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"The way I see it, there's what's legal... and there's what's right."

Perry Mason is a TV series that ran for two seasons on HBO from 2020 to 2023. It is based on the iconic character of the same name created by Erle Stanley Gardner. The show was created by Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald and produced by Robert Downey Jr.. It stars Matthew Rhys as Perry Mason, Juliet Rylance as Della Street, and Chris Chalk as Paul Drake. Shea Whigham plays Pete Strickland, Perry's partner in a private detective business. Justin Kirk is District Attorney Hamilton Burger.

Season 1 serves as an Origin Story to the novels. It takes place in 1932 Los Angeles, a world caught up in the wealth of the growing motion picture industry, an oil boom, the upcoming Olympics, and the rise of a Christian Revival movement. In the midst of this, Perry Mason is working as the PI to Crusading Lawyer Elias Birchard 'E.B.' Jonathan (John Lithgow). Perry finds himself caught in the case of a lifetime: infant Charlie Dodson is kidnapped for ransom and murdered. His mother Emily is arrested and charged with complicity in her son's kidnapping. The Charlie Dodson case becomes a major scandal that threatens to shake the city and its power structure to the core. Tatiana Maslany plays Sister Alice, a charismatic evangelical minister, who turns out to be connected to the Dodson kidnapping.

Other characters include Stephen Root as District Attorney Barnes, Lili Taylor as Sister Alice's mother Birdy, and Gretchen Mol as Perry's ex-wife Linda.

Season 2 premiered in 2023. Perry, having completed his Origin Story, is now a full-time lawyer doing spiritually unfulfilling civil work. The big mystery is the murder of Brooks McCutcheon, the bumbling failson of Los Angeles business magnate Lynell McCutcheon. Perry takes as his clients two young Latinos who are obviously being used as patsies. Perry's determination to find out the truth and prove his clients' innocence threatens to expose the various corrupt dealings of the McCutcheon family, which makes Perry a target of Lynell's wrath. Sean Astin appears as Sunny Gryce, an amoral businessman and client of the Mason law firm whom Perry dislikes. Katherine Waterston plays Ginny Aimes, a schoolteacher who counts Perry's son Teddy among her students. Hope Davis is Camilla Nygaard, a rich businesswoman and competitor to the McCutcheons.


Tropes associated with this series include:

  • Accidental Murder: Charlie Dodson's death turns out to be this, since his kidnappers brought in a woman who was addicted to heroin as a wet nurse and she passed it to him in her milk, causing respiratory failure.
  • Adaptation Expansion: There was no exploration of Mason's background in the novels or previous TV series, and this show tries to fill in the gaps:
    • As the series begins, Mason is not yet a lawyer, but works as a PI for a well-regarded LA attorney.
    • Paul Drake is an LAPD officer, rather than Mason's PI.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: In this series, Mason is a World War I veteran with a failed marriage who rarely gets to see his son. He drinks heavily, he's often disheveled, his family dairy farm is on its last legs—this series is way more angsty than earlier adaptations of the character.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: Della is portrayed as a closeted lesbian here, who secretly has a girlfriend. In the original books and later, she is shown having significant sexual tension with Perry.
  • Age-Gap Romance: When Della makes fun of Burger for eyeing a younger man, Burger points out the age gap between her and Hazel. There is a 7-year difference in the actresses' ages.
  • The Alleged Car:
    • Perry's aging former milk van that he uses to get around. He later trades up for a motorcycle that a former client paid him with in Season 2.
    • Brooks McCutcheon's offshore gambling ship, the Morocco, is stated by multiple characters to be a piece of shit that's falling apart in spite of its gaudy interior lounge, and can barely make it through a single night out of dry dock. This ends up being a plot point, as not only was Brooks going into debt because it wasn't attracting enough customers, but he was shuffling around creditor costs for the Morocco's frequent repairs by using shell companies.
  • Amoral Attorney: District Attorney Maynard Barnes to a truly disgusting degree. He tries to frame Emily by fabricating evidence, bribes witnesses to testify against her, and blackmails EB to get him to drop the case.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The first season plays as an Origin Story in which Perry becomes a lawyer. The first-season finale has a woman named Eva Griffin come into Perry's office and ask for his help. "Eva Griffin" was the name of Perry's client from the first ever Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Velvet Claws.
