While perhaps not quite as well known on this side of the pond, Erle Stanley Gardner’s beloved criminal defence lawyer and PI Perry Mason is one of the most iconic characters in US literature. Across 82 novels, 4 short stories alongside a long-running radio series and various films and TV shows, he sleuthed his way into the hearts of millions since his inception in 1933. Almost 90 years on, he is still finding new cases thanks to HBO’s wonderful new series.
Executive produced by husband-and-wife team Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey, this new series set in 1932 sees down-and-out Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) struggling with his trauma from The Great War and being divorced. Hired for a sensational child kidnapping trial, his investigation results in major consequences for himself and those around him. Those unfamiliar with the character and the world he inhabits need not worry, HBO’s new series is a reboot that breathes new life into Perry Mason through the grim, violent eyes of modern television. Grimly bleak and hopeless in its portrayal of the smoke-filled Depression-era LA, Perry’s world is characterised by alcoholism and a dour, burned-out existence. Viewers looking for a fun detective romp will be sorely disappointed – and disturbed – by the show’s graphic content and downright upsetting feel.
But that is in no way a criticism. Perry Mason is another jewel in HBO’s television crown, presenting a well-executed and gripping drama series packed with incredible performances – Rhys is a marvel in the lead, giving Raymond Burr a run for his money as the best portrayal of the titular character. But a solid supporting cast including John Lithgow, Tatiana Maslany and Boardwalk Empire’s Shea Whigham are all equally superb, while the visually striking production design brings the 1932 LA to life. Directing duties are split between Deniz Gamze Ergüven and Tim Van Patten across the series, and both deliver a consistently compelling and starkly realised show.
With a second season confirmed to be on the way, there is simply no time like now to absorb yourself in the world of Perry Mason. Perry Mason: The Complete First Season is another absolute masterclass from HBO and one that more than lives up to its characters’ enormous legacy.
Special features on the DVD and Blu-ray releases include featurettes The Characters of Perry Mason and Under the Fedora and some conversations with star Matthew Rhys and executive producers Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey.