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A-Ron’s TV Reviews Presents: HBO’s “Perry Mason” Season 1 (2020)

Leading premium cable service company HBO has rebooted Perry Mason for a new generation and this isn’t your Grandma and Grandpa’s version of “Perry Mason”. Brimming with top notch performances and dripping in style, “Perry Mason” has a compelling mystery that is gritty and violent. The rebooted HBO series is set in 1932 and focuses on the origin story of how Perry Mason went from a private investigator to becoming the famed defense lawyer. This version of Perry Mason has trauma from the Great War, wears cheap, wrinkled clothes, including ties taken off dead bodies, he has a four day growth of beard and looks as if he hasn’t had a recent shower. Season one takes him on a case that is as horrific and chilling as they come. Executive produced by Robert Downey Jr and starring Matthew Rhys in a powerful performance, is just one of the main reasons to watch this reboot. It’s creative, audacious, with brilliant cinematography and the entire production value cannot be overstated. It’s as radical a remake as anything I’ve ever seen on television and a gift from the TV gods and the creative minds at HBO, who has hit another one out of the park.

•All 8 episodes of HBO’s “Perry Mason” Season 1 is now available on all streaming platforms to rent or own.

Leading premium cable service company HBO has rebooted Perry Mason for a new generation and this isn’t your Grandma and Grandpa’s version of “Perry Mason”. Only ran for nine seasons from 1957-1966 on CBS and starred Raymond Burr. The new HBO series turns the iconic original series on its head. Brimming with top notch performances and dripping in style, “Perry Mason” has a compelling mystery that is gritty and violent. 

“Perry Mason” creator Erle Stanley Gardner sold a gajillian “Perry Mason” novels by now. And has watched his creation surpass his movie and radio fame to become a genuine monolith of American TV mythology when he was portrayed by Raymond Burr. The rebooted HBO series focuses on the origin story of how he became the famed defense lawyer. 

Set in 1932, Los Angeles just as the U.S. is recovering from the grip of the Great Depression. Down-and-out private investigator Perry Mason is struggling with his trauma from The Great War and being recently divorced. This version of Perry Mason is one with a four day growth of beard and if there is any? Hard to find evidence of a recent shower. Wearing cheap, wrinkled clothes, including a tie with a prominent yellow stain that everyone assumes is egg yolk? “It’s not”, corrects Perry. “Turns out it’s mustard.”

You have to understand where he gets his ties from? His friend who is the city’s coroner that sells them to Perry for four bucks apiece. They come from the coroner’s large collection of ties brought into his office around the necks off of fresh corpses. As I mentioned earlier Mason doesn’t start off as the famed defense attorney we all know. He is a private investigator who gets hired by a mogul who wants to get the goods, on camera, on a popular movie comedian and Perry’s the guy you get for that sort of P.I. work.

Now, thanks to HBO, we get the pleasure of seeing “Perry Mason” as a hard-drinking, struggling striver as he uses foul language and the case he gets hired for is as horrific and chilling as they come. A kidnapped baby who is, at the beginning of the miniseries, discovered murdered and with his eyes sewn open. His investigation will portend major consequences for himself, his client and the city.

Long ago, in the show’s DNA, “True Detective” (another superb HBO series) creator Nic Pizzolatto was supposed to write the new “Perry Mason” and be its showrunner. With Robert Downey Jr. set to star as Perry Mason. Pizzolatto ended up dropping out of the production in order to focus on the third season of “True Detective” and that he was being replaced as the project’s writer by Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald.

Then Robert Downey Jr. had dropped out of the role due to his feature film schedule and while he has stayed on as an executive producer, a search for his replacement was ongoing. Hired to replace Robert Downey was Matthew Rhys, star of the FX series “The Americans” and of the recent Mr Rodgers biopic “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood”. To have an actor as far from ordinary stardom as Matthew Rhys (who also produces “Perry Mason”) play the scruffling, sharply down-marketed Perry Mason was brilliant. Matthew Rhys’ powerful performance is just one of the main reasons to watch this reboot. It’s nice to see Rhys get a chance as a solo lead and he doesn’t waste it.

This new “Perry Mason” is in the ultra-Gothic cable TV world of other HBO series “True Detective” and “Boardwalk Empire”. That’s thanks in part, because of director Tim Van Petten, whose credits include HBO series: “Deadwood,” “Game of Thrones”, “The Sopranos”, “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Wire”. 

It’s the best new TV show of 2020 by any far stretch. I knew based off the trailer that this completely reimagined “Perry Mason” was going to knock my socks off and be creative and good, but I had no idea it would be as wildly creative and audacious as it turned out to be. It’s clear it seems to be stemming from the HBO existential playbook of “True Detective”. 

The cinematography is brilliant and the entire production value cannot be overstated as it benefits from an amber-hued look that blends 1930’s period detail with splashes of gore and welcome bursts of dark humor. But the first seasons mystery is intriguing too although sometimes the mystery can get a little sloppy and frustrating. It requires your attention and you’ll find that the reboot spins a compelling tale. 

It’s intelligent as it is stylish and the entire season looks and sounds wonderful, with every set and costume furnished in immaculate detail. As far as prequels and reboots go, it’s as radical a remake as anything I’ve ever seen on television. I love the Raymond Burr series and I love this reboot. While 2020 maybe the year of not so many joyous moments. “Perry Mason” is one of those joys, a gift from the TV gods and the creative minds at HBO who has hit another one out of the park. 

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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