  • Answer Cut: In "Chapter 15" Perry directly accuses Lydell of having his own son murdered, but Lydell insists "I didn't want it!" A puzzled Perry asks "Then who did?" Cut to Camilla Nygaard playing piano in her mansion. She was the one behind Brooks's murder, to silence him.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Brooks speaks of having built an MLB-caliber stadium in hopes of attracting a Major League Baseball team to LA. No such stadium was built in Los Angeles at this time. The main baseball park was Wrigley Field, which seated 21,000—too small for an MLB team even though the teams that played there sometimes outdrew MLB teams.
    • Season 2 is set in 1933, with reference made to the FBI. This was before the agency existed. At the time, its predecessor was named the DOI (that is, Division of Investigation). It would only be named Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935.
  • Back from the Dead: Sister Alice claims she can do this and bring back Charlie Dodson. Later she stages a dramatic display of the feat complete with revealing an empty coffin. Subverted however when it's revealed the baby who's found nearby is not him, but someone else, with black hair, brown eyes (Charlie's eyes were blue, his hair blond) and much smaller, with shorter limbs. Even so, his mother goes with it, perhaps because she's so desperate to have her son back.
  • The Beard: Della (who's a lesbian) pretends to date Burger (a gay man), which serves as cover for them both.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Season 2 ends with Mateo going to jail, but he'll be out in 30 years and his brother Rafael is let go. Perry goes to jail for 4 months for concealing the gun but it's hinted he'll use the time to get his head straight.
  • Blackmail:
    • E.B. is blackmailed by prosecutor Maynard Barnes to lose the case with information that could get him disbarred (it indicates he embezzled his clients' money in the past). He kills himself rather than comply.
    • In Season 2, it turns out Hamilton Burger is being blackmailed over the fact he's secretly gay (this being in the early 1930s) with photos of him and another man while getting intimate.
    • Camilla Nygaard in Season 2 it turns out has a huge trove of compromising photos (that includes those of Burger with a man) that she's used for leverage against people in them.
  • Blackmail Backfire: When Perry's stakeout of Chubby Carmichael results in pictures of Chubby not just with some random babe, but with an up-and-coming star at the studio, Perry ups his fee from the agreed-upon $200 to $600. The studio boss responds by paying Perry $1 and having his goons burn Perry's chest with the red-hot barrel of a gun.
    Perry: I overplayed it.
  • Bribe Backfire: Ennis tries to bribe Pete with a prostitute. Pete is so offended that he offers to keep investigating even though Perry cannot pay him.
  • Brick Joke: The closing credits of Season 2 episodes are winking references to events within the episode.
    • In "Chapter 10" Pete tells Perry a story about how he went to a theme park and watched an act where a horse dove from a platform into a pool. The credits play over still photos of what was apparently a real 1930s show in which a horse dived from a platform into a pool.
    • Paul Drake visits a Hooverville in "Chapter 11" and finds two kids shooting a box with rats in it, so they can have rat for dinner. The credits play over a shot of a rat scurrying around, as bullet holes appear in the wall behind it.
  • Broken Pedestal: After E.B. kills himself, both Perry and Della are forced to admit that their boss and mentor was a very flawed man.
  • Bullying the Dragon: Perry has a habit of antagonizing people more powerful than him. He tries to blackmail the head of a movie studio and mouths off to cops.
  • Butch Lesbian: In the lesbian bar Della and Anita visit there are several patrons with short hair wearing nice men's suits there in the early 1930's style in "Chapter 13".
  • Butt-Monkey: Public defender Frank Dillon is an incompetent, befuddled loser, so much so that the reveal that he'll be handling the Dodson case after E.B.'s death is treated as a joke in itself. Even as Della learns that he's working with Maynard Barnes to throw the case, he's shown to be a dimwit, as he suggests coming down to Barnes' office to show him confidential files, after they've already established a neutral meeting place.
    Dillon: ...May I ask what's so funny?
    Perry: You are, Frank. Endlessly.
  • Call-Back: The thread that Perry retrieved from the eyelid of poor little Charlie Dodson becomes a literal loose thread, as he never does trace it down and it plays no part of the investigation. But in the last scene of the first season, he takes the thread out of the matchbox and contemplates it, before blowing it away as he stands on a cliff in Carmel-by-the-sea.
  • Call It Karma: A movie studio hires Perry to find proof that an actor in decline is breaking his "moral clause", in order to allow them to cancel his contract. Perry finds that he is sleeping with their new upcoming actress, and demands more money for not releasing the photos and ruining her reputation.
