Series / Matlock

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A long-running Courtroom Drama about old Southern defense attorney Ben Matlock, played by Andy Griffith. Both a series that ran for many years and a short series of Made for TV Movies.

Benjamin Layton Matlock is a folksy Southerner with a moral code from before The '60s and a sense of justice. (One episode has him reveal that he grew up in a North Carolina town that no longer exists.) He currently practices law in Atlanta, Georgia, which in the time this series was running was one of the least Southern places in the Deep South. He defends his clients with help from a private detective friend, Courtroom Antics (done folksily), and finding out who actually did it. (In one movie, Matlock actually kept the case going until he found out who did the murder, even though his client was actually cleared and the prosecutor ready to drop the case.)

Structurally, this series is very much like Perry Mason. Probably not coincidentally, Matlock's creator, Dean Hargrove, and his production partner, Fred Silverman (the same man who, at various times, worked as an executive for all three major television networks ABC, CBS, and NBC) produced a string of Perry Mason made-for-TV movies beginning three months before Matlock premiered. But there is a big difference between Mason and Matlock. Perry Mason (based in Los Angeles in most of the franchise; based in Denver for the TV movies) is always intense and menacing by nature; Matlock is old-fashioned, folksy and grandfatherly.

The series contains examples of:

  • The '80s: The show started in 1986.
  • The '90s: The show concluded in 1995.
  • Adorkable:
    • Cassie Phillips, whose first appearance saw her fumbling her way into Matlock's employ on a misunderstanding that he was going to offer her a job. She's very sweet and sympathetic and you just want to hug her because she's trying to do the right thing in spite of inexperience and though she messes up, she's a very fast learner.
    • Cliff Lewis, Matlock's associate in the last three seasons. He's hired by Matlock because his father, Billy, guilts Matlock into. Though a lawyer, he spends a lot of time as Matlock's investigator. Cliff also gets wrongfully accused of murder twice.
  • Artistic License Law: Just pretend that you're a lawyer for the prosecution when you watch this. Then call out "Objection!" every time that a real prosecutor would during Matlock's questioning of witnesses. It will make you hoarse.
  • Asshole Victim: Happened more often than not, whether it was a mobster, blackmailer, or just a jerkass, they tended to be the victims. Not that that always happened, it was sometimes a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or a guy that, due more to his position than his personality, simply had enemies.
  • Back for the Dead: Lieutenant Bob Brooks (David Froman). He was a recurring character in the early seasons of the show, but eventually retired. When he returned for the last season, it was to have him killed off in a rather grisly fashion.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: Weaponized by Charlene in the pilot on at least two people who have been unreasonable with her. She tells them something they want to hear when they think they've managed to weasel their way out of being dragged into court, and then:
    Charlene: (spitefully) HERE'S A SUBPOENA.
  • Berserk Button: Arguably, crooked lawyers are this to Matlock. While fairly cantankerous on occasion, Matlock seldom displays anything resembling true rage. A rare exception was in the episode "The Foursome", in which the prosecuting attorney (a protege of Julie's) alters the evidence to get a conviction, and Matlock reveals her duplicity during his appeal. When the attorney, facing disbarment and imprisonment, begs Matlock for a second chance, you can see the Tranquil Fury on his face as he calmly says, "No, I don't think so." Julie for her part was also quietly furious with her protege for disgracing the legal profession.
    • Do NOT EVER deceive Matlock. You will pay one way or another.
    • Also, one surefire way to honk Ben off is to interrupt his sleep and make him deal with a problem during an unholy time of night. He will still come to your rescue, but he will shuffle in with an unkempt look about him like he just fell out of bed, piss and moan about being woken up, and be far less likely to listen to your plight and sympathize with you.
    • Matlock shows no love to freeloaders in his household, taking it upon himself to evict Billy's brother Russ, AKA "Russ the Rhino", with a masseuse matron, and later evicting an entire wedding crowd after being forced to cater to them when they got holed up and forced to remain in his house for several days in light of a murder investigation.
    • One of the judges in court hates swearing and got mad when Matlock let profanity fly under his watch.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Julie March is as cute as a button, perky as a poodle, and sweet as strawberries. But Ben regards her as the most ruthless prosecutor there is in the DA's office. And he's right.
  • Black Best Friend: Tyler Hudson and younger but just as effective Conrad McMasters. Both investigators who did dangerous, athletic legwork in a show full of white lawyers who were much less athletic but still managed to walk into stupid situations.
  • Busman's Holiday: To the point where Matlock may be described as a Mystery Magnet.
    • Matlock as a Rogue Juror.
