So tonight Perry starts over again on MeTV. I imagine much of the fanbase is rejoicing over that. But I am nothing if not unconventional. After seeing the characters grown-up and mature, it’s hard to think of going back to seeing the crazy things they did when they were younger!
I think what I look forward to the most is seeing Tragg again. As I’ve lamented before, the show was never the same after William Talman’s suspension. By the time he was allowed back, Ray Collins’ health was already deteriorating and the excellent group dynamic of the first three seasons could not flourish another time.
But that doesn’t mean the show wasn’t still enjoyable and even, wasn’t just as good. It all, I think, comes back to the same old debate among fans of “older episodes versus later episodes” and which are better. In the end, it’s really an individual decision based on what each person wants from the series.
When it comes to complex, twisting plots, there’s really no comparison with season 1. The plots are absolutely incredible; you can tell they were written by a class-act mystery writer.
For the close-knit group dynamic of the original Core Five, the first three seasons are one’s friend. None of the other seasons come close to displaying these relationships in exactly this way. Everyone has quite equal amounts of screentime and of course, Tragg’s interaction with Perry and company is priceless. I love his scenes with Hamilton, too.
For those who feel that every season and arc is just as good in its own way, realize the show changed but don’t really care, and/or who like the other additions to the cast, most or every season is probably equal to them.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I am thoroughly impressed by the plots of season 1, love the original Core Five dynamic, and appreciate every season and character. But despite feeling that the series was always consistently good, I definitely notice that some seasons aren’t quite up to par with some others.
I’m no stranger to feeling that a series was negatively impacted by the departure of a beloved character. I was highly displeased and saddened by Roy Stuart’s exit on Gomer Pyle, and even though I was happy that Ronnie Schell came back, it wasn’t the same. I did, however, come to appreciate a lot of both the later episodes and the early ones, for both the plots and the fun interaction between the characters who were there.
I would argue that The Andy Griffith Show really suffered from Don Knotts’ departure after season 5. There aren’t that many of the color episodes that I really like. But in spite of my (and many others’) personal feelings, the show marched on, created a couple of admittedly memorable new characters, and achieved its highest ratings in season 8, something that leaves me scratching my head and concluding that perhaps Don Knotts’ departure didn’t hurt the series as much as it personally feels to me like it did.
With Perry, although I was definitely saddened by Ray Collins’ decreasing screentime, I still enjoyed the series as it changed. I acknowledge, however, that it probably would have been much more difficult for me to do that if Hamilton had been the one to depart. Still, since I have adapted to the movies and am enjoying them, I imagine I could have somehow adjusted to the original series without Hamilton—albeit I can’t say for sure, since his absence in the movies is sadly necessary, whereas in the series it wouldn’t have been and I probably would have just always felt bitter and angry at CBS for not allowing him back. Thank goodness for the impact of the fan campaign to get him back where he belonged.
I realize that for some people, they prefer Perry as a period piece or something with a more noir-ish flavor. Some feel that nothing else will do. I enjoy episodes that are noir-ish in nature. But I don’t feel that it’s an essential quality of the series.
I enjoy how the series always adapts to the times, particularly starting with season 5. To me it feels very fresh and keeps it from feeling dated. I think that if it had always stayed in a season 1 atmosphere, it might feel dated today. But I also realize that many people probably would have preferred it to remain like season 1.
My feelings seem to be mainly based around my love of imagining my favorite characters living today instead of being dead, and how my dream to see a really good and faithful Perry revival set in the present-day continues. The fact that the series became more contemporary without, in my estimation, losing real quality makes me feel all the more that it would be possible to achieve this someday. If I had the money to try it (which I absolutely do not), I would probably experiment with the idea via a television movie or series pilot. The concept is that close to my heart.
I suppose for me, the bottom line is that I feel the series’ alterations happened without losing any of what I personally feel are the show’s key elements. While the complexity of the plots never comes close to season 1 levels again, I feel that the mysteries continue to remain basically very good and very watchable. The characters continue to have great interaction, and since I honestly prefer them to be more friend than foe, I am thrilled with the progression of things between Perry and Hamilton especially.
I was presented with the idea of the police figure being a second foil for Perry. Tragg definitely does seem to be such. His departure largely meant the end of that idea. But the loss of a second foil for Perry in the police is not, I feel, such a terrible thing. Ray Collins specifically is a great loss, but even Tragg seemed to be mellowing out over time. I honestly feel it was better for Perry to develop a better rapport with the police. Otherwise, for me it makes the police feel way too much like the bad guys, which is something I’m tired of seeing in shows.
