Chris Chalk

NASHVILLE, TN — Perhaps the boldest move on the HBO reimaging of the classic series “Perry Mason” involves the casting of North Carolina actor Chris Chalk as detective Paul Drake.

The series, now in its second season, airs Sunday nights at 8 pm central on HBO. Given that in the original series the iconic character portrayed by Raymond Burr never had any Black clients, giving him a Black investigator is just one of several new touches as the producers seek to  totally transform the character and show.

First, it is set in the 30s rather than the present day. 

This version of Mason is played by award winning actor Matthew Rhys. He has a drinking problem, is a struggling dairy farmer, a gay man who wears a pinky ring, and a reluctant attorney who was initially a private eye before turning to the courtroom.

The series began in 2020, but the second season only started a couple of weeks ago. Another departure is the classic courtroom confessional scenes will not be a part of this series. It is unclear if there will be a satisfying climax as the first season ended with a hung jury result.

Chalk plays Drake far differently than William Hopper did for obvious reasons. A Black man operating  in 1932 Los Angeles has to be ultra careful how he deals in and with every situation. Drake was booted off the police force in the first season for reasons directly connected to racial inequity. It is instructive to see him simultaneously dealing with the complexities of an investigation and the daily racism he encounters from people far from thrilled at his presence or demeanor.

If you’re a fan of either the original TV series, the 30 plus TV movies made later in Burr’s career, or even the early feature films, it would be wise to forget about all of them in watching this new series.

It is bold, vastly different and very irreverent in terms of any comparisons with its predecessors. But it is also among the more engaging and enjoyable series on any cable outlet.

The third of eight new “Perry Mason” episodes airs March 20 at 8 p.m. central on HBO and HBO Max.