Before you ask, no, I have not seen one episode of your great-grandfather’s or just grandfather’s old Perry Mason series that starred Raymond Burr. And I know that PERRY MASON SEASON 1 on HBO isn’t your great-grandfather’s/grandfather’s Perry Mason, as this one has a shit ton of adult content that couldn’t air on network television, even at this more forgiving time let alone back in the 1950’s. All I know, is that this is supposed to be a soft reboot/prequel series of the old show, but giving everything a very hard and dark edge. Per IMDB.com, HBO’s new Perry Mason is described as: “In booming 1932 Los Angeles, a down-and-out defense attorney takes on the case of a lifetime.” The original series is described as such on IMDB: “The cases of a master criminal defense attorney, handling the most difficult of cases in the aid of the innocent.” So needless to say, this is about what happened right before he became a criminal defense attorney, where he is a private investigator. This new series has the detective noir time period look and feel down. This series looks and feels amazing. The thing that is disappointing though is that half of the seasons 8 episodes are very mediocre in terms of story telling and character development. Very, very basic writing that doesn’t challenge the audience. Especially the awful, awful, awful, awful subplot involving the usually great Tatiana Maslany’s church leader character (and the subplot ends anti-climatic as well). But whenever the show focuses on Matthew Rhys and him alone, it shines brilliantly. Knowing that Maslany won’t be a part of next season, I might give it a chance, but I’m extremely on the fence about it.
It just seems like it the whole thing wasn’t conceived very well or at least half of it wasn’t. Episodes 1, 6, 7, & 8 really focus on Perry Mason as a character…and since the show is named after the titular character, he should be the main presence in every single episode. However, in episodes 2, 3, 4, and 5, the show treats him like a 4th or 5th fucking background character, focusing way too much on a crazy church lady and her mommy subplot that is so poorly written that I almost wanted to plug my ears either time Maslany or Lili Taylor opened their mouths. The season’s story goes like this, a couple’s child is kidnapped and killed, and the mysterious events around it lead to such a big conspiracy that the child’s mother ends up being put on trial of the crime, where Perry Mason is convinced she had nothing to do with it, with not only the evidence provided, but with some of it even tampered. A subplot involving high up church leaders trying to not only lend a hand to the mother on trial, but promising that her dead child will somehow be resurrected in the coming days…yeah, the first part sounded interesting didn’t it, and it almost lost you there at the end, huh? The church arc was absolutely pointless (except for a little detail that ties it in a different way to the kidnapping & murder), and the ending of those characters was rather…odd to say the least, you’ll see what I mean if you check this out. And the last episode was great in terms of Perry Mason’s arc, and his closing speech to the ladies and gentleman of the jury was powerful, well written, and well acted, but the conclusion to those events, and the fates of some of the characters that were perpetrators to the kidnapping and murders, felt out of place and kind of cliched to other, better tv shows & movies that have done it before. Especially when it came to certain karma.
Another problem I had with the program, is that the central story didn’t really have a mystery. We know who the perpetrator of the kidnapping and murder is from the very beginning. And knowing who it was, I was able to put two and two together on what exactly took place. It was kind of disappointing. On a lighter note, the television show though gets the look and feel of the 1930s detective noir time period though, and other than Maslany and Taylor, every one gives a fantastic performance. You feel really sorry for John Lithgow’s character, you want to strangle Stephen Root’s, Chris Chalk as a black police officer could score him a supporting nomination, but the man of the hour is easily Matthew Rhys as Perry Mason. He plays the character to perfection and completely melted away any fear I had of him just copying his masterful performance that won him an Emmy for The Americans. Every time Rhys showed up on screen, the show started to get a little bit better. I do have a suggestion for next season though, and instead of just focusing on one case, Perry Mason should focus on 3 or 4 at the same time, challenging the writers to make a compelling story/mystery without convoluted cliches or coincidences. Get them to write a perfect weave that doesn’t get confusing or sluggish. Write an actual mystery, and have the reveals saved for late in the season. Don’t just show your cards right from the beginning, it leaves absolutely no tension for the rest of your season. With a story like this, you gotta have tension and the fear of the unknown or you’ve completely failed as a narrative. The only way I will consider watching Season Two is if the trailer blows me away like Season One’s did, but if Season Two has a typical sophomore slump, with an already ‘only okay’ season one, Perry Mason will not have me joining him on another case.