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"Matt Houston" The Monster (1984)

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The Lady Lawyer

8/10
Author: Jason Daniel Baker from Toronto, Canada
10 August 2011

Roy Turner (William Lucking), a drooling, sweating, bug-eyed, loudmouthed creep and troublemaker brags about committing several grisly murders before his arrest. He admits guilt to the police and on camera as a lynch mob gathers outside the courthouse in the small town of Lake Etaa where the murders were committed. The police even find a watch belonging to one of the victims around Turner's wrist.

If you have half a brain you know it all looks a little too easy to be as it appears but the townsfolk have already decided Turner really did do it and they wonder why any lawyer would dare to try to represent him in court. Not because rural people don't understand the justice system but because they think it favours the defendants which it does, and already foresee the killer walking away free.

C.J. comes to serve as the man's legal counsel after being entreated by her mentor F.Lee Bailey (playing himself) whom she clerked with after graduating from Harvard law. Pressure is applied to C.J. shortly after she gets into town from all sides including the local sheriff and the judge on the case who both want a quick conviction. Turner himself seems preoccupied with ways of looking more guilty than he already does in milking his sudden fame.

C.J. initially tells Houston to stay put in Los Angeles up until her motel room is firebombed. Houston then heads out to the small town to protect his friend and employee. They both get attacked by locals when they head out to check the scene of the crime but are undeterred.

What ties this series together to its first season beyond the lead actors and theme music over top of the minute long opening montage and thirty-some second closing titles? Very little. But not always in a bad way particularly the excesses of season 1 which included a lot of shortcuts around not insignificant plotpoints and subtext.

We actually see character development in this episode, something that was an afterthought in season 1. We also see this character development in the arc of C.J. the supporting character rather than the lead which gives the narrative the illusion of depth in this episode and whatever ones we watch hereafter.

C.J. is a hell of an attorney. We could guess that from the fact that we are continually reminded during the series by C.J. as well as Houston that she attended Harvard law school. But now we are actually seeing her in action. Seeing a character do something on screen says a lot more about them than throwaway lines of expositional dialogue which are almost instantly forgettable. In the second season of this series we are seeing what we should have seen in the first season.

Then there is the rather improbable examination of jurisprudence in the arc of Roy Turner, a bullying lout who is possibly (even probably) a murderer. A lynch mob is out to get him before he has his day in court. This actually helps us differentiate Houston from your garden variety vigilante in that he actually tries to find real evidence that someone is guilty before going after him.

The tone was getting more serious on this show by the week evidenced hereby by brutal murders (Albeit off-camera non-diagetic ones) with a bloodstained knife. The various non-diagetic presentations of dream sequence-like theories on how the murders might have been committed actually pays homage to Rashomon, which might come off as pretentious if it weren't done so well.

Even the way the episode is shot suggests more sophistication than we would have seen in season one. For instance we see the penthouse office interiors shot from different angles. You would be hard pressed to find much variety in the type of penthouse interior shots in the first season and most of the action would be left to right. Here we go right to left and deeper in frame before moving to an entirely different location in the small town.

Murray Chase, the business manager employee of Houston portrayed by George Wyner seen periodically in the series, but mainly in the first season made it out for this episode giving it some extra continuity.

This is my second favourite episode of the series. The only thing I would have taken out was the cameo by F.Lee Bailey.

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