Tuesday, December 29, 2020

HBO's Perry Mason - Chapter One

Bearing little to no resemblance to either Erle Stanley Gardner's original novels nor CBS' long-running television show, the first episode of HBO's Perry Mason reimagines the famous defense lawyer Perry Mason as a low-rent private detective (Matthew Rhys) who only steps into the courtroom once, as a witness. Down on his luck, with questionable morals, and in need of money (that he unsuccessfully attempts to extort from a client), Mason accepts a job from an old friend (John Lithgow) to look into a case involving the kidnapping and ransom of a baby that goes horribly wrong.

The episode is well-shot, and the 30s setting fits the hardboiled tone of the series is going for. The case quickly gets under Mason's skin as does his ire at the incompetence of the police to look for an easy collar rather than solve the crime. Rhys plays up the Sam Spade-ish Mason. Had the series been called anything else, I would likely be giving it a better review. However, choosing to bank on the name Perry Mason does come with a responsibility to deliver a recognizable character which sadly isn't the case here. And, from what we get here, there's no reason why this would need to be a Perry Mason story. The theme of the series seems to be to showcase a series of events which cause the character to eventually become the legendary defense attorney, but besides a keen observation and a doggedness to continue down his own path, there's little recognizable about this version of the character.

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