  • Cassandra Truth: Mason's Mexican lover tells him that she wants to buy his house and expand the airfield, which he dismisses because he doesn't want to sell. In the end of the first season, she exploits his unpaid property taxes and buys the land out from under him. She then reminds him that he didn't heed her warnings.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Perry becomes a lawyer because Emily needs a defense attorney that believes in her innocence and cannot be intimidated or bribed by District Attorney Barnes. That disqualifies most of the lawyers in Los Angeles and the others do not want the case. Perry has no legal experience, but the prosecution's case is weak and the case will be decided by how passionate and persuasive the lawyers will be. Perry is extremely passionate about doing what is right and he can make an really inspiring speech if he needs to.
  • Corrupt Church: It gradually becomes clear over the course of Season 1 that Sister Alice's church is a deeply corrupt money-laundering scheme, although Sister Alice appears to not realize this. Various church elders are embezzling money or engaging in shady business deals or fraudulent real estate transactions. Their previous accountant testifies that this started because the church had taken on too much debt and the elders resorted to illegal activities to cover them. When the attention of authorities starts getting uncomfortable, Sister Alice's mom Birdy packs some bags and suggests that she and Alice go on the lam. Birdy eventually starts a new church in another town, while Alice starts an entirely new life.
  • Darker and Edgier: In spite of being based on a relatively clean franchise that includes a long-running network television series, this is one of HBO's darkest series to date, with scenes of brutal violence and murders, mutilated corpses and graphic sex, a main character committing suicide, and society at large being described as corrupt and oppressive. The genre is Film Noir rather than that of the original franchise. Your grandpa's Perry Mason this is not!
  • Death of a Child: The first scene of the first episode has a couple paying off a ransom and collecting their kidnapped child, only to find that the baby is dead.
  • Defective Detective: Perry is a Shell-Shocked Veteran who wears a Perma-Stubble Beard of Sorrow while working as a private investigator. He's divorced and is a Disappeared Dad to his son. Only once he becomes a lawyer does he start to shape up.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • The series explicitly shows racism in the early 1930s. Drake laments that even as a black police officer, he's still lower on the social ladder than a white murderer.
    • Della has to stay in the closet about being lesbian due to homophobia. She and her girlfriend maintain separate rooms at their boarding house and can only occasionally spend the night with each other, in spite of being in a monogamous relationship. Hamilton Burger is gay and must also keep this hidden. As a cover, they pretend they're dating. (A Season 2 development has Burger admitting to Della that he is being blackmailed with photos of him engaged in homosexual activity.)
    • In the first episode, Perry starts smoking in the Dodsons’ house without asking permission, and when Mrs. Dodson catches him, she’s not mad and he even offers her a cigarette. Nowadays, smoking in a stranger’s house without permission would often get you thrown out.
    • The Polish-American conspirators in the kidnapping are repeatedly referred to as "Polacks," even by Mason. In modern times, the word is considered a slur.
    • In 1932, Prohibition is still technically on the books, though most people seem to have no difficulty drinking in public. When confronted for having a hidden flask, Mason correctly notes that it's not illegal to drink alcohol, just produce, transport or sell it. FDR would have just been elected into the presidency this year on a campaign promise of repealing Prohibition, which he did the next year.
  • Detective Mole: Detective Ennis, one of the two LAPD cops on the Season 1 kidnapping-murder case, is one of the kidnappers. He is also the murderer of the other three kidnappers, which he pins on fellow kidnapper George Gannon.
  • Didn't Think This Through: When attempting to blackmail a studio executive into a bigger payday for some scandalous pictures, Perry brings the negatives of the pictures along with him to the meeting and allows the executive's goons to very conspicuously surround him during the negotiations. That it doesn't go well for him should hardly have been a surprise.
  • Dirty Business: Perry is running out of options and with Emily's life at stake, he convinces Pete to bribe a juror. Pete acknowledges that it was necessary so that justice could prevail, but he still feels really bad about having done so, and it is one of the reasons why he decides to not work for Perry as an investigator.
  • Dirty Cop:
    • Ennis and Holcomb are blatantly dirty. They tamper with evidence or even engage in regular crimes. It's made clear most of the LAPD qualify, with honest cops such as Drake an exception.
    • Pete used to be a vice cop which means that he was corrupt to some degree. He clearly did not like that part of his job and despises corrupt cops like Ennis and Holcomb.
