Television

Perry Mason Preview – Who Is Perry Mason?

HBO, as always, is having a terrific year. This is partially due to the channel’s diverse content, and the commitment to original programming. So it’s interesting to see how the channel will handle one of this summer’s TV releases – Perry Mason.

Perry Mason is an IP that some might not recognize as IP. The character was originally published in the 1930s as part of a series of detective stories by author Erle Stanley Gardner. Like much of the literature in this era, Perry Mason was soon adapted into a radio show. But the character’s greatest claim to fame came with the 1957 CBS legal thriller Perry Mason, which ran for 9 seasons. That series starred Raymond Burr as the titular Perry, and to a generation of fans, he is Perry Mason (and Gardner himself hand-picked Burr for the role). Burr’s intimidating presence, booming voice, and piercing eyes made Perry Mason a symbol of masculinity in the intellectual world of the law. Most younger viewers today have never watched the show, but if they had any familiarity with it, then it’s likely due to the show’s iconic theme song:

In every iteration and adaptation of the story, Perry Mason is a defense lawyer tasked with solving various crimes on behalf of the innocent. But each of those iterations was set in the time they were produced, until now. The HBO adaptation, set to premiere June 21st, is a period drama set in the 1930s when the original stories were originally published. This seems to be an intent to tie it less with the popular 50s/60s TV show and more with the source material. But will that strategy work, or will fans insist on comparing it to the show?

I think the latter is more likely. Reboots are always compared to their most popular counterparts (Halloween sequels will always be compared to the John Carpenter original, Star Wars films will always be compared to the Original Trilogy, etc). But in this instance, it’s an unfair comparison, especially if you did not live to experience the original show in the time period it originally aired in. Context matters.

The context here is the creator of Perry Mason, the aforementioned Erle Stanley Gardner. Before becoming an author, Gardner practiced as a civil rights lawyer, defending immigrants and people of color who did not have the support of the judicial system in their favor. When Gardner began to write, he infused his stories with the “fight for the little guy” ideals that he aspired to in real life, eventually culminating in his greatest creation.

The showrunners of the new series, Rolin Jones and John Fitzgerald, are attempting to tie the character closer to the franchise’s roots, as the season will act as a prequel to the first novel. Mason, played by Matthew Rhys, will start off as a lowly defense attorney who over time transforms into the triumphant courtroom champion most fans are familiar with. But while doing so, Jones and Fitzgerald will place a greater emphasis on the rampant sexism and prejudice witnessed in the show’s setting – 1930s Los Angeles. While the CBS show aimed to be a crowd-pleasing thriller, HBO hopes to make Perry Mason a symbol of justice for all, which means delving into content the previous series avoided. Will this be depicted in a satisfying narrative? Also, how will Matthew Rhys portray this new version of the stoic attorney? We don’t have long to find out. The 8-episode season premieres on Sunday, June 21, at 9 p.m. eastern. Game of Nerds will be covering all 8 episodes, so stay tuned.

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