I have a feeling that Perry Mason, the new HBO series that opens this June 21, is one that would work best with the Netflix broadcast model (which makes the entire season available to the user on the day of its release), instead of the HBO model (that every Sunday will issue a new chapter of the eight that make up this title).
And is that Perry Mason is having trouble getting started. In its first episodes its protagonist, played by Matthew Rhys (The Americans), you will fall ill. It will tire you. It will remind you of the members of that long list of television antiheroes that became popular in the early millennium with Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), Don Draper (Jon Hamm) or Walter White (Bryan Cranston). Men who live in a spiral of self-destruction, addiction to alcohol and work and whose moral pattern is compromised. Especially anachronistic archetypes in a year, 2020, in which what we need are unambiguous heroes.
In the first episodes of this series, Perry Mason is a debt-ridden private detective with a tendency to drink a lot and wash little, a post-traumatic stress disorder from his involvement in World War I. His wife has abandoned him and he always ends up receiving some beating that plunges him even further into absolute misery. That was not the idea I had in mind when I chose Perry Mason as a spectator.
Fortunately, the series, which tends to the languid and slow pace, evolves and is much more than the story of another antihero. Based on the characters of Erle Stanley Gardner for his series of police novels (and which in the sixties would be adapted for the small screen in the famous series starring Raymond Burr in the title role) Perry Mason is the story about the origin of this character. The series focuses on the case that made Perry Mason a lawyer who would eventually specialize in defending murder defendants who had not committed such a crime.
The series begins with the death of a baby after being kidnapped at his parents’ house. Police will eventually charge the boy’s (Gayle Rankin) mother for the crime. But the viewer and Perry Mason know that the woman is innocent. The series decides to reveal in one of the early episodes of the season the identity of the true murderer, thus removing the ingredient of mystery. Something that does not necessarily favor its consumption.
Fortunately in its closing episodes, Perry Mason aligns and adopts proper hygiene habits, and the series becomes the story about courts and lawyers that he was looking forward to seeing from the beginning. Makes wise use of gender noir, featuring nightly sequences, subdued colors, and a portrait of the underworld of Los Angeles. Set in the Californian city in the early thirties, Perry Mason It includes real locations like the City Hall, the Angels Flight funicular (which has also had a cameo in another Los Angeles-based crime series, Bosch) or the always cinematic Musso & Frank Grill restaurant.
If the main protagonist of this story seemed little to me in tune with the needs of 2020, the rest of the characters in the series are perfect for the moment in which we are living. And I just feel like Perry Mason don’t develop some of them further. Juliet Rylance (The Knick) plays the secretary of the lawyer with whom Mason works. Someone who is actually much more than a secretary and a woman with a professional career and independence in 1932. Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) is the spiritual leader of a church with a talent for making anyone agnostic. The Mexican Verónica Falcón (Queen of the South) puts himself in the shoes of an entrepreneurial aircraft pilot. And Chris Chalk (When They See Us) is one of the few black law enforcement officers in the highly racist Los Angeles Police Department.
Chalk’s plot is especially timely these days. And sometimes it seems that nothing has changed in terms of police brutality, segregation and racism from then until now.
The series also sheds light on the corruption that governs the city and the talent for politicking that one must have in case of running for public office under the watchful eye of the media and the opinion of the masses. Perry Mason He also makes a sharp comment on the impossibility of living their lives fully and openly that the LGBTQ collective suffered at the time.
There are many themes contained in eight episodes of an irregular series that has made me want to see a less ambitious second season, with the same characters and one more tone of: “the case to defend this new season”.
Perry Mason premieres on HBO in the United States and HBO Latin America on June 21. On HBO Spain the series premieres on June 22.