Thursday, September 22, 2011

Deputy D.A. Sampson: The Series' Stereotypical Prosecutor

He had instead conversed with a young deputy D.A.—Sampson, a blustering upstart. Sampson was about as different in personality from Mr. Burger as one could get. Nevertheless, he had a great deal of respect and admiration for the deceased prosecutor and was reeling over his murder. He had, in outrage, vowed to bring the killer to justice.

That was, at least, one thing upon which Tragg could agree with him.
—from The Persecuted Prosecutor, chapter four

In the books, Hamilton Burger is largely a stereotypical prosecutor: blustering, angry, and with a constant chip on his shoulder towards the defense attorney. In the TV series, this is thankfully not the case. While he is, of course, frustrated by many of Perry’s actions, he is able to look beyond that, respect Perry’s skills, and even cultivate a friendship with his in-court rival.

During William Talman’s suspension in the latter half of season 3 and throughout much of season 4, we were introduced to a steady stream of deputy district attorneys for Perry to match wits with. Most of them are unmemorable. They come, recite lines written for Hamilton Burger, and are defeated. The added spark between the characters is absent. There is no strong connection between Perry and any of them, as there is between him and Mr. Burger.

Most of them appear for one episode each and then vanish. At least two are around for repeat performances: Chamberlain (who receives quite a large share of the spotlight in one of his episodes, The Wintry Wife, and makes me long all the more for it to have been Mr. Burger in that episode) and Sampson. Chamberlain is in four episodes, while Sampson claims three.

Chamberlain has a bit more personality than most of the deputies, although offhand I don’t have a great deal to say about him. In The Wintry Wife more than any of his other ventures, it’s obvious that his lines and part were written for Mr. Burger. He even makes one of those wild accusations during court that the writers were so fond of falling back on. Everything is so much the same, and yet it isn’t at all, because it’s Chamberlain instead of Mr. Burger. And it really could have been any of the deputies. They are almost all so alike, even Chamberlain, that recalling which specific one is in a particular episode is difficult.

Sampson, on the other hand, is someone who just can’t be forgotten about. He is the most irritating of the deputy D.A.s, but he is also the most interesting and the most memorable.

Who knows why Sampson was written as he was. Maybe the writers were deliberately trying something new. Maybe they wanted to see how the viewers would accept a stereotypical prosecutor.

That is exactly what Sampson is. He blusters, he yells, and he badgers the witnesses. During his first episode I wanted to shake my fist at the screen and demand to have our Mr. Burger back. Mr. Burger may get frustrated at Perry, but he is a kind and compassionate person and tries to be polite with the witnesses.

Case in point number one: In The Loquacious Liar, Sampson’s approach to a hostile witness who refuses to simply answer Yes or No to questions is to continually interrupt, raising his voice louder and louder each time as he demands for the witness to say Yes or No.

Mr. Burger’s approach to the exact same problem, shown in multiple episodes, is to keep his voice normal and remain polite as he tries to get the witness to cooperate. He has to keep interrupting too, but it’s his attitude as he does it that’s key.

Case in point number two: Sampson continually badgers the poor, already shaken teenage witness in The Red Riding Boots, demanding answers of her until she’s reduced to tears. He sees no distinction between her and any other, older witness.

Mr. Burger’s approach to young and/or distraught witnesses, as shown in The Vagabond Vixen and other episodes, is to be gentle and thoughtful. He speaks kindly to the teenage vixen, not pressing her harshly as he has for some older, witnesses. For him, there is a difference. “Remember, Mr. Mason,” he implores before cross-examination, “she’s scarcely more than a child.”

It’s difficult to know what to say about Sampson’s personality aside from his appalling behavior in court. I tend to think of him, as evidenced by the fanfiction snippet at the beginning of this post, as being devoted to justice and perhaps idolizing the district attorney. I don’t know where I gleaned the latter concept, as it’s equally or more possible that he feels Mr. Burger is too kind and that one needs to be more aggressive to get the job done. Perhaps by having him look up to Mr. Burger instead, I’m trying to find some redeeming, endearing quality to his in-your-face personality.

In any case, perhaps the writers decided the stereotypical approach just wasn’t working. In his final episode, The Envious Editor, Sampson has toned down considerably. While there is a bit of that belligerent spark left, overall he fades more into the background, as by and large his comrades tend to do.

Nevertheless, his normally sharp, blustery behavior ensures that Sampson will always stand out among the deputies. And while I find him more interesting than the rest, I am relieved that he was only around for three episodes—and that Mr. Burger is not like him.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On What is, Perhaps, the Series' Greatest Fault

I really shouldn’t announce intended topics, because I always seem to be delayed in writing them up. I’ll definitely get around to Deputy D.A. Sampson, but right now I want to discuss something that’s been bothering me for a while.

My dad certainly has a valid complaint in wondering why there kept being episodes season after season where Mr. Burger, Lieutenant Tragg, and even sometimes the deputy D.A.s suspected Perry of wrongdoing. His argument is that after so long, they should know better. Mine is a bit more complex than that.

