After only the opening episode it’s clear that Perry Mason is going in a very different direction to the original show. With more similarities to the moody noir feel of L.A. Noire, Perry Mason uses its opening hour to establish its tone, mood and character set-ups for the season ahead.
Episode 1 of Perry Mason begins with a married couple, Matthew and Emily, receiving an ominous call from a man who’s kidnapped their son Charlie. In exchange for a briefcase of ransom money totaling $100,000, the man gives them the location to their son. However, when they get there the couple find Charlie dead and his eyes stitched open to make him appear alive.
Meanwhile, a moody Perry Mason snaps incriminating photos of a man named Chubby while he’s engaging in food-related sexual exploits with his mistress, who just so happens to be the rising star for the studio he’s taking pictures for. Racing away from the scene, Mason returns home to his farm to get the pictures developed.
It’s here he receives a visit from Elias Birchard, a man he refers to as E.B., who requests him in his office at 3pm for a new opportunity. Before that though, Mason heads back to the studio and hands the pictures over, attempting to re-negotiate his fees up to $600 given the content of the pictures. Scoffing incredulously, the executive tells Mason he’ll have to refer this higher-up.
At the morgue, Mason looks through the various belongings of dead bodies before settling on a new tie to replace his stained one for court. In the courtroom, Mason finds himself at the mercy of the prosecution, thanks in part to his lackadaisical lawyer who refuses to speak up on his behalf. Unfortunately they bring up Mason’s discharge from the military too but for now, that’s not elaborated on any further.
Soon after, Mason heads to E.B.’s meeting where he’s given Matthew and Emily’s case to oversee. He heads to their house and looks around, searching their rooms and snapping photos that may help piece together who was involved that night.
Mason shares a cigarette with Emily upstairs where they discuss his past and trade stories about their kids. Back at the office however, the team collaborate over what they’ve uncovered so far and contemplate whether Matthew and Emily may have been involved.
The next day, Mason decides to pursue the case further and talks to the local cops while investigating that very same hotel room the Dodson’s were told to wait in when Charlie turned up dead.
At the morgue Mason pays off the coroners, who wish him a “Happy New Year” and present Charlie’s body to him. It’s a disturbing scene to say the least, and something Mason has real trouble comprehending as he takes pictures of the child. Before he leaves, Mason takes a sample of the string used to stitch Charlie’s eyes open as a valuable clue going forward.
That evening, Mason heads to the New Years party and finds himself at the mercy of the studio bosses who take his pictures and rough him up, demanding he hand over the negatives “when he gets a chance”. Stuffing a dollar in his pocket ($200 minus the $199 for “inconveniences”), they leave their mark on him and walk away.
A wincing Mason stumbles back out to his partner where he breaks the bad news about the money. He curses Mason for what he’s done as he admits to overplaying his hand.
Meanwhile three thugs wait in a shady room for Detective Ennis, who arrives with a briefcase. Only, when he opens it there’s no money inside. As the trio realize they’ve been played, Ennis brandishes a gun and kills two of them, stalking a third up to the roof where he eventually falls to his doom.
After a disastrous evening, a drunk Perry Mason returns home and stirs up trouble with his ex by phoning and demanding she put his son on the phone. Getting nowhere, he stumbles around the house mentioning a “dark angel” before sifting through the files to try and piece together what happened with Charlie.
As the episode closes out, Mason picks up a photo of a turtle and contemplates whether this may hold some clues going forward.
With a darker, moodier vibe and some serious noir-crime tropes, Perry Mason does well to capture the time period and general aesthetic of the piece but certainly doesn’t have a whole lot in common with the original for now.
The jazzy soundtrack is a bit of a double-edged sword too, sometimes working really well and other times at odds to what’s happening on screen. In true HBO fashion, the production design and general aesthetic of Perry Mason is fantastic and the team have done an excellent job making everything as authentic as possible.
It’s still early days with the plot though but aside from a couple of stand-out moments, Perry Mason is certainly a bit of a slow burn. There’s a lot of character building and at times the show does feel like it’s dragging its heels a bit.
Despite all this, there’s enough to keep you sticking around for the next episode but hopefully the pacing picks up a bit.
Expect A Full Season Write Up When This Season Concludes!