HBO’s Perry Mason reboot is certainly not the flashiest offering from the network’s current slate of prestige dramas. The second season, which premiered this past Monday, could easily fly under the radar even of fans who enjoyed the first when it aired nearly three years ago. That would be an injustice. This show deserves, and earns, your attention.
While the series may have neither the epic fantasy scope of House of the Dragon nor the acting fireworks of Succession, it’s an impeccably crafted period drama with well-drawn characters and richly-plotted stories. The power of the show builds slowly and has a way of sneaking up on you.
|Episode:||2.01 – Chapter Nine|
|Release Date:||March 6, 2023|
|Watched On:||HBO Max|
|Also Available On:||HBO|
Author Erle Stanley Gardner’s brilliant defense attorney first, and likely still most famously, appeared on television in a long-running CBS series from 1957 to 1966, followed by a string of revival TV movies throughout the 1980s and ’90s. So popular was star Raymond Burr’s depiction of the character that the first news of HBO planning a reboot was met with some skepticism.
I’ve never read any of the Gardner books and can’t speak to which adaptation may be more faithful, but the the newer show takes great pains to distinguish itself from the prior one. Most notably, rather than taking place in contemporary times (relative to when it aired), the story is framed as a period piece set in the 1930s. Each season is also structured as a serial narrative rather than a case-of-the-week procedural. In fact, the Mason character himself (here played by Matthew Rhys) started the first season as a private detective, and only became an attorney midway through the season out of necessity to a case he was working.
The new season finds Perry and his steadfast assistant/silent partner Della Street (Juliet Rylance) struggling to make ends meet. Still haunted by the events of the show’s first season, Perry refuses to work criminal cases and will only accept civil suits, not always for clients he cares for or about. The first finds him employed by a heartless grocery store owner (Sean Astin) suing a former employee for opening a new market in competition with his own. Not content to settle the case with fair compensation, the man insists on utterly crushing his would-be rival and taking everything he has. Although Perry wins in court, he feels lousy about it.
Parallel to that story, we also follow a wealthy playboy named Brooks McCutcheon (Tommy Dewey) who has a gambling problem, dubious business ethics, and a very disapproving father. Tired of taking daddy’s orders and desperate to prove himself as his own man, McCutcheon hatches a scheme to build a baseball stadium and lure a Major League team to move to Los Angeles. The problem is, none want to go there. Nonetheless, he’s persistent, and not at all above trying bribery or other illegal tactics.
While Perry may be unaware of it yet, McCutcheon will be dead before the end of the episode, murdered in his car. The preview for following episodes suggests that some Mexican kids will be railroaded for the crime, and that this will be the case the drags Perry back to criminal law. I expect that the real motives for the crime will also get rather complicated.
Swirling around these events are other storylines involving Della being tempted to cheat on her girlfriend, and Perry’s investigator friend Paul (Chris Chalk) taking a job he may regret in order to make ends meet.
The season premiere episode is a bit of a slow burn, but still fully engrossing. I look forward to seeing where this goes.
This season of Perry Mason airs on HBO Monday nights and streams concurrently on HBO Max. I watched on the latter. Sadly, HBO only offers it in standard 1080p high-definition. It looks fine, but the 2.00:1 image is slightly soft with muted colors. The photography has a contrasty appearance, though highlights are a little dull. The series could really benefit from both 4K and HDR, and their absence is a disappointment.
The 5.1 soundtrack isn’t particularly showy, but it’s very atmospheric with surprisingly active surround envelopment. Terence Blanchard’s moody musical score is presented in strong fidelity.