    • Virtually any time Matlock goes on vacation. Matlock goes to his home town to attend a family reunion? Matlock ends up defending an accused murderer in court. Matlock goes on vacation at an Oceanside resort. Matlock ends up defending an accused murderer in court. This happens twice.
    • Another time, Matlock attends a wedding. He witnesses a murder from his hotel room. Because of his obvious conflict-of-interest, Leanne represents the accused murderer.
  • Butt-Monkey: For a former Army lieutenant, Tyler Hudson gets his ass kicked routinely on the job. Conrad, who takes his place, falls into this category not so much, as he's harder to get the drop on, having been in the police.
  • Captain Obvious: In one episode he tries to use The Perry Mason Method to get a witness for the prosecution who really is the killer to confess. The witness turns out to have what at least looks like an airtight alibi. As Matlock leaves the courtroom, a reporter shouts at him, desperately trying to get a soundbite before Matlock's elevator door closes.
    Reporter: How does it feel to make a fool of yourself, Mr. Matlock?
    Matlock: Lousy!
  • Christmas Episode: Three yuletide-themed crimes ("Santa Claus", "The Gift", and "The Scrooge").
  • Clip Show: Used rather creatively. Matlock has been kidnapped and his sidekicks have to recap old cases he solved to figure out who wants revenge on him the most.
    • Admittedly, the show began to abuse this by having a clip show about once per season afterward.
  • Composite Character: Final cast addition Carol Huston as Jerri Stone in the last season to fill the void where Conrad used to be as an ex-cop turned investigator (though it was never properly stated if Conrad ever gave up his duties as a cop to be an investigator full-time) and serve as the feminine element who rounded out the cast in place of Leanne.
  • Cool Old Guy: Matlock.
  • Court-Martialed: In an episode Ben is appointed as a defense attorney for a soldier undergoing a court-martial and has to be repeatedly reminded that the Judge is called "Sir" not "your honor."
  • Cowboy Episode: "The Nightmare", in which the show's title character gets knocked out and finds himself in a Wild West setting.
  • Crossover: Matlock once defended Dr. Jesse Travis from a murder charge in Diagnosis: Murder.
  • Crusading Lawyer: Matlock
  • Crusading Widower: "The Captain", an episode that featured the killer revealed in the opening act, was about a rogue cop, Captain Edward Hanna, who was angry at the murder of his wife and taking it out on alley-dwellers.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Leanne prefers to discard her footwear whenever she's at a beach or right next to one, freeing her feet. Justified, as one time she did so was because she got sand in them.
  • Fish out of Water: Happens anytime Ben has to travel very far out of Atlanta to defend someone. Particularly of note was the time he was in Britain and unable to bring himself to wear the barrister's wig and gown and found it difficult to use their court vernacular, which is a lot more rigid and formal than the loose way of speaking in American courtrooms.
  • Friendly Enemy: see Worthy Opponent. Partially averted in that they're not actual enemies, just arguing opposite sides of their cases.
  • Gilligan Cut: Matlock, about to go on a fishing trip, gets a letter calling him in for jury duty. Matlock remarks, that as a prominent defense attorney, there's a snowball's chance in hell he'd be selected. Cut to Matlock sitting in the jury box. An example of Artistic License Law, as in most of the United States and all Canadian provinces lawyer's are ineligible for jury duty.
  • Good Lawyers, Good Clients: Obligatory for the genre, but subverted in "The Best Friend", where his client was guilty. He got her to confess in court to end an Accuse the Witness situation against someone she cared for.
  • Iconic Item: Aside from his suit, Matlock also has a banjo that he sometimes strums on. In addition to his banjo, he also has a ukelele and quite a few guitars to his name.
  • Irony: When Matlock defends a client in a different court than his home turf in the season 4 opener, the judge is as no-nonsense as they come and absolutely hates the way Matlock turns the courtroom into his own personal little circus. That judge ends up moving to Atlanta much later in the show and becomes the one judge who simply refuses to let Matlock carry on the way he usually does.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Don Knotts, Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, had a recurring role as Ben's Nosy Neighbor Les Calhoun. Other "Griffith" alumni that appeared on the show included Aneta Corsaut (Helen Crump), Jack Dodson (Howard Sprague), Arlene Golonka (Millie Swanson), and Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou).
  • Joker Jury: In one episode Matlock was called upon to act as defense counsel for a prison guard being tried for murder by rioting prisoners.
  • Jury and Witness Tampering: Subverted in one episode. Matlock interviews a potential witness and gets her story, then calls her to the witness stand to repeat it in front of the jury—where she tells a completely different story. Ben thinks that she's been tampered with, but according to her this is the real story and she had been tampered with before when she had talked to him previously (and she wasn't under oath then).
