Ask Matt: Defending ‘Perry Mason,’ New TV Production Rules, ‘Single Parents’ Cancellation & More
Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic — also known to some TV fans as their “TV therapist” — Matt Roush, who’ll try to address whatever you love, loathe, are confused or frustrated or thrilled by in today’s vast TV landscape. (We know background music is too loud, but there’s always closed-captioning.)
One caution: This is a spoiler-free zone, so we won’t be addressing upcoming storylines here unless it’s already common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] (or use the form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter. Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.
In Defense—Literally—of the New Perry Mason
Question: Responding to the recent colloquy between you and Mary Ann re: HBO’s new Perry Mason, let me say that, as a retired criminal defense attorney who absolutely adored the ’50s-’60s Erle Stanley Gardner/Raymond Burr version of the master defender of the criminally accused and who never thought I’d abide such a holistic revision of Gardner’s hero, I’m beginning to think I’m going to like the 1930s pulp, noir version which pays homage to the pen of the masterful mystery creator/ writer. I am one of those “purists [who was] undoubtedly chaf(ing) at some of the new aspects of Mason’s much more flawed character, among other significant changes … from the canon” as you put it; however, since, I am also a lover of a “good underdog fable with film noir shadings,” as you also put it, I’m ready to give it a chance. After all, one does have to be a lover of the underdog to represent the rights of the criminally accused.
Which reminds me, Matt. Can we all eagerly hope that this early version of Mason is a precursor of the masterful courtroom scion who needed to get some of the wild, tragic and not so heroic experiences out of his system before coming into his own in the ’50s and ’60s LA courtrooms? Because, believe me as a 20-year defense practitioner, despite being a commonplace and oft-deployed genre, there are MANY vantage points, plots. schemes, intrigues, stratagems, scenarios, storylines and subversions that can be told about the American criminal courtroom, its characters, protagonists, antagonists, villains and heroes that have yet to even be approached in portrayals in that milieu and which are waiting for the creative writers of the Mason series to bring them to life … Perry Mason’s life! — Reese
Matt Roush: I feel I’ve just been witness to a great closing argument! Thanks for that, and for your willingness and eagerness to be open-minded about this exciting new twist on an iconic TV character. (My review that was published in TV Guide Magazine will post online closer to Sunday’s premiere.)
Putting Perry in Context
Question: Those who complain about the alterations to Perry Mason on HBO don’t know their history. Sure, they recall the famous CBS show with Raymond Burr (and have probably long forgotten the terrible 1973 remake with Monte Markham as the able attorney.) But according to The Complete Directory To Prime Time Network TV, a terrific dictionary on TV history, the original Perry Mason started as part-soap opera, part-courtroom drama on radio, which ran from 1943-1955. When it finally came to TV, they dropped the domestic suds and stuck with the legal eagle elements. But the daytime dramatics didn’t disappear. They morphed into The Edge of Night, a classic soap opera that ran on the same network from 1956-1984, using the radio cast with new character names. Which means the Perry Mason most remember wasn’t the Perry Mason that started the franchise some 80 years ago, and altering the kind of show it became is nothing new. So relax and enjoy the newest version. In a way, he’s going back to his radio roots. And with that, your Honor, I rest my case. — Aaron F
Matt Roush: Thanks for this pop-culture history lesson, and for the opportunity to second your endorsement for the Directory, which is one of my essential go-to tools when doing research on early TV (or even TV I watched in my earlier days). What all of this entertaining discussion really demonstrates is that many TV shows and characters are subject to revision for new generations, with fresh angles and approaches to make them newly alive. (That said, there are some favorites from my nostalgic past that just shouldn’t be tinkered with. I’m looking at you, Bewitched.)
Should TV Even Try to Go Back to Work with So Many Restrictions?
Question: So I was just looking at reports about the guidelines to resume production, and this bit jumped out at me in particular: “Any scenes requiring cast or crew to be closer than 6 feet must be as brief as possible and cast must be as silent as possible to avoid spreading droplets through talking. Scenes with direct prolonged physical contact between cast (intimate scenes, fight scenes) are discouraged at this time.” My feeling, upon reading this, is: Why even bother?
