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A Big Improvement on Season 1

The Pitch: It’s Los Angeles in the year 1932, and while the Great Depression is continuing to make the common man’s life less-than-great, the city still feels full of potential for dreamers and capitalists alike. Of course, that doesn’t mean the city’s free of crime, the latest high-profile murder being that of Brooks McCutcheon (Tommy Dewey), the young heir to an oil dynasty. The police quickly find their prime suspects in a local Hooverville — two young Latino men (Fabrizio Guido, Peter Mendoza) — and they’re going to need a lawyer.

Unfortunately for the accused, though, Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) is reluctant to take the case — six months after the end of Season 1 the end of the Emily Dodson case, Perry’s been getting into the swing of things as a lawyer, but his last high-profile trial left him reluctant to defend another murderer.

But of course, he’s not working alone, with loyal but ambitious Della Street (Juliet Rylance) pushing him forward while making sure she’s got more than an assistant-level role in their small upstart legal firm, and Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) proving himself to be a skilled investigator. Will that be enough to help their clients go free? Especially given that an entire city wants to see them hang?

No More Origin Story: It’s hard to imagine two TV shows with the same title being as different as the classic Perry Mason and HBO’s spin on the character, now entering its second season. Both are about lawyers named Perry Mason, sure, but while the Raymond Burr-starring legal drama featured cases of the week, tidily wrapped up by the end of the episode, Rhys faces a much more complicated season-long mystery where, just like Season 1, the guilty outnumber the innocent.

It’s actually impressive how similar Season 2 feels to Season 1 of the HBO series, because beyond executive producers Susan Downey and Robert Downey Jr., it’s almost a completely different creative team behind the scenes: New showrunners Jack Amiel and Michael Begler (The Knick) have taken over for Season 1’s Rolin Jones & Ron Fitzgerald, while Season 2 is directed by new-to-the-series Fernando Coimbra, Jessica Lowrey, Marialy Rivas, and Nina Lopez-Corrado (an impressively inclusive roster).

It helps that the show’s aesthetic persists, drenched in lovely rich tones: the Spanish-influenced architecture, the hazy sunlight, the dark wood touches found in the courtroom. Ugliness abounds in this Los Angeles, but it’s always in sharp contrast to the beautifully rendered details found on screen.

Perry Mason (HBO)

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