I am aware of quite a few people who seem to feel that the police and the D.A. are indeed the bad guys, since we’re supposed to root for Perry and his client. The view perhaps in some cases stems from their own personal feelings on the law in general, and perhaps also from the fact that it was fairly common back in the day to portray the police as more antagonistic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the active depiction of specifically the Perry characters as the antagonists, especially in the early years, doesn’t help.
The series always does try to do its best to portray the police and the D.A. as honestly seeking for justice, even though their views are different from Perry’s in that they believe the clients are guilty. I am very happy the series took that stance. But at the same time, when the formula for the early years involves much more trickery on Perry’s part, always trying to outsmart them out of court as well as in, it seems to me that it makes it a lot easier to view the police and the D.A. as the bad guys.
A lot of people honestly prefer those cat-and-mouse chases and feel that the series just isn’t right without them. Perhaps that’s another reason why season 9 tried to return to that route every now and then. But I personally feel that as the show went on, it was better for it to evolve above and beyond such tricks and for the police to become friendlier. Otherwise, to me it would have felt like a broken, dated record. The often-similar portrayal of the police on The Rockford Files still usually irritates me.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I would have ever wanted the police characters to feel okay about Perry’s continuing law-bending. What I like best is the idea of genuine friendliness with Perry and company, while always disapproving of some of Perry’s methods. And for me, it’s Steve who accomplishes that best.
I have complained many times that the writers did not allow Wesley Lau to bring Andy to life as amazingly as he was capable of doing with his characters. I often dream about what the character could have been like if Wesley had been given better dialogue to work with.
(I always find it interesting that Wesley didn’t want to be an actor and sometimes sounded in interviews as though he was never really happy with it, because he was just such a natural at it. When given the proper material, he always wows me.)
But another unique view I have is that the writers realized their mistakes with Andy and were trying to do better when Steve was brought on board. I honestly feel that Steve is a more well-rounded character than Andy. And had the show continued for a 10th season, I’m sure we would have seen even more of that, since over the course of one little season, Steve had more stand-out episodes than Andy was ever allowed to have over the course of four seasons.
Naturally, neither Steve nor Andy comes close to being the type of character or foil that Tragg is. I don’t think Steve is a foil at all. Andy, however, often is a foil in the sense of being strongly opposed to Perry, minus much in the way of snappy dialogue (although I find some of his sarcastic cracks amusing). But since I honestly think it was better to get away from the idea of the police as foils, I basically don’t mind the different path the writers took with these characters and I honestly feel it was time for the change.
When I was first trying to write for Andy and Steve in my Perry stories, I was puzzled as I tried to find individual voices for them. It seemed to me that the dialogue I was coming up with was stuff that they would both say. But while in many cases the dialogue may seem similar at first, the characters do have their own distinctive voices and personalities, as I found out when I studied them more closely. Andy is businesslike and congenial, but aloof and tense. Steve is open and friendly, but doggedly determined and gruff.
I was told that even some devoted fans of the series have trouble picking apart the two characters. This doesn’t particularly surprise me. I myself only really started figuring them out when I set about deliberately studying them. And it was that study that led me to several views that many people do not share, such as that it’s Steve and not Andy who is friendlier.
Would other people arrive at the same ideas if they studied these characters as deeply as I have? I have no idea. In many cases, I would doubt it. Everyone approaches the series with their own unique viewpoint, and it is that viewpoint that colors the way they see the series as a whole, the episodes, and each character.
Coming back to my idea that each person has certain things they want from the series, most of the things I want come from the later seasons, which is probably why they are typically my favorites. But I do highly miss Tragg and the group dynamic of the original Core Five. Sometimes, also, I become nostalgic for the certain feeling of “newness” that the first three or four seasons have. Those seasons feel “brighter”, and I don’t know whether that’s because the prints they air on television actually are literally brighter than prints for the later seasons or whether it’s the mood that the plots and the actors somehow set. I would assume a combination of all.
In any case, those elements are the main reasons why I enjoy visiting the earlier episodes too. For me, Perry Mason is a wonderful, always changing, always awesome experience, no matter the seasons or the characters. I would guess that’s how some people feel about The Andy Griffith Show too, and why the highest ratings came in its final season, long after the series had lost the majority of its magic for me.