Thrumming within the background of HBO’s many triumphs up to now 5 years has been the cabler’s want to proceed the actual, pitch-dark success of “True Detective.” First got here two extra seasons of the Nic Pizzolatto anthology, ones that with various levels of creative achievement each managed to proceed that present’s normal vibe of anguished toil, its sense that cracking a case does little to heal the damaged soul of the world. Beforehand this yr got here “The Outsider,” an adaptation of a Stephen King crime novel that continued within the feel-bad vibe; now, HBO’s quest for noir returns to the supply.
With “Perry Mason,” HBO repurposes the character finest identified from the Raymond Burr-led authorized drama of the 1950s and 1960s, depicting him each earlier than his authorized profession and — crucially — earlier than the predecessor sequence, an early TV procedural, indicated that each transfer Mason made was constructing in direction of a win. As performed by Matthew Rhys of “The Individuals,” this 1930s Mason is an investigator for an lawyer performed by John Lithgow. He’s an efficient louse with restricted additional ambition, skulking round non-public properties and ingesting off-hours to maintain a fragile equilibrium. That stability is threatened each by reminiscences of the Nice Battle and by a uniquely disturbing case involving a gruesomely killed child (whose visage, with its eyes sewn open, is lingered over gratuitously).
Each dad and mom (Nate Corddry and Gayle Rankin) expertise their time within the glare of doubt, and public curiosity within the case is infected by an Aimee Semple McPherson-esque charismatic preacher (Tatiana Maslany, along with her mom performed by Lili Taylor) in addition to by the seemingly countless urge for food of the police to deliver their public, and even Black officers inside their drive (as depicted by an exemplary Chris Chalk) to heel. On this method, at the least, “Perry Mason” feels forward of its time. Elsewhere, although, lots of the subplots can really feel wheel-spinning — Maslany is so alive in her scenes that it may be straightforward to lose oneself of their countless whirl, forgetting that not that a lot is occurring in episodes exceeding an hour of size.
An excessive amount of of this present, a punishing eight installments, appears like one more iteration of what we’ve seen already, elsewhere and infrequently superior. Rhys, so gifted at permitting sentiment and vulnerability to shine via on “The Individuals,” right here feels inhibited by the tautness of the social constraints round Mason, that are drawn painstakingly however not particularly curiously. The present combines a setting we’ve seen earlier than (“Penny Dreadful: Metropolis of Angels,” at present airing, takes place in the identical milieu, right down to the McPherson-aping subplot). Its angle of method is ganked from 20 years’ price of status TV, with a stern and damaged man utilizing work as a method of beating down demons. The present is gorgeous to take a look at (when it’s not purposefully ugly) and options nice work by Rhys, Chalk, Maslany and Taylor, Rankin, Lithgow, and Juliet Rylance (as do-it-all authorized assistant Della Road), and but offers us little cause to look extra deeply. Why revive a title like this solely to do with it what’s been performed, over the now-tapped-out prestige-TV antihero period, so many occasions earlier than?