  • Disappeared Dad: Perry is largely absent in his son's life, causing his ex-wife to flatly tell him he isn't really a father. His son is closer with his stepfather as a result by far. Perry does appear to feel bad about this, but only sees him rarely.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • E.B. gasses himself after being blackmailed to lose the case by Maynard Barnes.
    • Emily Dodson, unable to bear the trauma of losing her baby and her marriage, killed herself between Seasons 1 and 2.
  • Enemy Mine: Hamilton Burger is the Deputy District Attorney which would normally put him on the opposite side of Mason and the defense team. However, Burger does not like his boss and would love to have his job. He helps Mason because if Mason wins the Dodson case it is likely to get District Attorney Barnes fired.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: The first shot of the second season is a long, complicated tracking shot that follows a waiter through a casino, through some kitchens, and down stairs of what's eventually revealed to be a cruise ship, showing him throwing a Molotov cocktail in the linen closet before he jumps ship.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Lupe is first seen having loud and passionate sex with Perry, then getting dressed and casually stating she'd rather sleep in her own bed. She's an independent, Spicy Latina who is certainly not in love with Perry.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Della is desperate to find an honest replacement lawyer for Emily and bemoans to Perry the miscarriage of justice that is being perpetuated. Perry goes on a rant about how the prosecution has no real case and is trying to get a jury to convict an innocent woman of a horrible crime simply because she had en ethical lapse. Della realizes that Perry just made the perfect opening statement and decides that their only option is to make Perry a lawyer.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Murderous corrupt cop Ennis has a wife as well as a daughter with polio.
  • Evil Stole My Faith: When Sister Alice tells Perry in "Chapter 3" that God is with him, Perry shoots back "God left me in France", an obvious reference to the horrors he saw in World War I.
  • Externally Validated Prophecy:
    • In Season 2, Brooks is trying to attract a Major League Baseball team to Los Angeles. He points out correctly that Los Angeles is more than big enough to support a team—in 1930, LA was already the fifth biggest city in the country and was bigger than many eastern cities with teams—and that a baseball team in LA will do great. Everyone thinks he's an idiot and there is no interest from MLB. He's completely correct, although it would be a quarter-century from this time setting before the Dodgers relocated to Los Angeles.
    • In that same episode ("Chapter 9") Lupe says that she knows a place in Mexico called Cabo San Lucas that would be great for a resort.
  • Fake Faith Healer: Sister Alice is accused of this by dissident former church members, as one wheelchair-using man whom she "healed" was only temporarily recovered before relapsing (depending on what his condition is, it might have been a placebo effect, which is known to happen from such "healings"-it's not said he's paralyzed).
  • Fan Disservice: Perry's first surveillance job in the first episode ends with an enraged, morbidly obese, completely naked man chasing Perry back to his car.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In an early Season 1 episode, E.B. looks at the jury and ruminates that he only needs to convince one of the jurors, while the prosecution needs all of them. In the end, Mason bribes a juror to rule in his favor and effect a mistrial, though he actually convinced two more himself.
    • Early in Season 2, Perry goes to the movies, where he sees a newsreel about the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. It plays like a little historical detail, part of the sense of time and place—but it's actually key to the solution. The McCutcheons were part of a scheme to smuggle oil to Japan in the face of an embargo.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: In "Chapter 13" Perry realizes that a fingerprint of his client Rafael Gallardo that was on the victim's steering wheel had to be planted since it came upside down, obviously transferred from one taken later, and then notes in open court that the police or DA's investigators were the ones capable of this. Privately, both Mateo and Rafael confessed they did murder the victim, but clearly someone thought they could add some evidence to help ensure their convictions.
  • Friendly Local Chinatown: The Los Angeles Chinatown is home to a bordello that pays kickbacks to the LAPD.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Perry, talking about the peculiarities of the Dodson kidnapping, says, "It's queer from both sides."
  • The Heretic: Sister Alice is denounced by many of her own congregation after claiming she will raise little Charlie from the dead, feeling this is blasphemy. They even split off to form their own church and say they won't come back until she is brought down by failure or recants.
  • Hollywood Law: In the final episode of the first season, Mason delivers his closing arguments for the defense, and then the district attorney gives his closing arguments for the prosecution. In real life, the prosecution always speaks first.
  • Horrible Hollywood: When not working for E.B., Mason follows Hollywood starlets to get lurid photos to sell to tabloids. The studio executives are not above using hired muscle to rough people up.
