Monday, January 14, 2019

Perry, P.I.?

It seems that 44-year-old Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, who starred in the period spy drama The Americans, is in line to become television’s next Perry Mason. The Hollywood Reporter says he’ll step into the polished shoes originally reserved for Robert Downey Jr., who had long hoped to portray Erle Stanley Gardner’s phenomenally successful Los Angeles defense attorney on the small screen, but had to bow out of the opportunity due to a packed schedule of conflicting obligations. Downey will, nonetheless, “remain on board as an executive producer on the [HBO] series,” according to the Reporter.

Now for the bad news: HBO plans to turn Mason into a figure more akin to Philip Marlowe, or Paul Drake, than to Gardner’s famously sly and savvy counselor-at-law. Again, from the Reporter:
... HBO’s Perry Mason will follow the character at a time in his life when he is living check-to-check as a low-rent private investigator. Mason is haunted by his wartime experiences in France and is suffering the effects of a broken marriage. …

Here's the official logline, from HBO: “1932, Los Angeles. While the rest of the country recovers from the Great Depression, this city is booming! Oil! Olympic Games! Talking Pictures! Evangelical Fervor! And a child kidnapping gone very, very wrong! Based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner, this limited series follows the origins of American Fiction’s most legendary criminal defense lawyer, Perry Mason. When the case of the decade breaks down his door, Mason’s relentless pursuit of the truth reveals a fractured city and just maybe, a pathway to redemption for himself.”
Well, it’s true that Mason was more physical, fast-fisted, and daring in his younger days, more of a pulp hero than he became in Gardner’s later books. He wasn’t above punching a guy who dared to threaten his clever secretary, Della Street, and in one story leapt from window sill to window sill of a tall building in an effort to advance his defense of a client. “And, in a supreme moment of confidence,” Otto Penzler wrote in his 1977 history, The Private Lives of Private Eyes, Spies, Crime Fighters and Other Good Guys, “he stands his ground and stares down a gorilla which has just attacked him.” (The reference there is to 1952’s The Case of the Grinning Gorilla.)

But is it really necessary to turn Mason into a gumshoe in order to reintroduce him to modern TV audiences? I object!

READ MORE:Matthew Rhys Will Star in HBO’s Perry Mason Remake,” by Josef Adalian (Vulture/New York).


R. Narvaez said...

I don't think turning Perry Mason into a stereotypical '30s “low rent” gumshoe is a good idea. We've seen this a million times already. Adding the war guilt and the broken marriage are further over-worn tropes. Perhaps he’s also an alcoholic and his saucy secretary and is more than half in love with him.

At the same time, we’ve been inundated with lawyer-sleuths as well, Matlock, Law & Order, JAG, The Escape Artist.

How about the adventures of a 1930s trial lawyer with a crack private eye and a smart secretary on the payroll? You know, like Perry Mason.

It might even be better to situate him in the ‘50s, to comment on the Burr series, interrogate the image of the perfect America, a sort of Mad Men on trial.

Also, I recently reread “The Case of the Irate Witness,” and in there Mason explicitly states that he is a trial lawyer, not a criminal lawyer.

Mike Doran said...

Look, if Matthew Rhys wants to do a show about a war burnout turned private eye, fine and dandy.
But don't call him Perry Mason.

The next earthquake you hear will be Uncle Erle Stanley Gardner revolving in his crypt (wherever that may be).

Jeez Loueez!