I would rather wait until this is all over, even if it takes a year, in order to have my favorite shows back in their usual form, rather than have them make a watered-down version. If the characters can’t even speak to each other, what’s the point? For example, Grey’s Anatomy would be unable to have surgeries or sex. I don’t know what that show is if it doesn’t have those two elements. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist won’t be able to have the big elaborate musical numbers or any kind of natural progression of the love triangle if they can’t be in close proximity to each other. Again, what is that show if those elements are not part of it? I’d rather not find out, because if they make a lesser version of the show, then it’s canon that can’t be wiped away when the pandemic is over.
Maybe you could do something like Millionaire or Jeopardy! by having the contestants be 6 feet apart wearing masks. But I can’t imagine what it would be like to do a scripted show, whether or not they wanted to acknowledge the pandemic in the story. As a fan, a very long hiatus would be much better than seeing any of my favorite shows compromise their identity in order to produce episodes during this crisis. — Jake
Matt Roush: Obviously, it will be easier for some shows to resume production than others, and creative solutions involving editing and even the sort of CGI you don’t typically notice involving backgrounds will likely be required to provide an illusion that we’re still watching the sort of TV to which we’ve become accustomed. And that doesn’t even take into account the willingness of performers to return to these workplaces, regardless of the new protections the unions and others have suggested in these lengthy guidelines. These are just first steps toward getting the industry cautiously back on its feet, and writers and producers are already likely rethinking the sorts of stories and scenes they can do in the interim. (An excellent Hollywood Reporter piece deals with this very situation.)
While I believe a show like Grey’s Anatomy could figure out how to pull it off for a while, and we could learn to live without witnessing surgeries or sex scenes (or at least understanding why they would be shot differently), I agree that something as ambitious and specific as Zoey would likely need to wait until it’s safe to produce entertainment on that scale again. So let’s just celebrate its renewal for now, and replay the Playlist for our enjoyment while we wait to see what happens next.
Question: Is there any word on Single Parents being picked up by another network? So disappointed it was cancelled. The ensemble of talented adults and kids were so refreshing to watch. It was one of the funniest and well-written comedies on TV right now. — Marianne
Matt Roush: As is typically (though not always) the case, it seems unlikely this comedy will be shopped around or picked up elsewhere, given that it was an in-house production (since 20th Television and ABC Studios were co-producers, all under the Disney umbrella). I’m not aware of much poaching going on of castoffs this year, which could be a reflection of business being anything but usual these days.
A New, Impatient Titans Fan
Question: I have just found and binged Titans on DC Universe. I like free trials and figured I’d give it a go! So, since I literally just discovered Titans two days before writing this question, I haven’t kept up with its production news during the pandemic. It appears Season 2 premiered in September and ended at the end of November 2019. Do you know if they were already filming Season 3 or have any other news about its production? Is it by chance filmed in Canada? I saw that shows may be able to begin production there again soon. — Beth
Matt Roush: From what I can tell, Titans was unable to film the third season (in Canada) before the shutdown, so you’re in for a wait. But if this is your sort of thing, you might be interested that another DC Universe series, the sort-of spinoff Doom Patrol, will launch its second season on June 25 on DC Universe and HBO Max.
And Finally …
Question: Rescue Me is my all-time favorite show. Why do you think it wasn’t hyped much or ever nominated for an award? I haven’t had Netflix that long. Has it ever been on there? — Marie W
Matt Roush: Oh, it was hyped plenty and got lots of attention and acclaim—although this well-regarded show from FX (2004-11) about some very damaged firefighters also frequently courted controversy and often proved to be polarizing, especially in the infamous scene in which it appeared that Denis Leary’s character of Tommy Gavin raped his ex-wife during one of their many emotionally violent confrontations. That said, it won the Humanitas Prize and an AFI Award during its run, and had an OK showing at the Emmys, with one win (for guest actor Michael J. Fox) and six other nominations, including two for Leary and one each for writing and directing in the first season. Maybe not as much as the show deserved, but then as now it’s hard for every good show to get its due at awards time. As for its off-network life, I’m not sure it was ever on Netflix, but for the foreseeable future it’s available for streaming along with many other FX classics on Hulu.
That’s all for now. Thanks as always for reading, and remember that I can’t do this without your participation, so please keep sending questions and comments about TV to [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush), and you can also submit questions via the handy form below. Please include a first name with your question. Everyone stay safe and healthy!