2020 Preview: HBO's 'Perry Mason' Is More 'Gritty Fixer Than Polished Lawyer'

Ileane Rudolph
Preview HBO

The holiday season is over, but TV has some new gifts you'll never want to return. Settle in for 12 months of fan-favorite stars (Fran Drescher, Edie Falco), inspiring physical feats (the Olympics), new streaming services, and another must-see season of Outlander

Remember Perry Mason, the ethical defense lawyer embodied by Raymond Burr on CBS's 1957–66 courtroom drama (and 26 TV movies)? Let's just say he got upstanding with age.

As a younger man, "he wasn't above playing fast and loose with evidence if he was convinced his client was innocent," says Rolin Jones, an executive producer of this Perry Mason prequel starring The Americans' Matthew Rhys. Fellow exec producer Ron Fitzgerald explains, "Our Mason is more of a gritty fixer than a polished lawyer; more Bogart than Burr."

In Depression-era L.A. — resilient thanks to the film and oil businesses — Mason struggles to move past his experience fighting in World War I. "Perry is fractured and doing his best to avoid anything that would make him look inward," Jones says. A heartbreaking incident provides a distraction he needs. At Christmastime, a young couple's child is kidnapped, leading to Mason's first big case. Says Jones, "Things go bad from there on out."

HBO's take hews closely in gritty tone to the early novels by Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote around 80 Mason stories. Fans will see familiar characters like loyal secretary Della Street (Juliet Rylance, The Knick) and P.I. Paul Drake (Chris Chalk, The Newsroom);  new faces in Mason's world include mentor E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow) and Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black), a nun who wields influence in the city.

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Fitzgerald says he and Jones also abandoned the case-of-the-week, "court and confessions" format of the original in favor of one season-long mystery. For Mason, that means less time in front of a judge and more time in the "brick and mortar jungle" of L.A., says Jones.  

Perry Mason, Premiere TBA, HBO

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