THE PERFORMER | Matthew Rhys
THE SHOW | Perry Mason
THE EPISODE | “Chapter One” (June 21, 2020)
THE PERFORMANCE | Rhys had some huge wingtips to fill playing the title role in HBO’s reboot, after Raymond Burr turned the crusading lawyer into a TV icon. But Rhys brought a bitter, melancholy edge to the famed character in this week’s series premiere, pulling us in right away with a fascinating reinvention.
Rhys’ Perry Mason might be sacrilege to old-school fans: He drinks like a fish. He has athletic, borderline uncomfortable sex. And he shamelessly skirts the letter of the law as a down-and-out private eye in 1930s Los Angeles. But Rhys also brought new depth to a character we thought we knew. The sadness in his eyes when he looked through piles of unpaid bills, or when he gazed upon the body of a dead baby boy — reminiscent of Rhys’ Emmy-winning work on The Americans — let us know that life wasn’t always smooth sailing for the future star litigator. Rhys also brought a wry sense of self-deprecating humor to the role, with Mason fully aware that his schlubby suits and mustard-stained tie aren’t exactly the portrait of professionalism.
Rhys has an uncanny way of signaling that his characters have pent-up emotions raging just below the surface, and Mason’s came boiling up when he called his ex-wife in a drunken rage, demanding to talk to his son. It was a searing emotional moment unlike anything we saw on the original Perry Mason… and maybe that’s a good thing. HBO’s Perry Mason is very different indeed, and if Rhys didn’t fit the role so well, the whole thing would fall apart. But with his detailed, humane performance leading the way, we can’t wait to see where this new case goes from here.
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