Back in the late 1980s through the '90s, there was a slew of murder mystery procedural TV shows starring middle-aged detectives. Murder She Wrote had Angela Lansbury as a widowed writer turned detective, Diagnosis Murder had Dick Van Dyke as a doctor/police consultant, and Matlock had America's favorite sheriff Andy Griffith as a lawyer who also investigates all of his cases. They were produced to be safe, predictable entertainment suitable for all ages. The deaths were never too gruesome, and crime did not go unpunished. The eighth season of Matlock is evidence of what happens when these intentionally bland procedural shows overstay their welcome. Even Andy Griffith's Southern charm can't save this season from its lazy writing and bizarre character developments.
The eighth season kicks off fairly well. In the season premiere, Matlock is the leading man in a local theater production, but his clunky acting is killing the play. When the show's director (played hilariously by guest star Rene Auberjonois) is framed for murder, Matlock is on the case. This first episode is exactly what Matlock should be, goofy small-town antics with a mystery to solve. It is cheesy and not great TV by any stretch of the imagination, but it is harmless. I can't fault anyone for enjoying it. The trouble is that this slightly above-average episode is the high point of the season. Overall, the season is a real snore with the exception of a completely bonkers storyline involving plastic surgery and a criminal sleeping with a man who looks exactly like her father. Even an episode with Matlock at a a murder-mystery role playing party quickly devolves into a disappointing clips episode.
As much as I like Andy Griffith, I can't recommend Matlock: The Eighth Season on DVD. If you want a heavy dose of nostalgia, check out one of the earlier seasons or save some money and watch reruns on Nick at Nite.
"Matlock: The Eighth Season" is on sale February 12, 2013 and is not rated. Comedy, Crime, Mystery. Directed by Christopher Hibler. Written by Dean Hargrove. Starring Andy Griffith, Brynne Thayer, Daniel Roebuck, Warren Frost.