A 1930s ‘Perry Mason’ Chases ‘Illusion of Justice’ in Season 2

Note from Matt:

Three years ago I defended HBOthe bold decision to reinvent Erle Stanley Gardner’s iconic hero Perry Mason as a downtrodden, chronically crumpled gumshoe turned lawyer in Depression-era Los Angeles (many viewers and readers disagreed, unwilling to abandon the true image of the infallible, unflappable lawyer of Raymond Burr of the 1950s and 1960s, always a favorite in reruns.) Performed with desperate pugnacity by Matthew Rhysas if channeling the cinematic spirits of Bogart and Mitchum, the new/old Perry Mason felt like he fit right into the film noir world of legends like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.

Perry’s First Season Redemption Arc Is Made For Gripping TV, But The Overbearing Storytelling Lets It Down Perry Masonis the long-awaited but disappointing return. Drawn back to criminal law to defend the Latino brothers of a railroad-running Hooverville slum for the murder of an oil family scion, Perry enlists his lesbian partner Della Street (Juliet Rylance) and black investigator Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) to deal with multiple layers of societal bigotry and corruption in their pursuit of what the cynical and closed DA Hamilton Berger (a devious Justin Kirk) calls “the illusion of justice”.

Sean Astin, Juliet Rylance and Matthew Rhys in Season 2 of

Merrick Morton/HBO

Here’s Berger, elaborating to a grumpy Perry: “Don’t you know what we’re selling now? There is no real justice, there is only the illusion of justice, the fantasy that makes people believe that the truth always prevails. Although he stops short of telling Perry “Forget it, it’s Chinatown”, when the disillusioned lawyer walks away in disgust, Berger wonders, “Does everyone feel that Mason hate him, or just his friends?”

Fair point. Perry is a depressing, dull romantic subplot required with her estranged son’s teacher (Catherine Waterston, trying hard to appear drawn in), which lacks a lot of pizzazz. (Della is having a lot more fun hanging out at secret bars with his new girlfriend, a bohemian screenwriter played colorfully by jen tulock.)

There are few surprises in a storyline where wealth invariably evokes evil, which doesn’t excuse Perry for making several foolish moves that jeopardize his future as a legal beagle. A twist midway through the eight-episode long season ups the ante, but even the courtroom scenes are low on dramatic power in this dark David vs. Goliath fable. I found myself longing for the good old days of cornballs when a gallery goer would suddenly stand up and announce his guilt, shaken by Perry’s magic.

Maybe the next season, if there was one, could be all about Della, who at least looks happy to be in court.

Perry MasonPremiere of season 2, Monday, March 6, 9/8c, HBO

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