TV Takes: ‘Perry Mason’ on HBO is a stylish and compelling reboot

Matthew Rhys stars as a low-down private detective in this drama that premiered in June.
TV Takes illustration
TV Takes illustration [ LISA MERKLIN | Times ]
Published Aug. 4, 2020|Updated Aug. 4, 2020

Name of show: Perry Mason

When it debuted: June 2020

Where you can watch it: HBO

What’s it about: Perry Mason, created from the Erle Stanley Gardner novels, became a hit television show back in the 1950s. It starred Raymond Burr as a brilliant defense attorney with a near impeccable track record in the courtroom. This stylish new HBO series now in its first season is set in 1932 Los Angeles. We first encounter Mason, played by Matthew Rhys (The Americans), as a low-down private detective. In the early episodes, we see his backstory, before he could afford a single neatly pressed suit, or even, apparently, a razor. Mason is resourceful but jaded, worn down, weary. When a kidnapping for ransom goes horribly wrong, the opportunity to seek justice sparks something in Mason, who finds his way into the courtroom.

Is it worth watching? Heck yes, if for no other reason than to watch a master class courtesy of Rhys. The first episode, with its gruesome imagery, might have understandably turned some viewers off. Try to get past that, because the show gets stronger with each episode. The costumes, the music, the cinematography, the vibe and the recreation of the original Angel’s Flight in downtown Los Angeles are spot on. The formidable cast includes John Lithgow as Mason’s past-his-prime boss; Tatiana Maslany as a mesmerizing church leader; Chris Chalk as a conflicted beat cop navigating a corrupt and racist world; Juliet Rylance as the ever-purposeful secretary and associate; Gayle Rankin as a grieving mother/accused murderer (recognize her? She’s Sheila the She-Wolf in Glow); and Lili Taylor, who actually follows me on Twitter, so I can’t not mention her, and also because she’s been engaging and interesting since the days of Mystic Pizza.