  • Killed Off for Real: In a shocking and rather heartbreaking turn of events, the final season sees one of the recurring cast get murdered. Lieutenant Bob Brooks, a close friend of Ben's who also serves as his contact on the Atlanta Police Department, is stabbed to death by someone seeking revenge on Matlock and attempting to see if they can pull off the perfect crime.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Lampshaded by an episode where the store where he buys all his identical light grey suits is shutting down, and he must defend his favorite salesman on a related murder charge. The one time Matlock actually wears a different suit, he finds it to be unbearably itchy and it freaks the judge out because he can't help but think something is wrong with him, until Ben finally gives up the ghost with his new suit and switches back to the old one.
  • Missing Mom: Just like Andy Taylor used to be, Matlock's widowed, and the subject of remarrying bothers him. We hear next to nothing about the late missus (not even a name) except precious little from Charlene where she says she lost her mother when she was still young during a case where someone was driven to murder because their own mother had been ejected from their life.
  • Mood Whiplash: The disturbing Murder trials were often offset by rather cutesy B story lines. One Egregious example had Matlock wrap up a case early in the show's running time so that the last five minutes of the show could feature an upbeat bluegrass band.
  • Morton's Fork: "The Thoroughbred" has Matlock defend a mentally retarded client named Tommy after his employer Sandra is found murdered, but Tommy's stunted mental state causes Ben to wonder if Tommy can even understand what's happening. To make matters worse, Tommy is hysterical after what happened and acting highly erratic, so he's lost in his own mind. Matlock tries to explain it to him in the simplest terms and for Tommy to think about pleading diminished capacity (that he was unaware of what he was doing and could have killed Sandra by accident), despite knowing this is a much more unpleasant but necessary topic to bring up, because Tommy goes up for murder on one hand, or still gets blacklisted as a murderer regardless of whether or not he did the crime if the plea goes through on the other hand. When Tommy doesn't even register to anything Matlock just said, he lets out a very troubled and exasperated, "Oh, Lord...."
  • Mystery Magnet: Matlock seems to run into mysteries and murders on a regular basis, independent of his practice of law.
    • Virtually any time Matlock goes on vacation. Matlock goes to his home town to attend a family reunion? Matlock ends up defending an accused murderer in court. Matlock goes on vacation at an Oceanside resort? Matlock ends up defending an accused murderer in court. This happens twice.
    • Another time, Matlock attends a wedding. He witnesses a murder from his hotel room. Because of his obvious conflict-of-interest, Leanne represents the accused murderer.
    • Matlock gives a talks to a group of undergraduates in a law club. One of them is murdered immediately thereafter.
    • Matlock conducts his church choir. A member of the choir is murdered, another is wrongly accused.
  • Nice Shoes: Matlock often shines his shoes as a means of relaxing.
    • In "The Billionaire", Trader Joe's (his favorite catalogue store) had a sale on his favorite shoes, so he bought a pair. However, for some reason, he discovered they were incredibly tight and painful and reasoned that breaking them in was the only problem, until the shoes remained unpleasantly uncomfortable. Cassie later supplied him with a new set of shoes that came in from Trader Joe's along with an apology. Turns out they sent him the wrong size. Matlock puts on his new shoes and finds himself overjoyed with the immediate difference in how comfortable they are.
    Matlock: Ahh... heaven.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: This is often the way Matlock finds the truth.
  • Paranormal Episode: "The Ghost" sees the ghost of a murder victim asks Matlock to defend his widow from murder charges and find his real killer.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Put on a Bus: Tyler Hudson after Season 3 due to Kene Holliday becoming increasingly late to work and having to go to rehab due to drug and alcohol problems. Likewise, Tyler's replacement, Conrad McMasters, after Season 7 when his actor, Clarence Gilyard, Jr., left to play James Trivette on Walker, Texas Ranger.
    • Charlene meets someone and goes off to Philadelphia to start her own firm after Season 1, already in the process of leaving before the season ends.
    • Julie moves away to a new job after Season 6, but shows up one last time in the final season to close all loose threads with her character before the show itself comes to an end.
    • Leanne finally meets someone worth loving during the interim between Seasons 8 and 9 and takes a job in Los Angeles.
  • Running Gag: A two-parter featured Tyler embroiled in an investigation with a criminal baroness. Every time he'd go into the bar that served as her hideout, he'd make a total ass of himself and get physically thrown into the back room where she awaited him.
  • The Scrooge: Matlock is a cheapskate. At first, it was out of necessity after some bad investments but, by the time he became wealthy again, he remained thrifty. In a crossover with Diagnosis: Murder, Matlock revealed that on Dr. Sloan's advice, he once invested heavily in companies that manufactured 8-track tapes, which nearly wiped him out.
