Thursday, December 6, 2012

Contemporary season 9

I saw an Andy Griffith Show calendar in Wal-Mart last night. It made me think: there are calendars for almost everything. Was there ever a Perry calendar? If not, there should be one! The television series is 55 years old and still going strong. I’m sure a calendar would be highly popular.

As much as I love some things in season 8, there are other things I don’t love so much. Season 8 definitely starts to show the strains of a mixed bag, with Andy’s sometimes-changing, stressed personality, wonderful Perry and Hamilton friendship scenes, some awesome episodes, and some that are an honest puzzle. Something somewhere in season 8 seems to feel worn-out, as though the writers aren’t always quite sure what to do and feel that they’ve stretched things as far as they can go.

If the feeling is real and not just my imagination, some of it may have been brought on by Raymond Burr’s restlessness with the role and his desire to do something different. And maybe the writers and crew members really were wracking their brains for new twists for the series.

I started realizing—no matter how many season 1 influences season 9 has, it also has many unique elements. Somehow it feels more contemporary, more fresh, as though the show is getting a new lease on life.

Bringing in the previously spoken-of Clay’s Restaurant was an excellent move, I think. It enables Perry and company to have somewhere to discuss the cases where they will be around other people, instead of just being isolated in Perry’s office. The office is a beloved location, and still is in season 9, but altering the main meeting place allowed for the exploration of new possibilities. In the restaurant, they run across Hamilton, Steve, and Clay very frequently, who all provide their own takes on the cases.

Steve also feels very contemporary and forward-thinking. As previously expounded on, he is given a great deal of development just in his few episodes. Tragg and Andy were never given the level of thought and consideration that was put into Steve's characterization. If they had been, it would have been incredible. Tragg and Andy remained fairly predictable throughout the series, with both only given occasional moments to show other facets of their personalities. But, perhaps because of Wesley's displeasure or perhaps because of the changing times around them, the writers at last did something different with Steve and allowed him to be both the most no-nonsense and the most three-dimensional of the main police characters. While Tragg's falsely friendly facade and his investigative slip-ups were intended to be, and were, laughed at, Andy was much less that way, and Steve, far less so. Aside from having to arrest the wrong person to keep the formula going, Steve rarely ever made ridiculously cringe-worthy or amusing slip-ups. Perry simply could not make a fool out of Steve as he did Tragg and even occasionally Andy. It's hard to feature laughing at Steve at all. And that's the way I prefer my police characters. I don't like making fun of the police.

In personality Steve is partially a cross between Tragg and Andy, but largely his own person. I half-wonder if at least some of his inspiration is the fact that Tragg was closer to being Perry's contemporary in the books (although Steve seems younger than Perry, rather than near the same age).

As I’ve mentioned, adaptations of Perry always kept up with the times. And within the television series, each season went with the flow, changing just enough to stay up-to-date while not changing the format much, if at all. Hence, each series of episodes feels like Perry, unlike with some shows, where they change so much over time that they’re barely recognizable.

Season 1 mostly feels very much like the noir series so popular in the late fifties. Seasons 4 and 5 embrace the arriving Space Age of the early sixties. Season 9 still has that special Perry feeling but also sometimes brings with it a feel similar to other dramas of the era, including an acknowledgment of the younger generation’s plight and the rising problem of teenage delinquency. Had there been a season 10, it would have been in color, we’re told, and it likely would have felt as contemporary as The Twice-Told Twist does.

I still wonder what a season 10 would have been like. I imagine it would have been fun, particularly in color. On the one hand, it almost feels like Perry needs to be in black-and-white, to preserve the mysterious atmosphere. On the other hand, both The Twice-Told Twist and The New Perry Mason present the series in color very well. It does not detract, but simply offers another angle, another way to look at it. And it’s very nice to see the characters and locations in color at long last.

(I just like to think that if there had been a season 10, they would have redone the colors of the courthouse. I can never picture things being so green and gray and blue. It’s interesting, but doesn’t feel much like a proper courthouse. I still envision the wood as being wood-colored, no matter what The Twice-Told Twist presents.) 

If it hadn’t been for Raymond Burr wanting to move on, and CBS wanting to end the series, I think it would have moved quite nicely into a season 10. Whatever new things it would have brought to the table, a tenth season would have still remained, firmly and faithfully above all else, Perry.

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