Monday, August 29, 2011

Perry Mason: Timeless and Adaptable

I don’t plan to talk for any length of time about my fanfiction stories, but I may bring them up every now and then. This will be one of those times, particularly since today’s musing concerns a broader topic that affects more than just fanfiction.

Possibly one of the most controversial moves in my fanfiction writing is that, unless a show can only be a period piece (such as Daniel Boone), I will move it into the present day. I find nothing wrong with this and do it for several reasons. First, it helps me relate better to have the setting be the here and now. Second, it makes me happy to think of the characters young and alive and well and having their adventures in the present (instead of being either old or dead, as they would be now if I left the time where it was). Third, if it’s a show that works in any modern era, why in the world not?

As far as I know, every separate branch of the Perry Mason franchise has updated the time period to whatever the present day was at the time. The books started in the thirties; the movies took place then as well, because that’s when they were made. The radio show, as far as I know, took place in the time period in which it was released—the forties, I believe. The classic TV series, which this blog is really for, took place over the fifties and sixties. And the short-lived remake took place when it was produced—the early seventies.

Clearly, Perry adapted just fine to every one of these time periods. (The remake failed because the public wasn’t ready to accept a new cast, not because of the setting.) Therefore, there shouldn’t be anything remiss about the characters living and working in the good old twenty-first century.

Of course, any Perry fanfiction I write is specifically about the classic TV series, just moved to the present day. But, since I refuse to consider the TV movies of the eighties and nineties as what really happened after the end of the TV series (too depressing!), I find nothing wrong with that, either. Perry has a computer; Mr. Burger has a USB drive. They and Lieutenant Tragg use cell phones.

I can certainly imagine Perry being impressed with current methods of crime-solving. He always seemed up-to-date with the most cutting edge possibilities available to him at the time and wasn’t afraid to move into the new era. Picturing him with a computer or a cellphone seems perfectly in keeping with his character.

Mixed in with this, however, are hints of the past. Fedoras (my personal favorite hat) are still in high style, in use by the police and others. I imagine the characters to look just as they did in the TV series; Della, for instance, still dresses very modestly. The main cast, collectively, behaves just as in the TV series, all with high moral standards. It’s the present day, yet other than the little mentions of current technology it’s just like what would have been seen on the TV series. (And if the technology had existed then, I’m sure it would have been featured in the series too.)

I suppose this does bring up the question of “What about Perry’s service in the war?” Well, I solved that too (even though I haven’t actually written about it); make it a different war. I don’t think the particular war he served in is as important as the fact that he served. (I may have taken partial inspiration from John Watson’s update in the modern take on Sherlock Holmes, the BBC series Sherlock. He still has a bullet wound from a war in Afghanistan, just not from a 19th-century Afghan war. Clever, really.) The time period from when Perry served in World War II to around the time Perry started airing was approximately the same as between the Gulf War and several years ago. So to have a present day setting, I find it plausible to have Perry have served in the Gulf War instead of World War II.

(For Perry’s friend Major Jerry Reynolds and the deceased Captain Caldwell from The Misguided Missile, I determined that they served in Afghanistan instead of Korea. It’s never mentioned in my works, but that’s what was in my mind, and the very reason why I didn’t specify what war when I wrote a short follow-up to their episode.)

Do let it be said that I’m not advocating a new Perry Mason revival, via movies or television or anything else. As far as I’m concerned, we had our perfect Perry Mason in the classic TV series, and that can never, ever be replicated. But if it were to happen, I feel it could work just fine in the present day, as long as the characters’ personalities and morality were not damaged in any way. I am so tired of remakes of anything where the characters have degraded into immoral behavior that their counterparts would never dream of!

As a parting note, I found this amusing statement on a button (or “piece of Flair”, as they’re called) on Facebook the other day:

Google only gets you so far. After that, you need Paul Drake.

It stands as a reminder that, even with technology, never forget the good old-fashioned legwork. After all, it would be boring if the characters just looked things up on the Internet for answers!

Next topic, unless something else hits me in the head between now and then: The Sun-Bather’s Diary, and what it meant for the interaction between Perry and Mr. Burger.


  1. Thanks for writing this. I am a fan of all things Perry Mason (waltb310 in the PM group).
    I wish there was a remake, but I agree with you they should strictly follow the spirit of the original; perhaps without the smoking cigarettes.
    At the end of each episode, I always hope that there would be more...oh well.

    Walt B

  2. Hello! I'm glad to meet you.

    Yes, the smoking cigarettes is the one thing from the original that I don't keep in my stories, and that I'd hope would be omitted in any possible remake.

    The epilogues are fun, but sometimes it feels like they should be longer. They're such fun little insights into the characters' personalities that we sometimes don't get anywhere else in the episodes.