  • Show, Don't Tell: Matlock has a horrible habit of speculating in nearly all of his cases rather than presenting the quantifiable evidence right off the bat, and it results in the prosecutors taking him apart time and time again for lack of credibility.
  • Simple Country Lawyer: Matlock.
  • Sitcom Archnemesis: The introduction of Billy Lewis (Warren Frost) in Season 7 serves as one for Matlock. Billy hates Ben and does everything in his power to make him feel like crap.
    • Justified, because Ben once dated his sister Lucy, but dumped her for another girl. This drove Lucy loco and caused her to move back in with Billy, raising hell in his household. Billy's wife couldn't put up with his basket case of a sister, which torpedoed his marriage and caused her to divorce him and leave. Lucy became so mean that she eventually died from wasting all her energy in life hating people, and Billy had Ben to thank for all the torment she put him through till she up and croaked.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • To The Andy Griffith Show. This show is essentially what happened when Sheriff Andy Taylor decided to leave Mayberry and move onto bigger and better things.
    • Arguably, to Perry Mason as well.
  • Storybook Episode: Matlock is hit on the head and dreams he must solve a case Recycled In The Wild West.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Michelle Thomas for Charlene Matlock, then Leanne Matlock for both of them. Also, Conrad McMasters for Tyler Hudson, though this one is more out of necessity after Kene Holiday was booted from the main cast and they needed someone to fill his shoes.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: One case saw Tyler get involved with a bunch of "lethal-looking men". However, he discovered that they loved to play cards and gamble. Tyler subsequently cleaned their clocks to the tune of 20,000 dollars.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Ben adores hot dogs. It goes as far back as his first case as a defense lawyer, when his dad was still around to make them for him. Sister series Murder, She Wrote reveals Ben developed his trademark adherence to them while strapped for cash in his youth.
  • Tranquil Fury: If you stab Matlock in the back, he will show you no mercy. He'll turn right around and give and show you just how he ruthless he can be.
    • There was one instance where Matlock discovered his own client really was guilty all along, and immediately poured holy hell down on her for acting like she could get away with murder on his dime. Instead of squeezing the truth out of her on the stand, Matlock went for the throat. He decided to attempt to incriminate her best friend as the murderer on the stand in a terrifying Batman Gambit that caused her to come clean and change her plea to guilty.
    • "Nowhere to Turn", which is a Trauma Conga Line for poor Ben, opened with one of his client's friends testifying on his behalf... but Ben does not know he's put her up to this, and then is forced to watch his defense capsize when she pulls a totally asinine song-and-dance of lies on the witness stand, when the client would have probably got off scot-free had he not tried to cheat the justice system. Needless to say, Matlock is pissed, knows the damage is done, irreparably so, and is prepared to walk out on the slimeball and let the jury convict him.
    Ben: (sounding like he's ready to wash his hands of the creep) You're dead. ... You're dead. ... You're DEAD, AND I HATE YOU.
  • The Unreveal: In your typical Matlock episode, the killer is The Unseen and exposed in the final act of the story. However, a few select episodes of the show, starting with "The Judge" (the first episode after the pilot) introduce the killer right off the bat without even trying to hide their identity, sometimes to showcase either their total lack of humanity or to show the lengths they'll go to avoid being caught, and for the very worst offenders, both. Want an example of how this works to the benefit of the drama? "The Sisters" was only the second instance where this took place, and that time, the killers murdered someone for FUN.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Professional, soft-spoken Assistant DA Julie March. Just because someone can send your client to death row doesn't mean you can't be good friends!
    • Lampshaded on a show where Matlock invites her to stay at his house while she's temporarily homeless. She has to leave before the end of that week's case because it gets too awkward.
  • Yet Another Christmas Carol: Instead of three spirits, Michelle took a slumlord to several different apartments to show him the different stages of squalor his tenants lived in. The last apartment was dark. When the slumlord fumbled for the light switch and turned it on he found Matlock sitting in the living room chair. Having heard him fumble for the light switch, Matlock knew the landlord had never been in the apartment before and could not be the killer. One of Matlock's more clever moments.
  • Your Cheating Heart: This happens almost religiously on Matlock. You could set a Drinking Game to the number of affairs on this show. About Once per Episode, somebody is screwing around with somebody else's spouse or in some illicit form of relationship, and more often then not, it's either the cause of the murder or a dirty secret one of the suspects tried to hide while being investigated. In some cases, there is a full-blown Love Dodecahedron in motion that has triggered a mess of bloodshed.
  • Zeerust: All those computers and printers from the 80s in the office scenes are laughably obsolete compared to now.

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