Matt Houston: The First Season review, Matt Houston: The First Season DVD review

Lee Horsley, Pamela Hensley, George Wyner, John Aprea, Penny Santon

Matt Houston:
The First Season

Reviewed by Will Harris



emember last week when we were talking about how “Barnaby Jones” being released onto DVD is the sort of thing that only those who lived through the ‘70s can truly get excited about? The same argument can be made for the ‘80s with “Matt Houston.” The series aired on ABC from 1982 through 1985 and has rarely been seen in syndication, but those who watched it at the time haven’t forgotten it. The big question, however, is how they’ll feel about it when they check it out in 2010.

“Matt Houston” was one of the many series to emerge from the production camp of Aaron Spelling, and like so many of Spelling’s non-soap productions, the premise is simple enough to sum up in a single sentence: rich guy plays detective. The rich guy in question, of course, is Matt Houston, played by mustachioed actor Lee Horsley, best known at the time for his work on NBC’s “Nero Wolfe” and as the lead in the film “The Sword and the Sorcerer.” (He was the one wielding the sword.) Houston’s a Texas oilman, but he’s the kind who never seems to do any actual work, instead letting his business manager, Murray Chase (George Wyner), handle his goings-on, thereby freeing up his schedule to fly his personal helicopter to hither and yon, drive fast cars, and cavort with bikini girls. Even those activities would probably get boring after awhile, however (okay, probably not, but work with me), so it’s arguably fortunate that some friend or acquaintance of Houston’s ends up being murdered at least once a week.

Houston is aided in his amateur detective work by his trusty assistant, C.J. (Pamela Hensley), who’s totally gorgeous but never manages to fall into bed with her boss. Maybe it’s because she knows him too well, but the reasons why are never clarified. C.J.’s big claim to fame in the series, aside from her rockin’ bod, is her then top-of-the-line computer system which she calls Baby but you’ll probably call a glorified Commodore 64 with highly unrealistic information-grabbing capabilities for a 1982 model. Inevitably, Houston finds himself either working with or against the local police, so it’s a good thing that he maintains a friendship with Lt. Vince Novelli (John Aprea). The one unique tweak of the TV formula is that Houston and Novelli tend to meet up at Novelli’s mother’s restaurant, where Mama Novelli (Penny Santon) offers up the kind of beloved Italian stereotype that you just don’t see any more. Houston also has a pair of good ol’ boys from back home – Bo and LaMar – who hang out at his ranch and spend his money for him, but they get old pretty quickly, which is no doubt why they were phased out after Season One.

“Matt Houston: The First Season” may be fun to revisit for a few episodes, and it adds to the entertainment value that the show’s first season was filled with classic guest stars, including Jill St. John, Heather Locklear, Vic Tayback, Forrest Tucker, Sid Caesar, Hugh O’Brien, Norman Fell, Sonny Bono, Werner Klemperer, Janet Leigh, James Coco, and the ubiquitous Ms. Barbi Benton. Ultimately, though, it’s pretty cheesy, and anyone who doesn’t view it as an artifact of its time need look no further than the scene where Houston wrestles with a Rubik’s Cube. Pleasant, yes, but anyone who feels that “Matt Houston” has held up well can only be watching the show through rose-colored glasses.

Special Features: Strictly the original episodic promos. Unsurprising, but disappointing nonetheless.

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