Dolittle came out THIS YEAR. It feels like I saw it forever and a day ago, but no, it was just January. Just three months ago. Dolittle is recent. It’s also bad, which is why I bring it up. I want you to remember Dolittle, remember that it is bad, and then watch the teaser for HBO’s upcoming miniseries, Perry Mason. RDJ dropped the teaser on social media yesterday:
Why is Dolittle relevant to Perry Mason? Because RDJ was supposed to star in Perry Mason. It was, like Dolittle, one of his passion projects which he developed as a starring vehicle for himself. But when Dolittle spun out of control and needed reshoots, RDJ had to drop out of Perry Mason. He gave up one dream to save another, and the end result is that RDJ starred in Dolittle, which is bad, and Matthew Rhys took over as Perry Mason, and the miniseries looks pretty great.
The teaser is very film noir, and Matthew Rhys has a face made for noir. Is The Americans noir? I’ve never watched it. I still have middle child resentment for The Americans because its success got in the way of Justified. Will I ever get over that? Probably not. But I am going to assume there is a noir element in The Americans, because Matthew Rhys is perfectly designed to be the hang-dog protagonist of a noir mystery. (He is also an underrated Mr. Darcy.) He looks great as a hang-dog Perry Mason, who finds himself at the center of a noir mystery.
I know for many people Raymond Burr will always and forever be Perry Mason. But the miniseries is taking some big swings away from the story known so well thanks to Burr’s long run as the beloved television lawyer. For one thing, this version of Mason is not a lawyer. This miniseries is being billed as an origin story for Perry Mason, and in it, at least at the beginning, Mason is a private eye. Frankly, this is the job Mason is always doing on the show and in the books, so it makes sense to reimagine the character this way. Going further, Della Street (Juliet Rylance) does not yet work for Mason, and Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) is a cop. Tatiana Maslany is also on board as the charismatic leader of a church which might really be a cult, and John Lithgow stars as the lawyer who employs Mason (and eventually inspires a new career path?). The pieces have been rearranged on the board, which makes it easier to accept a new iteration of Perry Mason. It’s very smartly handled, and hopefully the miniseries lives up to the promise of the premise.
Do you think RDJ has any regrets? Given how Dolittle turned out, I mean. Unless Perry Mason is an absolute stinker, he got the short end of the stick. This was supposed to be the role that moved his public perception past Tony Stark and gave him a new character to hang his hat on. Instead, it might be the thing that pushes Matthew Rhys into genuine stardom—breakout HBO roles can do that for people. RDJ is soldiering on, supporting Perry Mason as a producer, but after watching the teaser, I don’t see how it doesn’t sting a little.