Sunday, June 21, 2020

REVIEW: 'Perry Mason' - A Kidnapping Turned Murder Haunts Los Angeles as Perry Begins to Investigate in 'Chapter One'

HBO's Perry Mason - Episode 1.01 "Chapter One"

Los Angeles, 1931. Private investigator Perry Mason is hired by attorney E.B. Jonathan to solve a perplexing case: the brutal kidnapping of one-year-old Charlie Dodson, whose parents Matthew and Emily were targeted for a $100,000 ransom. After meeting with Herman Baggerly, a millionaire elder at the Dodsons' church, Perry, E.B. and E.B.'s legal secretary Della Street ponder why a family of unmistakably modest means would be extorted for such a steep price.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of HBO's Perry Mason.

"Chapter One" was written by Rolin Jones & Ron Fitzgerald and directed by Tim Van Patten

Only one scene in this new Perry Mason series is set in a courtroom. That moment proves that this new iteration of the character absolutely has the instincts to thrive in that environment. However, he hasn't been fully formed yet. He is a man haunted by the world and struggling to make anything work in his life. It's a dire and depressing existence. The world at large embodies that same grim tone. This isn't the kind of story previously set in the Perry Mason world. It wants to be an origin story. Here, Perry is a private investigator who happens to be brought in on the most devastating case that anyone in Los Angeles has had to deal with in the early 1930s. It's something he takes on mostly because he needs any kind of financial stability he can get. He would otherwise be taking pictures of Hollywood celebrities in uncompromising positions and trying to sell them to the studio heads. He has the gumption to be paid a high price. And yet, that ambition hasn't worked for him so far. His family farm is on the brink of collapse. He isn't allowed to see his son. And he remains haunted by what he saw fighting during the first World War. These traumas inform so much for him. But it also feels like the show throwing a ton of misery into the proceedings. This is a dark show that provokes with the disturbing but gorgeously shot visuals. That becomes clear when the audience sees the horror of a baby with its eyes sown open alongside his parents. In that moment, Matthew and Emily Dodson believe they have been reunited with their son after he was kidnapped and held for ransom. They did everything right. It still ended in death. As such, questions form as to how they managed to pull together the ransom. That may be the bigger mystery than who killed this innocent child. The latter has some clarity in this premiere by stating that one of the detectives is actually a crooked cop. That image provokes an even more heinous visual when Detective Ennis actually presses his foot into the neck of one of his co-conspirators. It's clear that none of this happened how it was suppose to. And yet, one man is hoping to take all of the riches for himself. This is a corrupt world. One where everyone holds secrets they would like to keep to themselves. It won't take much for this world to beat someone down. Perry endures that misery over and over again. He is assaulted and burned. He walks away with no money. He is engaged with this case. It's horrifying though. He boasts about working the case knowing that it is a big deal in the city. He knows just how important it can be for securing a better future for himself. But he still wallows in his misery when he can't talk to his son to celebrate the new year. He pushes people away because he lives in that dark headspace. He can't go off to have an adventure with Lupe. That is her life. She travels the world. He feels the importance of staying in place. But he doesn't exactly have a life that is full of meaning. He may just be going through the motions of what is expected of him. The narrative feels slightly burdened in that way too. Perry Mason doesn't come to some major realization about the case after he puts all of the pictures and newspaper clippings together. That concluding moment just states that he will obsess over this case instead of doing anything else. That may only compromise his health and stability further. Others are confident with the lives they are living. Perry's partner Pete Strickland has a good time on the job. Well-regarded lawyer E.B. Jonathan brought Perry in on this case and enjoys talking up his ability to persuade anyone to his side in an argument. Those roles are set. They are content with their lives and ambitions. It's clear Perry wants more. He is struggling to obtain it. So much was taken away from the Dodson family with this one action. It will come to define the city at large. Perry will help to mend these wounds. He has plenty of them himself that may only compromise the case. He knows what's acceptable in court. And yet, his actions may distract as well because he is very self-involved while never offering the peace and resolution others may need during this trying time. That is remarkably different than the previous version of the character. Matthew Rhys sells it well. But the audience could grow annoyed by the grim state of the story after a certain point too.