  • How We Got Here: "Chapter 15" opens with Perry and Pete, dripping wet, walking out of the surf onto a beach. A "1 Day Earlier" title card then starts the story rolling. Eventually we find out that Perry and Pete snuck on to a McCutcheon freighter to see what it was carrying, and they swam back to the shore after finding out.
  • In Name Only: Zig-Zagged. The series starts out with Perry as a Film Noir P.I. and not even in law school. However, halfway through season 1, he has to step in and defend their client after E.B. dies and no other trustworthy lawyer will take up the case. A letter is faked that makes it look like he apprenticed to E.B. for months. He then passes the bar exam and is sworn in as a lawyer.
  • Indy Ploy:
    • Perry figures out that George Gannon was murdered, but the coroner is in the pocket of the LAPD and ruled the death a suicide. What to do? Steal the body, and leave it on a golf course in an area where it will go to Perry's coroner friend Virgil, who will conduct a second, honest autopsy.
    • E.B.'s suicide leaves Emily without a lawyer. What to do? Make Perry her lawyer. How to do that? Fake a letter indicating that E.B. was mentoring Perry to become a lawyer, then get someone to help Perry cheat on the bar exam. Poof, he's a lawyer.
  • Internal Deconstruction: The series portrays Perry Mason as he would be in the real world. His impulsive and overly theatrical tendencies do more damage than good and the people around him have to stop him from fully self-destructing.
  • It Will Never Catch On: One of the baseball guys pooh-poohing Brooks's dream of bringing Major League Baseball to Los Angeles says "No major league team will ever play west of the Mississippi!"
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: In "Chapter 13" Paul has to beat information out of a youthful black gangster who arranged the McCutcheon murder, since his boss demands it as a punishment for not getting his cut. Paul's shaken and feels very guilty at doing this, even under coercion.
  • Jury and Witness Tampering: In "Chapter 8", Pete bribes a juror to get Emily a mistrial. It turns out to not be necessary, as Perry managed to convince two other jurors to vote for acquittal.
  • Karma Houdini: Holcomb never faces any consequences for his many crimes (that ranged from tampering with evidence to murder).
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: It looks like Ennis will escape any punishment for his many crimes. He is then murdered on Holcomb's orders.
  • Kick the Dog: District Attorney Barnes is revealed to be an asshole when he rudely tells a man in the courthouse washroom to get the hell out. When the man dutifully makes a beeline for the door, Barnes mockingly chides him for not washing his hands. It's a pointless act of bullying.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Della and her girlfriend Hazel are both quite feminine, wear makeup and pretty clothes, and it's not obvious that they're lesbians until they're shown in bed with each other. In Season 2, Della sees Anita St. Pierre, who's also feminine, though a bit less so. They visit a lesbian bar with many other women partying there in stylish dresses as well (though with butch lesbians too).
  • Love Confession: Della and Anita confess they love each other in "Chapter 13".
  • Mercy Kill: Perry shot dead mortally wounded German and American soldiers while in the trenches, as a cloud of poison gas reached their position.
  • Moe Greene Special: How Brooks McCutcheon is killed at the end of the Season 2 premiere, shot right in the eye. That is part of what leads Perry to take the case, as he doesn't believe that two youths could make a shot like that.
  • Mole in Charge: When the court appoints a replacement lawyer for Emily, it quickly becomes clear that the guy is working for District Attorney Barnes and is planning to sabotage the defense he is supposed to be leading.
  • My Greatest Failure: In Season 2 Perry is haunted by the between-seasons suicide of Emily Dodson, who wrote several letters and postcards to Perry describing her hopelessness and despair, before she drowned herself in Lake Tahoe. Perry felt so much guilt over this that he abandoned criminal defense and has been spending the Time Skip between seasons doing civil law.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • In the first-season finale, Perry is grilling Ennis in court, looking to break him and get him to confess on the stand. In the middle of cross-examination, Hamilton Burger gets up from a bench in the audience and tells Perry that it won't work. The scene then cuts to reveal that they're actually in Perry's house rehearsing. Burger tells Perry to give up, that "No one ever confesses on the stand." Perry sees the point and decides not to call Ennis. The Raymond Burr show was so famous for doing that in every episode that it named a trope.
    • The original series' iconic theme song, "Park Avenue Beat", was given a reworking by series composer Terence Blanchard for the season one finale.
