HE to NYC Journo Pally: I didn’t get around to watching episode #1 of Perry Mason until a couple of nights ago. It’s an unpleasant sit. Right away I was…well, not repelled but rolling my eyes. Grubby gumshoe, down at the heels, dark vibes, rotely cynical. The writing feels lazy, cheap, second-hand…a long way from Chinatown.
Was the color palette drained or subdued? Actually that’s me — I was drained and subdued. But the images are…I dunno, dim and mucky.
Odious, ugly, distasteful characters being boring, speaking throwaway dialogue (written by series creators Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald), and occasionally bringing pain (or enduring it) in ugly, thoughtless ways.
Inwardly I was moaning “lemme outta here…I can’t watch an hour of this, much less eight episodes’ worth.” But I stuck it out because suffering is part of my job.
This is a period miniseries (set in 1931 Los Angeles) determined to cover you in a noirish atmosphere that emphasizes non-hygienic gunk. Perry Mason, an alcoholic private investigator who’s way too sloppy and stumbling to work as an assistant to J.J. Gittes, is…well, I’ve said it. Living in a fog, a poor judge of character and temperament, separated from his wife and son, a traumatized World War I veteran blah blah.
The story kicks off when grubby Mason is hired by a rich LA businessman to investigate the kidnapping of Charlie Dodson, a baby who turned up dead with his eyes stitched open blah blah.
I really don’t care for Matthew Rhys and that dour, doleful vibe of his, which was a problem in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and is even more of one here. Those dark beady eyes and that small-shouldered frame, those dishrag T-shirts he wears, that tight curly hair and especially that ridiculous two-week beard stubble. Only rummies and hobos walked around with a prominent beard stubble in the 1930s. It’s completely nonsensical that a detective looking to maintain a certain professional appearance would look like that.
Random beefs include (a) Mason taking sex snaps of an obese actor who pays to see his own films in a public theatre?, (b) occasionally sadistic violence, (c) Why is Mason in an odd sexual relationship with that overweight, middle-aged Hispanic woman (Veronica Falcon)? And why would she want to have sex with him? And why does she want to buy his home for $6K? Why would he want to sell?, (d) Mason’s home is next to a small private airport (one of only two elements I liked atmosphere-wise — possibly Van Nuys Airport in SF Valley?) and apparently owns a pair of underfed cows, (e) I also respected the decision to show us the Bunker Hill funicular (also visible in Robert Towne’s Ask The Dust and Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly).
But the idea of sitting through seven more episodes of this sordid series…God!
NYC Journo Pally to HE: “Stay with it. I agree that the first episode is just dumping a can of paint on the floor. But the colors take shape in one of the best second episode turnarounds in recent memory. From there the dense plotting and Chinatown light vibe sinks in. Stay on the case.”