There was a time when the defense attorney was a heroic everyman, not the butt of bad jokes; think Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird
, and, of course, Raymond Burr's incomparable Perry Mason. The first season of Perry Mason
, which launched in 1957 on CBS, shows just how dramatic a "law and order" show could be. Shot in lush black and white, on film, the episodes have been lovingly restored (including lost minutes hacked from reruns to accommodate commercials). The story arcs and atmosphere feel more like film noir (Perry Mason + Philip Marlowe = separated at birth?) than early TV. The cast was stellar, including Burr's Emmy-winning Perry Mason, the indefatigable lawyer who takes tough cases no one else will touch. Burr's chemistry crackles from episode 1 with his costars, including Barbara Hale as secretary Della, William Hopper as private detective Paul Drake, and William Talman as Hamilton Berger, the well-meaning but overmatched district attorney. While it's true that the last-minute witness-stand confessions strain some credulity, the case-cracking, character development, and dialogue set a high bar for the legal shows that followed. "The Case of the Negligent Nymph," for instance, involves a comely young woman--and murder suspect--fished out of the Pacific; Mason deadpans to Drake, "Call off the search, Paul; we've landed our mermaid." The shows unfold at a leisurely pace, and yet don't rely on the overly expositive dialogue that, say, Law & Order
does; the viewer learns a lot about each case simply as it happens. The set contains the first 19 episodes of the first season and will hook you, even if you're not a procedural buff. --A.T. Hurley
Perry Mason is an attorney who specializes in defending seemingly indefensible cases. With the aid of his secretary Della Street and investigator Paul Drake, he often finds that by digging deeply into the facts, startling facts can be revealed. Often relying on his outstanding courtroom skills, he often tricks or traps people into unwittingly admitting their guilt.