  • Never Suicide: Sgt. Ennis makes it look like George Gannon shot himself after killing the other two kidnappers (in reality, Ennis murdered all three).
  • New Year Has Come: The first episode takes place over New Year's, 1931-32. Perry gets beaten up by a Hollywood studio executive's goons outside a New Year's party.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Perry revealing Emily's affair to the police leads to Emily getting arrested.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • "Chubby Carmichael", the comedian whom Perry is following in the first episode, is an obvious expy of Fatty Arbuckle, a fat slapstick comedian whose private life got him into trouble.
    • Sister Alice is highly influenced by Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, a Canadian Pentecostal evangelist, media celebrity and scam artist in the 1920s and 1930s who also disappeared for a time and was linked to a fake kidnapping (only this one was her own).
    • Soup kitchen philanthropist Brooks McCutcheon is a fictionalized (and even more morally gray) version of Clifford Clinton, a Los Angeles entrepreneur with his own franchise of cafeterias at which the poor could eat free, who was simultaneously a loving family man and serial adulterer.
  • Noodle Implements: Medical examiner Verge relates that his colleague on the night shift did some odd "ceremony" with the cadavers that involved a cherub outfit and mayonnaise. He never gets to explain all the details.
  • Origin Story: The show serves as a prequel to the more well-known incarnations of the character. Whereas in all the other stories—the original book series, the 1930s and 1940s movies, and the Raymond Burr show—Perry was a lawyer, in this he is a world-weary private eye working for lawyer E.B. Jonathan.
  • Patched Together from the Headlines:
    • The first season arc — Charlie Dodson's kidnapping and murder — is partially based on multiple crimes of the era.
      • The kidnapping and exchange of a child for profit, who turns out to be dead while the kidnappers disappear with the money, is taken from the 1927 abduction of Marion Parker and, to a lesser extent, Charles Lindbergh Jr. in 1932. Like Marion, who was tossed from a moving car, Charlie's body is exchanged in a way (streetcar transfer) that helps aid their escape; similarly, like multiple theories about the Lindbergh baby's death, his abductors killed him by accident and panicked.
      • Law enforcement's handling of the case is similar to the 1928 disappearance of Walter Collins Jr. The LAPD, searching for five months, failed to produce the boy (who was most likely killed); facing intense public scrutiny, they attempted to gaslight the mother into accepting a similar-looking child who said he was Walter, and then had her briefly committed to a mental institution when she wouldn't cooperate.note  Here, they go even further, slut-shaming Sarah and accusing Matthew of masterminding the abduction himself in lieu of any evidence. The "changeling" aspect comes with Sister Alice "resurrecting" Charlie; even though the second baby looks little like him, Emily accepts it because of how desperately she wants her son to be alive again.
      • Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, like Sister Alice, was also implicated in an abduction — her own, which was alleged by the L.A. district attorney to be a publicity stunt, and was sensationalized by the press as a cover-up for a possible love affair or abortion. Though the charges were dropped due to lack of reliable witnesses for the prosecution, the scandal would permanently damage McPherson's public reputation.
    • Brooks McCutcheon's character is inspired by restaurateur Clifford Clinton — though, aside from their shared infidelity, Brooks bears little resemblance to Clifford, being entrenched in the corruption of L.A. municipal politics rather than fighting it. The building of his brainchild, McCutcheon Stadium, which involved the forcible displacement of migrant families from their land, is a dramatization of Dodgers Stadium's construction and the last days of the Battle of Chavez Ravine.
  • Perma-Stubble: Shell-Shocked Veteran Mason maintains about four days of growth throughout the first few episodes of the series. He at least seems to trim it into a vague approximation of a beard when he offers his services to Mrs. Dodson. He only starts shaving when he passes the Bar exam.
  • The Perry Mason Method: Discussed and subverted. We see Perry trying this with Ennis on the stand, but then there is a cut to reveal that he is just rehearsing the examination with his associates (what we are seeing is his mental picture of how it will turn out). After some heated discussion, Perry is persuaded not to recall Ennis, since he will never get a confession in open court: all the evidence is circumstantial and Ennis will just deny everything.
  • Plea Bargain: The case in Season 2 ends this way. Perry gets a deal with Burger to have Mateo plead guilty and is sentenced to thirty years in prison without parole, while Rafael has all charges dismissed against him.
