season 2 episode 1 premiere

Juliet Rylance and Matthew Rhys
Photo: Merrick Morton/HBO

Nearly 100 years after his creation, Perry Mason remains a paradigm of the honest lawyer. Swift justice was the order of the day throughout author Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels – still among the best-sellers of all time – and Raymond Burr’s classic portrayal of the tough lawyer is a TV icon with a thousand imitators who, for better or for worse, simplified America’s understanding. of the courtroom. In less than an hour, a lawyer backed by nothing but the truth could solve cases by squeezing a confession on the stand and making amends on the societal basis of “innocent until proven guilty.” Gardner’s creation turned cops and judges into corrupt jailers who valued expediency above all else. Instead, Gardner depicted a faltering institution where the “illusion of justice” is more important than the real thing.

It’s not Mason though. “The truth is the most powerful weapon a man can use, and if you practice law as we do, it’s the only weapon powerful enough to use,” Mason says in The case for the baited hook. “A lawyer who does the things I’ve done and trusts anything less powerful than the truth would be disbarred in a month.”

These things are still evident in the gritty, HBO-ified update of Perry Mason. However, there are some caveats. In Season 1, creators Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald needed to thread two needles. First, they introduced a new Perry Mason, one decked out in a noir detective suit and transformed into a traumatized war vet with a drinking problem. Second, the creators had to justify the format, throwing out a century of episodic procedurals in favor of a season-long mystery that Raymond Burr could solve in 52 minutes. Jones and Fitzgerald turned a case-of-the-week show into a prestige drama that was more Marlowe than Mason and required putting the typically hyper-confident and capable Mason on his heels. Now, season two showrunners Jack Amiel and Michael Begler (The Knicks) must do it again.

Director Fernando Coimbra opens with an impressive long tracking shot through the Luxe game ship, just before a waiter drops a Molotov cocktail into a laundry basket of greasy rags. These ships operated in the mythical “international waters” where the LAPD has no jurisdiction and the ruthless tycoons could crush their competition without concern. The servant worked at the behest of Brooks McCutcheon (Tommy Dewey), the grown-up illegitimate son of local magnate Lynell (Paul Raci). But when the Luxe explosion draws too much heat, his father orders Brooks to focus on his charity work, not his police-backed casino boats, and a faltering attempt to fill the empty baseball stadium where he sunk a fortune. Like the class of grown-up sons we live among today, Brooks never met a problem he couldn’t make worse by trying to worm his way out of it.

Perry Mason

Perry Mason
Photo: Merrick Morton (HBO)

Unfortunately for Brooks, Depression-era Americans weren’t sold on becoming Angelenos, and the city’s low population didn’t signal much success for a Major League outfit. New York gets three teams because Los Angeles might as well be Mars for the rest of the country.

Even Martians have problems. When we last saw Perry Mason (still in the pocket Matthew Rhys), he kept Emily Dodson off the gallows and started his law firm. He even has a colleague, the incomparable Della Street (Juliet Rylance), and a reliable investigator Paul Drake (Chris Chalk). Yet he still drinks too much, cranks motorcycles on his legal pads and longs for the day when he can return to true justice. Since Season 1, Perry has moved from criminal cases to civil law, but the focus cost him his integrity. Working for a local grocery magnate, Sunny Gryce (Sean Astin), Mason uses his famous cross-examination skills to bankrupt one of Gryce’s former employees, whom Gryce sued over intellectual property the employee developed, breaking agreements on early inventions . But like Perry, the employee has his success used against him, and now Perry uses the law to crush the working man.

That’s not what Mason signed up for. Even if “the jury decided that case,” Mason feels guilty and wonders aloud, “Who’s to blame for what happens next?” Perry and Della are graced by DA Hamilton Burger (another great turn from Justin Kirk), who reminds Mason that despite his “pervasive cynicism,” Mason still believes in justice, which is why he feels so depressed after to have won his case in a practical and impressive manner. Although Burger is more cynical than he lets on. He admits that American justice must merely give taxpayers “the illusion of justice.” Burger has paid to maintain the fantasy that makes “people believe that the truth always wins.” Burger said this to all the wrong guy. Despite the “educated cynicism,” embellished grittiness, and excessive drinking, Burger is right: Perry Mason believes all that shit. He is not cynical, but idealistic. “Who the hell wants to be a part of that?” Mason asks as he shoots back a glass of bourbon.

Justin Kirk and Juliet Rylance

Justin Kirk and Juliet Rylance
Photo: Merrick Morton (HBO)

The HBOification of Perry Mason is not a bad thing. Of course, this means that in addition to being an all-around shiteel, Brooks is also into choke play. Yet it gives Mason a reason to be so motivated, vulnerable and unpredictable. While the first episode is very shoe leather, it gets to where this version of Mason works best: backed into a corner. We close in on Brooks shot in his car on the beach. His plans were always as stable as a sandcastle and now our supposed seasonal big bath is out at sea. The villain fake-out was a welcome surprise in a somewhat ho-hum premiere. One thing is certain, however: whoever gets caught with the murder will need a good lawyer.

Stray Observations

  • Hello, my name is Matt Schimkowitz. I’m taking you through 1930s LA this season and we’re on a collision course with justice.
  • The show’s blue and amber palate is still rich, bouncing off the exquisite sets and locations with a moody atmosphere. Few shows are as beautifully designed as Master Mason. That’s still true in season two.
  • Jack Amiel and Michael Begler are a perfect fit for this show. If anything, this first episode is a good reminder to revisit The Knicks.
  • It makes sense that the show hopes to flesh out Della’s character and expand on her relationship with Mabel, the hand model. However, this plot so far feels so separate from what’s going on in the company. As a result, it feels shallow, but who doesn’t want to see Rylance’s open-hearted Della Street find some romance? I’m willing to reserve judgment on this until we see more.
  • While examining the casino boats that inspired the opening scene, I found this amazing LA Times article (complete with video) on the sinking of the SS Rexone of Santa Monica’s most notorious game barges.
  • Title card corner: Master Mason‘s title screen is always memorable, and they pulled it off with a very picturesque image of Luxe going down. It looked fantastic, with the letters looping around Holcomb, flipping his playing chip. Master Mason gives the fantastic Guardians chyrons run for their money.

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