Review: Perry Mason
Opening with the parents of a kidnapped child getting their baby back - only to discover it is long dead - is a jarring way to let you know this is not the clean-cut courtroom drama the title might evoke.
While Perry Mason was a long-running TV show and the book series is still ranked third most popular of all time, few below 50 will have any inkling who the titular criminal defence lawyer actually is.
Produced by Robert Downey Jr, this new miniseries was originally going to be a vehicle for the Iron Man star. Arguably, The Americans' leading man Matthew Rhys is a much better fit.
Downey Jr's attractiveness means his version of "dishevelled" would look more "fashion statement".
One look at Rhys' wiry and unshaven private investigator and you believe he sleeps in his clothes. His good suit has egg on the tie.
Similar to the recent Penny Dreadful revival, this Perry Mason is set in 1930s Los Angeles - the Depression Era - and features a church with cultish connotations and a police force with seams of corruption.
This is the heart of noir, and here we have a beautifully styled one. The heat feels overbearing and outside of the mortician, everyone treats everyone with suspicion.
All the actors take to the characters like stains to Mason's tie.
John Lithgow brings the quality as always as E.B. Jonathan, Mason's mentor/handler.
Also among Mason's allies of sorts, Chris Chalk plays a young black cop in a corrupt and racist police department and Juliet Rylance plays E.B's assistant (in name only).
But this is Rhys' show. He inhabits the role to the point it is hard to see the seams.
You would not call Mason likeable but Rhys gives him a charm that makes him watchable from the off.
Mason is a guy too smart for the room but too far past caring to elevate his life from the sleaze - that is until the baby's death hits a nerve.
That grisly discovery is tied to a church led by a star preacher called Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany).
Like all great noirs, this is about a protagonist who, despite a lack of care about himself, is still a good man in a world sticky with villainy.
And at just eight episodes, it is an easy drift down the "deep, dark tunnel" Mason cautions against.
Premieres June 22 at 9am exclusively on HBO GO and HBO (StarHub TV Ch 601/Singtel TV Ch 420), with a same-day encore at 10pm on HBO