  • Police Are Useless: E.B. and Perry are hired in Season 1 because Baggerly does not trust the LAPD to handle the case properly. It quickly becomes apparent that the police detectives are set on pinning the murder on the Dodsons and do not care to pursue leads that might point away from that. The lead detective even admits to Perry that he just wants the case closed and is not concerned if they get it right. The detective's partner is one of the kidnappers.
  • Politically Correct History: While the show does have a lot of Deliberate Values Dissonance, some aspects of the setting seem surprisingly progressive:
    • Perry Mason doesn't have a whiff of racism. He maintains a romantic (if casual) relationship with a Mexican woman and treats Drake so fairly that he hires the man to act as his investigator.
    • More unusually, Perry has not an ounce of homophobia. He criticizes Della not for being a lesbian but for trying to keep it a secret from him, and then treats their relationship as perfectly ordinary.
    • The Radiant Assembly of God has a completely desegregated congregation, as Black and white church members sit together intermingled. It's subtly implied that this is because of the church elders' commitment to making as much money as possible over any notion of equality; when Elder Brown leaves to start the schismatic "Reformed Radiant Assembly of God", he pledges that the organization must return to its "noble white Christian origins".
    • At the end of the first season, Mason proudly introduces Drake to his first client, who doesn't bat an eyelash at his race. No one brings up the idea it might ever become an issue with clients.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Holcomb is just as corrupt and villainous as Ennis, but he recognizes that some crimes are just not worth committing because they are too high profile for them to cover up if things go wrong.
  • Private Detective:
    • At the start of the series, Mason and Strickland both work as freelance private eyes as well as receive steady work from E.B. as investigators. While Mason becomes a lawyer, Strickland takes a job as an investigator at the D.A.'s office by the end of the first season.
    • After the Dodson trial, Drake quits his job because of his disgust with his corrupt collegaues in the LAPD to become an investigator.
  • Pulling the Thread:
    • The Dodsons' stories do not hold up under closer scrutiny. The LAPD quickly unravels Mr. Dodson's alibi because he lied about his gambling. Perry confronts Mrs. Dodson about her affair and quickly breaks through her lies.
    • This happens to Perry as well. He formulates a theory of the crime but Pete points out a problem with it. Perry reshuffles the facts to make them fit better but that leaves even more holes in his theory that Pete points out. Perry has to admit that his theory cannot be true.
    • Perry and Pete do this to the LAPD report of the ransom drop. They examine the location and alternate questioning the evidence. One of them points out a flaw in the report, the other tries to defend it and then the first points out how the defense does not make sense. They conclude that three people could not have pulled off the scheme as the report suggested and that a fourth man must have picked up the ransom and escaped through a walkway to a neighboring building.
  • Race Lift: Paul Drake, white in the novels and previous adaptations, is made into a black police officer who struggles with the ingrained racism of the department.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: In the second season premiere a drunk Perry stares at a mirror for a while and then smashes it. He's depressed over a great many things, like the uninspiring direction his law career has taken, the suicide of Emily Dodson, and how he just helped slimy Sunny Gryce ruin a much better man.
  • Rape as Backstory: It is implied that Alice's mother let her be raped by a man in return for gas when they were stranded out on the road.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The judge in season one is quite stern, but he shows no preference for either side.
  • Refuge in Audacity: After E.B.'s death no other honest lawyer wants to take the Dodson case so Della arranges for Perry to become a lawyer by faking an apprenticeship letter and arranging help for him to pass the bar exam.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: McCutcheon Stadium is fictional, and there were no big baseball stadiums built in Los Angeles in the 1930s. But the Season 2 flashback in which a Mexican-American neighborhood is destroyed, in order to make way for a baseball stadium, is taken straight from what happened in Real Life with Chavez Ravine and the construction of Dodger Stadium some 25 years after the time setting of this show.
  • Secret Relationship:
    • Perry seems to keep his relationship with Lupe quiet, if not secret, possibly due to racism since he's white and she's a Latina.
    • Della is a closeted lesbian who meets clandestinely with her girlfriend due to the homophobia of the time.
    • Similarly to Della, Burger is a closeted gay man. He takes Della on dinner dates to keep up the facade for both of them.
  • Secretly Wealthy: Mr. Dodson hides the fact that his birth father is fantastically rich from his wife until after they've moved to Los Angeles.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Mason was traumatized by his experiences in World War I, and has difficulty expressing it.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Hazel is a hand model who hand doubles for "Myrna"—that is, Myrna Loy.
