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DVD THIS WEEK: Polyester cheese!
March 8, 2010  | By Diane Werts
dvd matt houston.jpg

Sometimes you just need to watch something awful. Shut down your brain. Let the recycled plots, banal dialogue and bad acting wash over you. Maybe even mock it madly, MST3K-style.

What you need is Matt Houston. The first season of ABC's 1982-85 private eye romp arrives on DVD this week as the ne plus ultra of the Aaron Spelling school of celeb-stuffed cheese.

Here it is in a nutshell: Mustachioed wisecracker Lee Horsley channels Smokey and the Bandit-era Burt Reynolds, playing a Texas oil gazillionaire moved to Hollywood to solve murders among his famous friends. He flies his own helicopter from his rodeo ranch, maintained by two dim-witted buckaroo buddies, to his in-town penthouse, replete with roof landing pad, living room hot tub, and a "state of the art" computer named Baby, employed as a fancy-schmancy slide projector to eyeball suspects.

Acting as sidekick is his big-hair babe Ivy League lawyer, played by Pamela Hensley with the kind of flouncy walk, hands-on-hips poses and linebacker shoulder pads that bring to mind nothing so much as a 1980s female impersonator. (Long live Divine!) Then there's George Wyner's nerdy in-house accountant-in-a-tizzy. And put-upon police pal John Aprea, whose oh-a-so-a-Italian mama runs a tacky restaurant that's Matt's home away from home.

In other words, Spelling & Co. regurgitate every cliche, stereotype, predictable plot and hackneyed line of dialogue they've ever encountered. Then they add sledgehammer musical/editing punctuation. Despite the clear implication that cute-named Houston operates in a glamorous world -- why, he drives a Luxxor! -- the sets are cheap, the costumes are tacky, and even Horsley's smirky jocularity feels cut-rate.

I mean, just look at his face in the photo. Don't you want to slap it?

And yet -- I can't stop watching. Set against today's TV dramas with all their would-be authenticity, Matt Houston's double knit polyester approach is mesmerizing. The plots don't even try to convey depth of character, and there's no textured B or C story, just the unbroken A-line of Matt following obvious leads in L.A.-L.A. Land. Thus does "eye candy" producer Spelling parade his latest Love Boat-ish guest list of old-time and not-quite-yet celebs with nothing better to do (Janet Leigh, Cesar Romero, Jill St. John, Sid Caesar, Troy Donahue, Sonny Bono and Zsa Zsa Gabor among the former; Heather Locklear and Tori Spelling among the latter).

And let's not forget all of his TV era's requisite bullet-dodging, random explosions, car/copter chases and other superfluous "action."

dvd scarecrow mrs king.jpg

Matt Houston is so glossy and so stupid, it sometimes occurs to me this show might actually be arch self-parody.

And then I think, nah. That requires smarts. And if there's one thing Matt Houston ain't, it's smart.

Also out this week:

Scarecrow and Mrs. King: First Season -- By comparison, this is '80s sleuthing Shakespeare, pairing spy Bruce Boxleitner with dizzy housewife Kate Jackson.

Poldark -- Frankly, my dear, Robin Ellis doesn't give a damn as a British soldier returned from the American Revolution to all sorts of family/finance/romance adventure. Viewers of '70s Masterpiece Theatre loved the lush lust and period atmosphere.

Dalziel and Pascoe: Season One -- Hardboiled older cop and modern young partner play odd-couple investigators in well-sketched '90s Yorkshire.

The Beiderbecke Connection -- Britain's witty jazz-scored mystery/romance trilogy concludes: In this 1988 tale, teachers (and new parents) Jill and Trevor are asked to take in a mysterious refugee.




Doug S said:

I enjoyed "Matt Houston," but I think Stephen J. Cannell did the whole Texas-billionaire dabbling in other people's problems much better with his 1987-88 series "JJ Starbuck." I hope Cannell eventually gets around to releasing Starbuck on dvd, or at least hulu.

Sherri said:

Why did the show lose Lamar, Bo, and eventually Vince & Mama Novelli? I thought these characters really added to the show. Did the actors want to do something else, or what?

[Diane here: I'm not sure. I think they were trying to make the show more action-oriented. Or, perhaps, dare I say, less corny? Although the corn is part of what makes Matt so tasty.]

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