TV

Perry Mason

Whether the state is merely incompetent or actively corrupt, the show suggests the burdens of its failures fall primarily on the poor and the vulnerable.

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"It's the state, Emily. The power of the state wants to crush you. No matter how minor your transgressions might seem to be." If HBO's exquisitely produced revival of Perry Mason has a mission statement, it's in those few lines.

The scene comes at a pivotal moment near the end of the fourth episode, in which defense lawyer Elias Birchard consults with Emily Dodson, a client wrongly accused of abetting the kidnapping and murder of her own infant son.

The crime was actually a product of corrupt cops and church elders, and Dodson was fingered for the murder not only because she'd had an affair with one of the kidnappers but because a sleazy district attorney thought pinning the crime on an unfaithful woman would be attention-grabbing—and thus politically useful in his mayoral quest.

Perry Mason is about the ways the criminal justice system fails to produce justice, sometimes because it is flawed, and sometimes because those who wield its power use their authority to pursue their own selfish ends rather than truth or fairness.

Whether the state is merely incompetent or actively corrupt, the show seems to suggest, the burdens of its failures fall primarily on women and minorities, the poor and the vulnerable, those who have the fewest means to defend themselves from overreach and abuse.

Co-director Tim Van Patten also worked on HBO's similarly luxurious Boardwalk Empire. Just as that show explored how Prohibition empowered avaricious men on both sides of the law, Mason is a show about how the law itself encourages cruelty and power seeking. In both series, the state is an engine of injustice and a corrupter of souls. But Perry Mason, at least, offers some hope in the form of personal decency, acts of conscience, and a dogged private attorney.

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  2. There was a recent review of a recent Perry Mason show, but he was a private eye, not an attorney, and had little in common with the Earl Stanley Gardner novels or the 1950s/1960s TV show. Is this that same show, or is this yet another Perry Mason revival which actually involves an attorney, not a private eye?

    1. Answering my own question: Same show, completely different take on it. This review is useless. Compare it to the other review from June by Glenn Garvin, whose subhead gives it away:

      Matthew Rhys stars in an adaptation with pretty much no resemblance to its origins.

    2. Just think of the first season as the origin story, and you’ll find that all the familiar Perry Mason characters fall into place.

      1. I see that; but the two reviews are so different, it was not obvious they reviewed the same show.

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  3. Thanks for the spoiler alert. Guess I can skip episode 4.

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  4. the burdens of [the criminal justice system’s] failures fall primarily on women…

    Sure they do. That would explain the 15-1 ratio of men to women incarcerated in the United States. Blah blah blah…Women and minorities hardest hit. We know the drill.

  5. HBO and left wing politics; real news, that.

    1. Odd. I saw this as a surprisingly libertarian message.

      1. I don’t see what’s “libertarian” about this:

        Whether the state is merely incompetent or actively corrupt, the show seems to suggest, the burdens of its failures fall primarily on women and minorities, the poor and the vulnerable, those who have the fewest means to defend themselves from overreach and abuse.

        How is that even remotely true? Women, minorities, and the poor as groups are massive recipients of wealth transfers. The top 20% have to pay for government and most of the wealth transfers. And if law abiding citizens with any wealth upset the IRS, regulators, or politicians, we can lose everything overnight because law abiding high income earners are extremely vulnerable to government abuse and error.

        Now, it is true that when the US government enslaves me for half of my working hours, I don’t end up starving and I can still live pretty well. But that’s despite the state, not because of it.

        The message of the new Perry Mason seems to be socialist pablum, not “libertarian”.

        1. “The top 20% have to pay for government and most of the wealth transfers. And if law abiding citizens with any wealth upset the IRS, regulators, or politicians, we can lose everything overnight because law abiding high income earners are extremely vulnerable to government abuse and error.”

          Right. How often does this actually happen compared to those that can afford to pay tax lawyers and get many times what they pay them as a benefit in taxes avoided through loopholes and other creative gimmicks? When you have an answer based in fact, let me know.

          And of course those with higher income and wealth pay more in taxes. They have more wealth and income. And don’t fall into the trap of assuming that people that get ‘transfer payments’ are getting more of a benefit of government spending than people that have too much wealth or income to qualify for those things. Economics is hardly my strong suit, but how do economists account for the benefit of having civil courts that can enforce contracts? How much do entrepreneurs and businesses benefit from patent and other IP protections? There are a ton of things that government does that benefits those with higher incomes besides whether they get health insurance or something with easily quantified value. (Let’s not forget corporate welfare, as well.)

        2. You try being a homeless black man charged with something you didn’t do and try to get out of it with a public attorney who has 200 other clients to also take care of. LMFAO not everything is about money despite Ayn Rand’s beliefs. This about the corrupt justice system, which, last I checked, is a common top of discussion among libertarians. Not everything is “tax is theft”

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  8. Did they use Ozzy’s song as the opening music?

  9. As long as the real killer is always tricked into confessing in open court based on the flimsiest evidence, it’s still Perry Mason.

    1. Heh, this was a fun show to watch. Sure, it is a large departure from the classic TV show in a lot of ways, but it was a compelling story with great characters and great performances. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will eagerly await the next season. As others have said, this seems to have been an ‘origin story’ that wasn’t written by the original author, so I expect future seasons to be more based on the books.

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