After a six-season run on The Americans, Matthew Rhys is returning to the small screen for HBO’s new series adaptation, Perry Mason. The actor portrays the title character, who spends his days serving as a Los Angeles private investigator, with his latest case centering around the kidnapping and murder of a baby. But while the character himself may feel somewhat familiar to fans of crime thrillers, Perry Mason isn’t actually based on a real person. But the name does have a longstanding history in both the publishing and television worlds.
The character was originally created by Erle Stanley Gardner, an American author and lawyer who wrote upwards of 80 detective stories chronicling the cases of criminal defense lawyer Perry Mason. (Mason had a knack for making the guilty culprit confess to their crimes while being interrogated in court, as an added layer of dramatic flair.) These stories eventually inspired the creation of the long-running television series of the same name, which ran from 1957 through 1966 and starred Raymond Burr.
After the show’s nine-season run came to an end, Burr eventually reprised the role of Mason in a string of TV movies throughout the 1980s. Though that’s quite a bit of content for the new iteration to work with, don’t expect showrunners Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald to venture too close to Gardner’s original source material.
As the trailer indicates, the HBO adaptation intends to dive into Mason’s mysterious past — something that seems to be haunting him in flashbacks. That alone is a vast difference from anything fans of the character have seen before, because despite all of the stories centered around him, Gardner never gave Mason much of a backstory. In fact, one fan of the Mason novels recently tweeted at Rolling Stone TV critic Alan Sepinwall, saying, “Gardner was so parsimonious with the details that the only thing we know about Mason’s background is that he’s a Leo.”
So while parts of the eight-episode series may harken back to the former versions of this narrative, there’s also definitely a lot of new ground that will be covered during Mason’s pre-lawyer days as a detective. But at the end of the day, you don’t need to be a longtime fan to properly enjoy what Rhys’ new character has to offer.