Yesterday was Lee Miller’s birthday and this Tuesday is Raymond Burr’s birthday. I’ve been pondering on exactly what I could say for them.
Usually I try to do episode recommendations if I’ve exhausted biographical information (or have little to none). But I have to admit, it’s hard to recommend something for poor Lee Miller, whose Sergeant Brice character is so often silent. He has a nice little speaking part in The Ugly Duckling, and even interacts with Perry, and there are some episodes in the third season where he’s given some dialogue, but in general Brice is a voiceless presence, investigating crime scenes, bringing evidence to the Lieutenant, and standing by, observing. Sometimes he only has one line per episode, if any. I do remember him having both lines and things to do in The Candy Queen, one of my favorite season 9 episodes.
Lee Miller also has a small part as a policeman in Please Murder Me, a pre-Perry court drama with Raymond Burr. I find it interesting that he popped up in that with Raymond shortly before Perry Mason began.
As I’ve mentioned, I would have loved to see Brice spotlighted in an episode, perhaps showing what an essential member of the police team he is and how the others would have trouble trying to handle their cases without him. A bit of a clichéd plot, perhaps, but I have confidence that the cast could have made it all seem new.
It’s actually also very difficult in some ways to give episode recommendations for Perry, since being the main character, he’s naturally featured prominently in almost every episode (except the ones where Raymond Burr was unavailable). So perhaps my focus should instead be episodes that I feel bring out the best (or in any case, the most interesting) aspects of the character.
One thing I love is seeing the development of characters throughout the series. To that effect, I feel that the very first episode, The Restless Redhead, is an excellent one to begin with. View the beginnings of television Perry in all his raw, sometimes rebellious, sometimes shocking behavior. Someone noted that in season 1, Perry seems more cynical and not as likely to believe in all of his clients. I have noticed that, in this episode and others, such as The Fan-Dancer’s Horse.
There’s the season 2 episode where one of Perry’s childhood friends appears. I think it’s The Married Moonlighter? It’s fun to get a slice of that rare background information on Perry (he’s from Oregon and the girl proposed to him at age 7. Aww). And it’s unique to meet someone from before Perry was an established lawyer. I think about the only other time that happens is in season 5’s The Promoter’s Pillbox. We meet a lady who, with her husband, helped Perry while he was a struggling law student.
While The Prudent Prosecutor is, of course, largely a Hamilton episode, I feel that it’s very good for Perry as well, showing how far he and Hamilton have come and what Perry is willing to do to help his friend and rival.
The Singing Skirt, while not a favorite episode by any means, is intriguing in how it shows an extremely overconfident Perry. He’s certain that his plan won’t fail and that the gun he gave the eventual defendant will be proven to not be the murder weapon. Not that he has a real reason to believe otherwise, but instead, he discovers that it indeed registers as (one of) the murder weapons. Yikes. Poor Perry.
Another episode where Perry ends up being wrong through most of it is The Woeful Widower. He’s convinced that the titular character is the guilty party, an idea he latches onto for what seems to be the great majority of the episode. It’s very interesting to me to see it shown in canon that Perry is not always right, since in general it seems like he’s usually depicted as being on the right path to solve the case, and when he isn’t, it isn’t strongly emphasized the way it is here. Usually Perry doesn't have one particular (wrong) suspect that he zeroes in on so much. To me, it makes Perry a more realistic and interesting character to show him really seriously suspecting someone who isn’t the murderer.
I love the episodes where Perry is faced with serious moral dilemmas and it’s an important part of the plot. The main ones, if not the only ones, that I can think of are season 7’s The Capering Camera and season 9’s The Misguided Model. Both episodes, I feel, show a Perry who is much more mature and wise than the Perry of the very early episodes. While Perry in The Restless Redhead has no qualms about firing extra bullets around the murder scene, I can’t imagine Perry in The Capering Camera or The Misguided Model going to such lengths. Nor do I think Perry in the later episodes would juggle guns around as he does with confusing results in both The Long-Legged Models and The Singing Skirt.
Of course, even in the later episodes, Perry is sometimes depicted with the behavior of the early Perry, same as what happens with Hamilton. The Golden Girls particularly comes to mind, as Perry seems to be trying to escape the police in order to keep the murder weapon from being discovered (at least at that point). I think when that happens, though, no matter which character is involved, it’s mainly the writers simply trying to keep the original concepts of the characters alive, forgetting the character development, or else the writers not realizing the development happened at all.
By contrast, there are certain positive behaviors that Perry usually depicts in all seasons at some point or another, especially how he will take on all kinds of strange cases even if the people can pay little or nothing. It's definitely one of my favorite things about him, whether he's pretty much forced to accept a little old lady's calculations so he isn't rude or whether he deliberately agrees to help even if the client is destitute.
Whatever Perry is up to in a particular episode, Raymond Burr is always more than capable of handling it and depicting it as believably as possible. He’s a delight to watch, the true quintessential Perry Mason.