Who knew that a reimagining of a stuffy lawyer drama from the old days would become one of the most intriguing new shows of the year? HBO's Perry Mason takes the Raymond Burr out of the classic character and shrinks him down to Matthew Rhys-size, while giving him a backstory soaked in trauma from World War I, a misanthropic disposition, and a passion for the bottle that catapults him into a hero for our times.
We're already trying to recapture the beauty of 1920s Los Angeles and the intrigue of the murder of little Charlie Dodson in other shows, which is why we've put together this list of programs that all fans of Perry Mason should love. Not all of these shows have the great Matthew Rhys in them, and not all of them are set in the 1920s, but they all have something in common with Perry Mason that we think you'll like.
How to watch: HBO Max
While Perry was cracking cases in Sunny SoCal, on the other side of the country, a war was raging in the streets of New Jersey. HBO's Boardwalk Empire is TV's signature series of the Prohibition era, starring Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson, a dirty politician wrestling for control of Atlantic City. Though more of a mobster drama than a detective series, Boardwalk Empire will recall Perry Mason because it was one of television's best-looking shows, with a pilot episode that cost more than $18 million to make. If it's an authentic feel of the times that you're looking for, know that most of that money went towards bringing the 1920s to life, including $5 million alone to remake a 300-foot section of the boardwalk. And though Tim Van Patten, who directed several episodes of Perry Mason (and several episodes of Boardwalk Empire), is one of TV's current great directors, we have to give the edge to a fella named Martin Scorsese, who helmed the Boardwalk pilot.
How to watch: Amazon Prime
Hey, that guy looks familiar! While we could easily recommend the very fun and charming The Wine Show as the Matthew Rhys series to watch next, the obvious and most responsible choice would be The Americans, one of the best TV shows of the last decade. This is the role that got Rhys the Perry Mason gig, as it showed off his ability to play a stressed-out guy just trying to do his job. Rhys plays a Russian spy living in Virginia pretending to be a normal American during the Cold War, and though he's not doing any traditional private investigative work, he does don many wigs while engaging in suspenseful espionage, all while trying to keep the secret that he and his wife (Keri Russell, who became Rhys' real-life partner during the show's run) are spies from everyone, including their two children. Rhys won an Emmy for the role, so if Perry Mason was your introduction to this wonderful talent, make The Americans your next watch.
There are some really effed-up moments in Perry Mason (dead baby with your eyes sewn open, we're looking at you), but watch TNT's The Alienist next if you prefer your period dramas on the hunt for killers to be even more twisted. Case in point: The dead kids in The Alienist's can't have their eyes sewn open or shut because they've been scooped out altogether. The psychological thriller is set in the late 1890s in New York City, and follows a trio tasked with finding a serial killer who's been violently snuffing out boy prostitutes in horrifying ways. It's more into criminal profiling than pressing tight-lipped witnesses for information, but the singular case, detailed wardrobes (Dakota Fanning always looks exquisite), and severity of the crime will remind you of Mr. Mason's adventures.
How to watch: Netflix
You'll have to read subtitles for this next one, but I promise it's worth it. Set in the Golden Years of the Weimar Republic, Babylon Berlin is a cinematic crime drama that will appeal to viewers who enjoy Perry Mason's beautiful period aesthetics as well as those who are big fans of noir. The German series follows Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), a young detective and World War I veteran suffering from PTSD and survivor's guilt after he returned from the war but his older brother did not. With the help of Charlotte Ritter (Liv Lisa Fries), an intuitive flapper from the slums who dreams of becoming the first female homicide detective, Gareon investigates the seedy underbelly of Berlin, where he runs into powerful gangsters and surprising traitors, among other things. The series, which has three seasons under its belt so far, effortlessly mixes sex, crime, drugs, and politics into a labyrinthine narrative that reveals a world on the precipice of change and highlights just how fragile democracy was in the years prior to the rise of the Nazis. – Kaitlin Thomas
How to watch: Hulu
HBO is backtracking on calling Perry Mason a miniseries after initially marketing it as a limited run, hinting that the network is considering bringing the series back for a second season. But that tidy feeling of a crime miniseries — a tightly wound case that gets solved by the end of the season in satisfying fashion — isn't going anywhere. TNT's I Am the Night shares that same feeling, having run for six episodes as a miniseries in early 2019. But it shares a lot of other traits with Perry Mason, too. I Am the Night is set decades ago in Los Angeles, and Chris Pine stars as Jay Singletary, a journalist who suspects George Hodel to be the Black Dahlia killer. Meanwhile, a young woman discovers she is Hodel's granddaughter, and the two get intertwined as they get closer to the truth.
How to watch: Hoopla (free with library card)
The beauty of old-timey Los Angeles is, to be cliché, a character in Perry Mason (the massive budget to re-create post-WWI L.A. made sure of that), and if I'm being honest here, it's one of my favorite parts of the show. Perry Mason looks marvelous. That attention to detail is replicated in Frank Darabont's 2013 TNT series Mob City, which is set in the City of Angels a few decades later, in the 1940s. Based on the book L.A. Noir, Mob City slinks a little further into the darkness with its take on L.A.'s look, going full film noir with smoke-filled parlors and dingy alleys as it details the war between the LAPD and mobster Bugsy Siegel, with a few flashbacks to the 1920s to fill in some blanks.
How to watch: Hulu
One of the surprising pieces of Perry Mason is that beyond the dead baby with stitched-open eyes, the graphic closeup of a man who swallowed a shotgun blast, and the gruesome WWI injuries, the show can be pretty funny! There's a current of dark humor flowing beneath the series as Perry turns over rocks to find more bizarre clues, banters with his team in E.B.'s office, or cracks wise with morgue attendant Virgil (Jefferson Mays). If it's solid crime with a jolt of black comedy that you're looking for more of, FX's Fargo is currently king. Noah Hawley's series isn't a direct adaptation of the Coen Brothers' classic film, but it does retain most of the tone — mostly, bumbling criminals getting in way over their head — while setting each season of the anthology in a different time period. All three seasons are great, with Season 2 the consensus standout.