    • Strickland notes that the head of the Hollywood studio that hired them looks an awful lot like Groucho Marx.note  It turns out that he's a whole lot more dangerous.
    • Myrna Loy gets namechecked again in "Chapter 11" when Della's new girlfriend Anita St. Pierre says she has to write some dialogue for Loy and Ramon Novarro to say to each other. Apparently she is punching up the script for The Barbarian.
  • Smithical Marriage: The hotel clerk who delivers devastating testimony in "Chapter 6" reveals that George Gannon checked himself and Emily into the hotel as "Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Kelly."
  • Smoking Hot Sex: It's after a passionate kiss, not intercourse, but it's the same vibe when Della and Anita kiss and then they light up Anita's fancy Turkish cigarettes.
    Anita: I think you made me blush.
  • Stout Strength: Chubby Carmichael takes revenge on Perry by attacking him in a phone booth. In spite of being a war veteran, Perry gets his ass kicked.
  • String Theory: Perry Mason has put pictures of the persons in the Dodson case and of pieces of evidence on the wall in his house, and connected them with strings.
  • Theiss Titillation Theory: In-Universe, both discussed and inverted in "Chapter 4". A newspaper runs Perry's photo of a nude, Fan Disservice-y Chubby Carmichael, with a black bar covering his privates. A golfer, talking with his buddy about the photo, says "Is it me, or does printing a black bar over your jimmy make it look worse?"
  • There Are No Coincidences: Perry discovers that the fourth kidnapper escaped through a social club located in the building next to the ransom drop. He then sees that Det. Ennis is a member of this club. Ennis tries to claim that it is a coincidence but Perry is not buying it. When Pete investigates Ennis, he finds a number of other "coincidences" that pretty much confirm that Ennis is involved in the kidnapping.
  • Truer to the Text: The iconic earlier version of the show, with Raymond Burr, was a Lighter and Softer adaptation which made Perry into a hard-charging, heroic lawyer who always got his (always innocent) client off and got the Happy Ending. This series, with its gritty feel, troubled protagonist, and rampant police corruption and brutality, is much closer in spirit to the Erle Stanley Gardner novels. The books were hardboiled detective fiction.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: While Detective Ennis lies through his teeth on the stand in "Chapter 8", the flashbacks that accompany his voiceover testimony show what he was really doing — meeting with the other kidnappers, murdering them, making George Gannon's death look like a suicide, murdering the wet nurse prostitute with a heroin hot shot.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Perry and Alice. After the trial, and free of their obligations, they share a moment in which she comments that neither of them should be alone. Perry's feelings are left unsaid.
  • Voiceover Letter: A series of voiceover postcards from Emily Dodson to Perry, which he reads in the season 2 premiere. They express her hopelessness and despair, which ended in her suicide.
  • War Is Hell: "Chapter 2" shows Perry serving as a soldier in World War I while charging with other American soldiers for the German lines as they're mowed down by the dozens, then engaging in brutal hand-to hand combat. His experiences have left him traumatized into the present of 1932.
  • Wham Line:
    • With a single word at the beginning of Emily's trial, which E.B. assumed would be a breeze, becomes much harder.
    Judge Fred Wright: Mrs. Emily Dodson, how do you plead?
    Emily: Guilty!
    E.B.: (Oh, Crap! face)
    • Perry is met in a diner by a man who offers all the help he needs to become a lawyer. When Perry asks his name, the man identifies himself as "Assistant District Attorney Hamilton Burger."
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Perry's methods have a tendency to really piss off his friends.
    • Pete is furious at Perry for trying to blackmail the studio and costing them their $200 payday. Pete needed that money to feed his family.
    • E.B. is furious at Perry for stealing evidence from a crime scene thus making E.B.'s job way more difficult.
    • Perry gives one to the deceased E.B. for killing himself in such a way that it would be Della who found his dead body. Perry is also clearly angry that E.B. killed himself rather than asking Perry for help.
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: In "Chapter 13" Anita takes Della out to a hidden lesbian bar. A mysterious man is shown following them. Like a speakeasy (as it might well have been not too long ago, this being just after Prohibition) they knock to get in, with many women (both masculine and feminine like them) partying inside as one sings, basically the same as a regular high-class bar of the time otherwise.
  • Would Hurt a Child: A baby is kidnapped and returned to its parents dead with its eyes sewn open.
  • You Have Failed Me: Holcomb has Ennis murdered for being a loose cannon and having gone too far.

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