Last night we watched the HBO season finale of Perry Mason. Before the final episode dropped, we re-watched the show’s penultimate episode, just to refresh our memories of all that had happened so far. This show has been a departure from the 1950s Raymond Burr rendition of this courtroom drama. First, it is set in the 1930s, at the height of the Depression and in the middle of Prohibition. It is still set in LA at the same iconic city hall, only then the building was brand new. In addition to Perry, this incarnation still hosts the other staple characters, such as Della Street, Paul Drake and Hamilton Burger. Although, other than their names, they are all completely different people.
No one is more different than Perry himself. He begins the season as a washed-up private detective, who has made a mess of everything in his life and only rises midway through the season to Perry Mason attorney-at-law out of sheer necessity. He passes the bar, which has been set laughably low, with the aid of Hamilton Burger. I wonder how long it will take Burger to regret this help?
Instead of springing like clockwork one client per episode, in this rendition the entire season is devoted to just one case. A mother is on trial for the murder of her baby boy, who was snatched in a kidnapping that went south. She and her husband are wrapped up in a tele-evangel church, except this being the thirties services are broadcast via the radio. Same story though, long on showbusiness, but short on religion and peopled with enough seedy characters to muddy the chances of any amateur audience sleuth.
Not to worry though, because by the time that the final episode aired the cat had been already let out of the bag. We all knew who did it, the particulars of what they did and why they did it. Mystery solved! Except for, how is it all going to turn out? There is a sendup of the Perry Mason cliché courtroom-confession, but like everything else in this reboot, nothing is the same as before. This twisting of the genre has become an unexpected pleasure of watching this drama, seemingly all so familiar, yet new and different at every turn and always beautiful to watch.
In the end, after everything has been settled and most of the chess pieces have been removed from the board and the few that remain have also been moved, we meet Perry’s new client for next season. HBO has already green-lit this series for a second season. She is a blonde bombshell straight out of film-noir central casting, who introduces herself by saying, “I’m in trouble.” Della adds that she can pay the retainer and Perry answers her, “You’ve come to the right place.”