Law in Popular Culture

'America's Sheriff' Andy Griffith Is Also Remembered for His Role as Folksy Lawyer

The death of actor Andy Griffith has an MTV columnist remembering his slightly less famous role as Atlanta lawyer Ben Matlock.

Griffith, who died today at the age of 86, was best known for playing Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, report the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog. “Mayberry has lost a sheriff,” the Speakeasy post begins.

But an MTV column remembers Griffith’s role as a folksy attorney who “imbued every episode with humor and earnestness and made you believe every formulaic bit of it.”

“Compared with modern law dramas, the glaring difference is the shades of gray that Matlock (almost) never waded into,” the MTV column says. “Sometimes, when you finish an episode of Law & Order, you feel more unsettled than when you started; not only was the case not resolved, but you’re not even sure who committed the crime in the first place. I understand that’s more true-to-life, but we’re talking about entertainment here. Sometimes, instead of an indictment on the modern justice system, I just want a bad guy getting dragged off to prison after a cantankerous man in a white seersucker suit gets the best of him.”

The Wall Street Journal calls Matlock “crime-solving as comfort food, a straightforward legal drama that was easy to follow and harder to resist.”

In 2009 ABA Journal cover story, a a jury of 12 experts—nine lawyers, two scholars and a TV critic—ranked Matlock the 19th-best legal TV show of all time. Click here to see a gallery of all 25 ranked shows.

Updated at 2:28 p.m. to link to past ABA Journal coverage.

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