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"Matt Houston" Vanished (1984)

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One of the best TV episodes ever done

Author: unkadunk0801 from United States
4 December 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I still remember this episode when it aired on ABC in 1984,and how it kept me glued to my seat from the first moment and I remember the scene when they find a child's body and the officer says that it was a blonde girl and that my first reaction was "Thank God"and then I realized that this was somebodies daughter and I was stunned at my reaction ,And that final scene when the Lts in church and Buddy Ebsen came in and just put his hand on his shoulder and didn't say anything and then the door opened and the little girl came in I said again "Thank God"and really meant it because never before(until the MASH Episode that ended with the news about Colonel Blakes plane being shot down) had I been so moved to tears and when I came to work on Monday and asked if anybody had seen the episode a lot of people had and we spent the whole day talking about it and what our feelings were about the episode ,And I had seen James Olson act before but in my opinion this was one of the best roles of his career,I hope it will be shown again because it was a great and memorable episode

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Who Invited Jed Clampett/Barnaby Jones?

Author: Jason Daniel Baker from Toronto, Canada
16 August 2011

Police Lieutenant Hoyt's little girl Kathy is abducted by an evil creep (James Olson) who poses as a cop to win her trust. The kidnapper has abducted another girl as well and possibly more. The police don't make it a priority and Hoyt freaks out. Houston's Uncle Roy (Buddy Ebsen) just happens to be hanging around the police station to see the normally stoic Hoyt flip out hysterically and calls C.J. to bring in Houston to help Hoyt.

Houston is drawn in here more as an interested party/philanthropic vigilante rather than a private investigator and given his friendship with Hoyt (Lincoln Kilpatrick) it is pretty plausible.

Why Jed Clampett/Barnaby Jones/Uncle Roy (Buddy Ebsen - The Danish/Latvian Floridian) is here in season three on a detective show on ABC is to deliver the senior citizen demographic (generally tuned to CBS back then) many of whom would have been senile thus allowing them to think they were watching an episode of Barnaby Jones, a show very popular among older audiences.

I guess they figured they couldn't bring in Ebsen as Houston's father since the confusion of his origins hearkened back to contradictory themes from the first two seasons i.e. that Houston had a mother growing up or didn't. David Wayne had played Houston's adopted father and Lloyd Bridges had played his adopted father. Wayne didn't have the following Bridges or Ebsen did and Bridges, ten times the actor Ebsen ever was, was likely unavailable to play a recurring role on a series he was not the star of.

For me the addition of Buddy Ebsen - an utterly horrid actor with a creepy look in a superfluous role eroded my enthusiasm for the series when I was a kid watching the episodes when they were first run. My reaction upon seeing him every time was "Oh geez, not him again!". As his role continued it meant that you either saw less of C.J. or Houston with his character in the place of one or the other and almost never for any reason which served the plot. That is particularly true in this episode.

A lot of people believe that this series began to decline as it embraced a more serious tone but a much darker vibe which included serial murders of women and child abduction as we see here and in several episodes in season two and season three.

The real reason it began to lose steam was because it was constantly eroding its already shaky credibility with audiences by moving in too many directions chasing different demographics which made it vulnerable to collapse under the weight of the absurd premise with which it had started. This show, often one of the more appealing ones on TV in its day, equally as often if not more often, misfired so badly as to shoot itself in the foot.

This happens to be one of several episodes which portrayed doctors in an unfavourable light. Season 1, Episode 11 - "The Rock and the Hard Place", Season 1, Episode 20 - "Fear For Tomorrow", Season 2, Episode 1 - "Heritage" all feature doctor characters who are greedy quacks. This one has a psychiatrist who cleared a paedophile to be released from an asylum.

This show gave work to a lot of former stars from old TV shows. You might recognize Paul Petersen - Jeff Stone from the Donna Reed Show playing one of the uniformed cops. He had brief walk-on roles on the show as either uniformed cops or security guards in at least a half dozen episodes.

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