Perry Mason is HBO's remake of the classic Raymond Burr series. I can't be the only person who wondered why this was happening. On the other hand, I tuned in, precisely because it was Perry Mason. Last month I wrote:
Only three episodes have aired, and I can't say I'm impressed, although I haven't given up yet. Good cast, good recreation of 1932 Los Angeles, but thus far, the only reason I can figure that the lead character is named Perry Mason is so we can get excited about his origin story. But it works just as well without being attached to Mason. Tatiana Maslany is great ... no surprise there.
Tonight, the final episode of the season airs, and after seven episodes, I'm a lot more impressed. HBO is apparently impressed, too ... what was going to be a mini-series has now been given a second season.
Most of what I said before is true, only more so. Good cast? I only mentioned Tatiana Maslany (I'm a big fan, of course I mentioned her), but the proverbial everyone is in Perry Mason, all outstanding. There's Matthew Rhys in the title, proving as he did in The Americans that he can do an American accent better than the average Welshman. There's Juliet Rylance (The Knick) as Della Street, who is a lesbian in this version (a good thing for many reasons, not least that it dismisses the tired possibility that Perry and Della will become a woosome twosome in Season Four). Chris Chalk has been in a lot of things I've seen, although I don't remember him ... he's a standout as Paul Drake. The Mexican star Veronica Falcón is Perry's lady friend ... it's refreshing that she is featured in most of the nude scenes, refreshing because HBO usually digs up some young starlet for those scenes, but Falcón is in her 50s (and her scenes with Mason are hot). John Lithgow, Gayle Rankin (Sheila the She-Wolf in GLOW), the ever-present Stephen Root, Lili Taylor ... even Gretchen Mol turns up, although they make us wait forever and her part is small. We can't let Justin Kirk slip by ... he plays Hamilton Burger.
A person can watch Perry Mason without knowledge of the books or the original series, but part of the joy of this first season is watching all the pieces come together so that by the end, they'll all be where we want them. So at the start, Mason is a down-on-his-luck private detective, Della is a secretary but to a different lawyer, Drake is an African-American cop, and Burger is an assistant D.A. (and apparently gay, using the lesbian Street as a beard, although I admit I haven't picked up on this). As we get to the season finale, Mason is a lawyer (how he gets there is pretty silly, but no sillier than the shenanigans Mason always pulled off in the courtroom in the old versions), Della is now Perry's secretary, Drake is clearly one step away from leaving the force to become a private detective for Mason, and Burger is positioned to move into the D.A. job after Mason wins the case and ruins the career of the existing attorney.
Meanwhile, the recreation of 1932 Los Angeles is even better than I said at the time, and Tatiana Maslany delivers in every one of her scenes.
Perry Mason is not yet a great show ... it may never be a great show. But it's a lot better than I anticipated, with room to grow. Although my guess is Maslany's character won't make it to next season.
Just a reminder that Matthew Rhys was also in one of the greatest TV series of all time:
And that at the same time, Tatiana Maslany was winning an Emmy (as Rhys did for The Americans) with one of the great performances of all time: