Before I heard about HBO’s new Perry Mason series, I admittedly never knew of the legacy of this character. What intrigued me was the involvement of arguably one of the best cable television networks around, HBO spinning a new take. Coming out of this first episode amply titled “Chapter 1” it definitely sets up interesting pieces to be placed in the weeks to come, it just hasn’t wowed me yet. Unlike the original series where it plays as a straightforward lawyer procedural, this new version follows our titular character (played by Matthew Rhys from The Americans) going down the road of a 1930s private investigator. While the character of Mason established his alcohol-fueled, sarcastic and sometimes violent temper with anyone he came across, this pilot just felt like it was missing something.
The story follows Mason, his partner Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham, who has been in more movies that I can count), his boss E.B Strickland (John Lithgow) and associate Della Street (Juliet Rylance) getting involved in a rather violent case; a case so violent involving a ransom for a young child, that I want to warn you if it’s not your thing, you might as well stop reading now. With that being said, what we get to know and understand about this world definitely keeps us intrigued about what's to come. A particular scene involving Mason’s first investigation about a famous Hollywood actor and an eventual studio blackmail gave me some good laughs. At the same time, this type of scene is one that gave me the issues I have.
Between the scenes of noir cliche (though entertaining) and over the top moments of comedy, you have a capable cast game for anything. It’s just hard to tell what the end goal creators Ron Fitzgerald and Rolin Jones have in mind for their audience. Aspects such as what makes this version of Mason tick are so fascinating as well as the cast around him, I just don’t know how I am supposed to feel about anyone yet. One can only hope that these breadcrumbs have a payoff worth the slow build-up. The real question is, can we consider this first episode simply to build characters? Or setting the stage for later antics?
This is a show that has a lot going for it but this first episode just hasn’t quite nailed a tone for audiences to grasp on to. That certainly doesn’t have anything to do with the performances, it just feels as if we haven’t placed all the pieces on the board yet. Thanks to the 1930s period detail, I was able to enjoy this first chapter more than enough to see what happens next. Between the period detail and composer Terence Blanchard’s (Da 5 Bloods) score, I am definitely eager to see what happens next. I would go as far as to say that once the season is complete, I could look back on this episode with more fondness than I do now. I hope that there are more than just fine aesthetics and solid performances.