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Television selectors, pages, etc.
Review: HBO's Perry Mason
By Curt_Anderson
April 25, 2023 10:41 pm
Category: Television

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The second season of the new version of Perry Mason just ended last night. The acting and the 1930's costuming and the Depression era LA settings are all topnotch. That's the good part. The bad part is the writing.

SPOILER ALERT! I am about to reveal some key plot points...

Author Erle Stanley Gardner didn't believe in elaborating on the personal lives of his Perry Mason characters. He probably wouldn't have been happy with the time this HBO eight episode series spent exploring Perry's broken marriage, his challenges as a parent to young boy, Perry's romance with his son's teacher; Della Street's lesbian relationship; Paul Drake's (who is Black and married in this iteration) travails of living in Watts or some other segregated part of Los Angeles. It seems to me that writers just padded the scripts to fulfill the contract to deliver eight episodes.

This continuing series reminds me of the movie "Chinatown" in more than just the settings and film noirishness. Both are ostensibly murder mysteries. Both have subplots: Jack Nicholson's film had water wars. Perry Mason has some convoluted subplot about California oil (which according to this story was under an embargo) being sold to bellicose Japanese in the years before WWII. There are some rich Los Angelenos doing bad, greedy and unpatriotic things. Inexplicably to me at least, somehow tons of fresh fruit contaminated by oil washes up on the beach.

In one of the middle episodes, the intrepid Paul Drake manages to get hold of the murder weapon, a pistol. It is connected to Perry's clients, a pair of Latinos. Perry puts the gun in his safe.

The unethical prosecutor (an underling of Hamilton Burger's) hires an ex-con to spy on Perry Mason and worse. The thug breaks into Perry's safe and discovers the gun. The next day in court, the prosecutor tells the judge that "on good authority" he learned that Perry has the murder weapon in his safe. The judge, some cops, the prosecutors and Perry's team take a field trip to Perry's office. Sure enough, the gun is in Perry's safe and ballistics match it to the murder. Perry for his trouble is given a four month sentence for withholding evidence.

This Perry Mason is not Raymond Burr. He's not above bending the law or straining ethics. What this Perry Mason could have said when the gun was removed from his safe is simply, "How did that get there? The only way the prosecutor could have known it was there is if he hired somebody to plant that gun in my safe!" How could the prosecutor have explained how he knew about the gun if he didn't have somebody break into Perry's safe? Also how would anybody simply by looking at a gun in a safe know that it was the murder weapon? That seemed like a plot hole and a missed opportunity for the defense to go on offense.

I am not a lawyer, but I am pretty sure a defense lawyer is not obliged to reveal anything that incriminates the defendant(s). There are rules of discovery, but it only applies to evidence or testimony that will be introduced during the trial. Perry wouldn't have made the murder weapon a defense exhibit.

For my wife and me, the time we spent watching the eight episodes over eight weeks didn't have didn't have good return on our investment.

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