Perry Mason, famed attorney and advocate of the innocent, made his first appearance in the early 1930s as a protagonist in the pulp fiction of the era. There have been many incarnations of the character since, including Raymond Burr playing the titular Mason in the CBS television series that aired between 1957 and 1966, before moving on to endless syndication. Mason was always known for finding out the truth of a matter, not just winning his case, and as such, these stories are as much about solving a mystery as they are about legal maneuverings.
The reimagined Perry Mason, in which Matthew Rhys plays Mason, maintains the famous attorney’s commitment to finding truth and protecting the innocent, though the show is much different in tone. Here we find Mason as a worn-down private investigator, troubled by his service in World War I, with an estranged family, and a taste for booze (despite the prohibition era setting). Many only remember Perry Mason from daytime reruns--the kind of thing you only saw once in a while when you were home sick from school, after Donahue had wrapped but before after school cartoons kicked in.
Potential departures from the source material aside, the new incarnation of Perry Mason makes for some good television. Set in 1930s Los Angeles, the show really shines as a period piece. Beautiful sets and costumes combine with high-production values to make a very immersive experience. Prohibition and the stock market crash have prominent roles in the backdrop of the tale, and we see great effort has been taken to make sure the journey to the past is not just a visual one. From dialog and colloquialisms to characters and motivations, Perry Mason feels like a window into the past.
Perhaps the only real misstep the show takes is that Perry Mason marches forward at what can only be described as a creeping pace. This show is a slow burn, such that even the most explosive revelations the mystery has to offer seem measured and deliberate, dulling their impact and making them seem less exciting. The slow pace does allow viewers to sit back and enjoy a look at days gone by but seldom makes for edge-of-your-seat viewing.
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