Max: “Perry Mason, Season 2” starring Matthew Rhys
After two seasons of the “Perry Mason” reboot (Max), it’s clear that we are not in Raymond Burr Territory anymore. Perry (Matthew Rhys from “The Americans”) is a sleepy-eyed, unshaven PI-turned-litigator in Depression-era Los Angeles who drinks too much and is still shell shocked by his time in the service (WWI) and his bad marriage. His assistant Della Reese (Juliet Rylance) is a closeted lesbian. Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) who assumes the PI role after Perry passes the bar, is Black; facing hard times, he has moved in with his in-laws.
After successfully defending a woman falsely accused of murdering her child in Season 1, Perry is emotionally drained and ready to give up criminal law in Season 2 in favor of civil cases. Quickly bored by the latter, he is intrigued by, and agrees to take on, the case of the Gallardo brothers, impoverished Mexican-Americans who are being tried for the murder of a rich white man, Brooks McCutcheon (Tommy Dewey). Brooks is the ne’er-do-well son of Lydell McCutcheon (Paul Raci), an unsavory Los Angeles businessman.
Did the brothers pull the trigger? Or were they stooges for others who wanted Brooks dead? The series, off to a slow start, gathers steam as Perry and Della uncover clues that lead them to encounters with gun merchants in LA’s Hooverville, petty criminals in the Black community, and eccentrics like Camilla Nygaard (an excellent Hope Davis), a wealthy patron of the arts who relaxes with pot and gin Martinis.
It’s easy to pick out who the real bad guys are in Season 2. They include the crooked DA Hamilton Burger (Justin Kirk, who also played the villainous politician in “Succession”) and his preppy, racist deputy Milligan (Mark O’Brien). Eager to pin the murder on the Gallardos, the prosecution wants to get the trial over with as quickly as possible. Not so fast, say Perry and Della.
Kudos to Rhys who gets to show off his considerable acting chops as the series gathers steam; to Rylander for her portrayal of a woman who can stand on her own two high-heeled feet; to Shea Wigham (“Boardwalk Empire”) as Pete Strickland, Perry’s salty fellow PI; and to Kathleen Waterston as Ginny Aimes, Perry’s love interest.
“Perry Mason, Season 2” is a solid B-plus effort, helped significantly by the excellent casting; a haunting score by Terence Blanchard; and burnished film-noir cinematography by Eliot Rockett. While it is based on characters created nearly 100 years ago, this reboot is anything but your grandfather’s Perry Mason.