular characters and was well above average. Fans will likely enjoy adding another season of the show to their collections.