Perry Mason Movie Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Pros: Textured ambience of the 30s. last century; good selection of supporting actors; interesting detective story Cons: Significant deviation from the book canon; controversial choice of leading actor; extremely leisurely pace of the story; tangible attraction of modern social agenda into a costume series about a specific historical period Perry Mason / “Perry Mason”

Genre detective drama
Creators Rolin Jones, Ron Fitzgerald
Cast: Matthew Rhys (Perry Mason), Shea Whigham (Pete Strickland), John Lithgow (A.B. Jonathan), Chris Chalk (Paul Drake), Juliet Rylance (Della Street), Tatiana Maslany (Alice McKeegan’s sister), Nate Corddry (Matthew Dodson), Gail Rankin (Emily Dodson), Andrew Howard (Detective Ennis), Eric Lang (Detective Holcomb), Robert Patrick (Herman Baggerly), etc.
HBO channel
Year of release 2020
Episode 8
Site IMDb

First, let’s remember what is remarkable about the works about Perry Mason. So, Mason is far from the classic perpetually drunken noir detective in a long coat and a crumpled hat. He is a respectable lawyer. But unlike most lawyers, he conducts his own investigation in parallel with the official one, for which he has assistants – it is noteworthy that they had prototypes in real life. Thus, Erle Stanley Gardner wrote Perry Mason from himself, and Della Street, a devoted secretary in love with Mason, from his own secretary, mistress, and then wife Agnes Bethel. Further, at the time of his death, Gardner was the most published writer of the 20th century, and the Perry Mason series still ranks third on the list of best-selling book series. Its total circulation has exceeded 300 million. And finally, works about the famous lawyer have been filmed several times. The most famous film adaptation, which has collected numerous prizes and is well known to every American, is the series from 1957 to 1966, with 271 episodes. Moreover, in 1985 – 1995. 30 television films were made with the same Raymond Burr in the title role, continuing the original series. Plus, there was also the series The New Perry Mason of 15 episodes, produced by CBS TV in 1973 – 1974.

As you can see from the last two points, Perry Mason is well known to the American public, and when they saw the first five episodes of HBO’s new Perry Mason, they were, to put it mildly, somewhat shocked. This character has nothing in common with the book!


The local Perry Mason is a walking cliché for a noir detective, namely a detective, not a lawyer. Badly shaven, carelessly dressed, always drunk, completely unable to control himself. Frankly pathetic. Moreover, if the book Mason could, if necessary, stand up for himself, breaking a couple of jaws of particularly presumptuous scoundrels in the process, then the HBO Mason is beaten and humiliated by all and sundry. Things aren’t any better with the other characters in the series. The devoted Della Street turns out to be not at all in love with Mason, not his secretary at all, and what’s more, she is attracted to women. Mason’s regular partner, private detective Paul Drake, turns out to be a policeman and… black. So, in addition to the detective plot, we get a modern social agenda about emancipation, LGBT rights and everyday racism. And that would be fine, but what did they do to Perry?

The casket opens simply; the HBO series is not connected to the book canon. More precisely, not yet connected. HBO, in order to be somewhat different from the classic series about Perry Mason, decided to show the process of becoming a lawyer, how he turns into that hero without fear and reproach, capable of anything for the sake of a client, whom we know from books. The events of the series take place a little earlier than Gardner’s books – here Mason is still just a detective, a war-broken man with severe PTSD, suffering from separation from his son and a sense of his own inferiority.


HBO’s intentions become clear from the second episode onwards. They plan to talk about the case that changed and healed Mason. Show how he became a lawyer, how he assembled his team, etc. A good foundation for the next seasons. But will they, because the audience did not appreciate such a radical change in the hero they knew well. Honestly, if the name of this series didn’t include the name of a popular character, it would only benefit from it. After all, Perry Mason is actually not that bad.

This is a dark and very textured series about the 30s. last century. The authors, and this is HBO after all, did not skimp on the budget – $74.3 million for 8 episodes, almost $10 million per episode. And it’s noticeable. Gorgeous locations, an impressive selection of vintage cars, high-quality character costumes and scenery – it’s clearly visible where exactly the money went.


The selection of actors for supporting roles is very good. Particularly impressive are John Lithgow (The Crown, Bombshell, etc.) as lawyer E. B. Jonathan, mentor and friend of Perry Mason, and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) as radio preacher Sister Alice McKeegan. Juliet Rylance is absolutely perfect as Della Street, Shea Whigham is very colorful as private investigator Pete Strickland, who helps Mason, and Andrew Howard and Eric Lang are excellent as crooked police detectives. There’s also Robert “T-1000” Patrick in a small but important role.

Unfortunately, the choice of the leading actor can hardly be called successful. Again, Perry Mason is a confident, respectable and physically strong man. Actor Matthew Rhys, perhaps familiar to you from the TV series Brothers & Sisters and The Americans, does not meet any of these characteristics. But initially the role of Perry Mason was supposed to be played by Robert Downey Jr., who ultimately became only the producer of the film. It’s a pity.


As for the detective plot of the first season of Perry Mason, it’s actually not that bad. At the end of the sixth episode, we still do not know the real cause of death, nor the motives of the kidnappers who accidentally became murderers. The number of suspects, locations and clues continues to grow, and where this will ultimately lead is still unclear. The only thing worth complaining about is the extremely leisurely pace of the investigation. It seems that this style of storytelling has become dominant in television detective stories since the release of True Detective; now every second series turns out to be incredibly viscous and viscous, see, for example, the recent Defending Jacob.

By the way, in terms of time period, setting, atmosphere, uncertainty about the future and the feeling of impending disaster, Perry Mason from HBO is close to another detective series, the German Babylon Berlin, the third season of which was released in early 2020.


So, what do we have in the bottom line? A good, very textured costume detective series with good actors and an impressive budget, the authors of which made a mistake with their positioning. If this series had been called… at least Mason Perry, instead of Perry Mason, the audience and the press would have been more lenient.

Is Perry Mason worth watching? If you are not familiar with the book source, yes. If you know each other… yes too. After all, at the end of the season, and currently six episodes out of eight have been released, Perry Mason will finally turn into the hero who is familiar to you from the books.


If the name of the famous character Erle Stanley Gardner were not in the title of this series, it would only do him good

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