Thank you, HBO for the resurrection of Perry Mason. Although my taste for police procedurals and courtroom drama has more recently been satisfied by every Law and Order series, including rerun binge-athons, the intrepid criminal defense lawyer as portrayed by Raymond Burr, could never quite be replaced. So when the trailers for HBO’s new version appeared on my TV screen, I must confess my heart skipped a beat.
For 40 years, beginning in 1933, the character created by Erle Stanley Gardner, appeared in more than 80 novels and short stories. Like my favorite police procedurals, the stories all followed a formula. A client was accused of murder, but during the trial Mason, aided by sidekicks Della Street and Paul Drake, would uncover and implicate the true guilty party, who would then confess.
Beside the novels, there was film Perry Mason, radio Perry Mason, TV Perry Mason, all recognizable and consistently dependable. Until now.
HBO Perry Mason is not the Perry Mason of The Case of the Velvet Claws and rest of the “Case of the’s.” This Perry Mason is not a lawyer, but a melancholy, shell-shocked WW I veteran who is a gum shoe, a flat foot, a tail. In other words, a private detective in noir-ish 1930s Los Angeles. That’s not right!
But wait, I get it. Matthew Rhys is prequel Perry Mason, the character before he became a lawyer. We’re only up to Episode 2, but should I surmise that by the end of the series, we’ll witness Perry taking the California bar exam?
On reflection, I find the reinvention of the character inspirational. Which leads me to my current project. What if we took other iconic TV characters from the late 50s-early 60s and transplanted them to the present? Below are some thoughts about how this might play out.
I LOVE LUCY. Here we find modern-day Lucy Ricardo as a young widow. Ricky has died of the Cuban flu, leaving her alone to care for their child, Little Ricky. To make matters worse, she has lost her job as the Vitameatavegamin Girl, leaving her financially destitute. Landlord Fred Mertz, who has had his eyes on Lucy for years, tiring of dowdy Ethel, tells Lucy he will not evict her if she will grant him sexual favors. Seeing little choice, she agrees, until one day she has had quite enough of lecherous Mr. Mertz. Lucy rebels, and along with Alice Kramden, who has grown sick and tired of threats to her kisser and trips to the moon, joins the #METOO movement, and becomes its vice-president.
MARCUS WELBY, MD. On Father’s Day, this kindly California general practitioner receives an unusual gift from one of his adult children. It is a membership in Ancestry.com. Marcus is thrilled, having always wanted to search the roots of his family tree, and perhaps discover if, with a name like Welby, he was destined to become a doctor. Eager to go forward with his search, he cancels all of his appointments for the following Monday, telling each of his patients to take two oxycodones and call him in the morning, and logs on to begin his adventure. He is initially disappointed to learn that none of his ancestors date back to the Mayflower. However, he is later elated to discover that he is a third cousin twice-removed of Dr. Anthony Fauci. He is so excited by this information, that he gives up his practice, moves to Washington, D.C. and joins the COVID-19 task force. Henceforce, he can be seen at the podium during the briefings. He’s the one wearing the colorful tie carefully chosen to compliment Dr. Deborah Birx’s scarf of the day.
GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. Years have passed since the S.S. Minnow, on a three-hour tour from Honolulu, ran into a typhoon, leaving its passengers shipwrecked on an unchartered island somewhere in the Pacific. The show opens with the final survivor, Gilligan, whose first name we may never know. The Skipper, the millionaire and his wife, Ginger, Mary Ann and the professor have all died. Gilligan is now alone. The only companionship he has is a basketball that has washed ashore, which he has named “Wilson.” I can definitely see Tom Hanks in the lead role.
BATMAN AND ROBIN. In this updated version, millionaire Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin remain as crime fighters, saving Gotham from super-villains that the police are unable to catch. Bruce and Dick have been living together for many years, Wayne having been named as Grayson’s legal guardian when Grayson was an orphaned high school student. Spending many hours alone together in the Bat Cave, over time the relationship shifts and the two acknowledge that they have developed feelings for each other that far transcended the father-son relationship. Who can blame them, strutting around in those tights! Batman and Robin remain in the closet, or in this case, the Bat Cave, for many years. Only Alfred knows the true nature of their relationship, as well as their secret identities, a heavy burden for an old butler. By the third episode of this new series, Bruce and Dick decide it’s time to reveal to the world that they are, in fact, a couple, but no less effective as crime fighters. Bruce donates a large portion of his wealth to the Gay Pride movement, and the two become staunch defenders of the LGBTQIA community, fighting for their right to continue adding letters to the abbreviation.
I’ll end now because all this creativity has left me positively exhausted. But if anyone out there is interested in backing any of these concepts, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Until then, I can be found, every Sunday evening at 9:00 PM eastern time, sitting in front of the TV, eagerly awaiting the next episode of the new Perry Mason, and wondering when he will actually apply to law school.