Remakes of classic television can either be hit or miss, mostly with the emphasis on the miss, but not so with Perry Mason. Regarded as one of the all-time great television series, which invented the entire genre of the legal procedural show, with dozens of shows from L.A. Law to SUV: Special Victims Unit to Suits using it as a template, Perry Mason was far and away the original. Now this classic character gets the HBO treatment in a bold new miniseries that is sure to turn heads and keep viewers guessing.
In 1932, the Great Depression grips the United States but Los Angeles is prospering thanks to an oil boom, the film industry, the summer’s Olympic Games, and a massive evangelical Christian revival. Down-and-out private investigator Perry Mason is retained for a sensational child kidnapping trial and his investigation portends major consequences for Mason, his client, and the city itself.
In the perfectly titled ‘Chapter One’ audiences are introduced to down on his luck private eye/burgeoning lawyer Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys). A hard-drinking, bitter WWI veteran who is definitely at the bottom of the barrel, Mason is introduced here as an extremely flawed, and rather unlikable screw-up who goes from one low rent job to the next. That is until a brutal and chilling crime grabs his attention and he is forced into action to do something about it. Audiences may have seen this type of character before, but given Mason’s status as a classic ‘do-gooder’ character, this reversal here is something completely new and different and it engages your attention.
While it’s long been known that the role of Perry Mason was a long-held dream project of Robert Downey Jr., here the Hollywood A-lister has vacated the role, in favour of overseeing the production and Matthew Rhys steps into the screen wearing Mason’s classic fedora. While I personally would have loved to have seen RDJ in the role, Rhys fully commits to the character and by the end of this first episode, I could imagine no one else portraying the character. With Rhys, we see Mason’s intelligence, cunning, and inquisitiveness come through, along with his pent-up aggression and self-destructive tendencies. But more importantly, we see that justice matters to this man and no matter what he will do what is ever necessary to see it delivered good and proper.
Along with an intriguing narrative and a committed performance, what strikes audiences with Perry Mason is the incredibly realized world of 1930s Los Angeles. Costuming, production design, art direction, cinematography and score all come together to create a beautiful portrait of the world in which Perry Mason is set and audiences will be marvelling at what they witness on screen. Seeing texture and atmosphere this rich and engaging pulls you into the drama, and for fans of classic film noir, Perry Mason is a piece of television to be savoured in every possible way.
This first episode makes for a great set-up and it certainly grabs your attention. Director Tim Van Patten and writers Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald get to the point quickly, and brutally, and this series starts off with one of the most shocking introductions I’ve ever seen committed to television. If you thought Game of Thrones was shocking, well, you ain’t seen nothing like this, and this introduction raises the stakes and stokes Mason’s desire to see justice served. It also sets the stage for an 8-part miniseries event that is sure to keep audiences on edge the entire time they are watching it and after this one hour of viewing, you’ll be completely engaged for what comes next.
Perry Mason is one of the most interesting new miniseries to come along in 2020 and audiences will get a kick out of seeing this classic legal drama re-invented with an edgier new tone and a committed performance from its lead star. We’ve only scratched the surface of what is to come with this one, and I’m very excited to see where it goes next.
Catch Perry Mason on Mondays on Neon and SOHO.