I feel torn on the issue, really, even though it’s starting to annoy me too. The dilemma is that in season 1 and early season 2, Mr. Burger and company honestly had legitimate reasons for believing Perry was up to legal trickery. It’s been repeatedly noted and cited by others that Perry’s behavior in some of the early episodes walked a very fine line. In escapades such as The Curious Bride, he was tampering with evidence, no matter what his reasons or how he tried to justify his actions by having bought the property before taking out all the doorbells in the apartments. (That episode will get its own post sometime, as it’s one of my favorites and one of the most intriguing where Perry and Mr. Burger are concerned.) And I ask, how can one fault Mr. Burger for being upset over something like that (even though it was hilarious to hear him exclaim that he was going to indict Perry for theft of the doorbell)?

My main complaints come in when the accusations start to taper off after season 1. It’s gratifying that the number lessened, but why did there continue to be a number at all? In seasons 2, 3, and 4 at least, there are, perhaps, one or two or less per season, as opposed to likely over ten or more in season 1. Season 1 can be excused on the basis that it was more closely associated with Gardner’s original books, wherein Perry and Mr. Burger remained definite adversaries and nothing more. However, what’s the excuse when there’s been obvious character development and then there’s an abrupt backslide?

Cases in point: season 6, and the episodes The Shoplifter’s Shoe and The Golden Oranges. Perry and Mr. Burger have been, over the course of all the seasons leading up to 6, growing steadily closer. And Perry has long ago stopped the majority of his eyebrow-raising behavior. In both the above-mentioned episodes, Perry and Mr. Burger have a very easy-going relationship. Mr. Burger even comes into the courtroom when he hears Perry defending a dog in The Golden Oranges, curious to see how that plays out. Following the hearing, he approaches Perry in a nonchalant, friendly manner and talks with him.

It is highly unlikely that such a thing would have occurred in season 1. The seeds of their unique friendship had been planted in season 1, but they still tended to keep each other at arm’s length for the most part. Mr. Burger gives Perry a cold reception in The Daring Decoy towards the end of season 1. He also, later, makes another accusation in court.

Season 2 made many attempts to show that they are no longer the bitter enemies they often came across as in season 1. The Purple Woman, which contains my most favorite Perry scene to date, is an exciting mystery and showcases Perry’s and Mr. Burger’s talents in court without ever needing to have Perry accused of something. And the epilogue features Mr. Burger congratulating Perry on the case, something it’s hard to feature him doing in season 1. He was far too prideful then.

The Lame Canary is another classic example. In the epilogue, Mr. Burger and Tragg both drop by Perry’s office to visit and help clear up loose ends. Tragg has been there before, but this may very well be Mr. Burger’s first casual epilogue visit. (I have seen him make another in season 4’s The Fickle Fortune, and I imagine there are others.) Mr. Burger feels so relaxed that he even makes the wry comment that closes the episode (and sets everyone laughing). Never has one scene made all five principles come across as friends as much as this one, amongst all the episodes I have been reviewing.

The entire tone during court is different in the majority of the season 2 episodes. In season 1 there is often a certain coolness in attitude, particularly on Mr. Burger’s part. Season 2 more strongly introduces the idea that something has changed in his feelings. Of course he continues to be Perry’s rival and objects to many things during the hearings and trials, but in general he is not as frosty in his behavior. This continues in succeeding seasons.

Despite all of his frustrations over some of Perry’s methods Mr. Burger has come to greatly respect the defense attorney and his abilities. In season 1 we do not see many, if any, signs of this respect; The Sun-Bather’s Diary is, perhaps, the strongest case for Mr. Burger’s respect in season 1, and it quietly develops over the seasons. By season 3 he even goes to Perry for help when his friend is in danger in The Prudent Prosecutor.

Given all of this evidence, and more, how in the world do the writers suddenly justify something like Mr. Burger’s explosion in the last episode, The Final Fade-Out? I was honestly, absolutely shocked when it suddenly seemed that we were transported back to season 1 again. Mr. Burger, after walking into a trap laid by a witness, completely goes to pieces. He accuses Perry right in court of encouraging the witness and deliberately setting him up to be the fool. He remains so furious throughout most of the episode that at one point Lieutenant Drumm tells Perry he’s escaping from the district attorney’s company.

Now, after so many episodes and seasons, one really would think Mr. Burger would know better. It’s not the accusation that Perry was involved with the trap that stunned me, but the idea that Mr. Burger would think Perry was purposely trying to make him look like a moron. I can’t help wondering if Gardner wanted the last episode to hearken back to season 1, especially since he was going to appear in it. Maybe he desired the final episode to be more like his books again.

Of course, thankfully, the episode finally did bring in some of the TV show Mr. Burger’s most endearing traits, which the book version did not have. By the end he has calmed down, seemingly without even having learned the truth that Perry was not involved in the trickery, and feels awkward and guilty. He invites Perry, Della, and Paul to dinner, although he’s too embarrassed to deliver the invitation when he tries and has Lieutenant Drumm do it instead. Drumm says it’s the closest to an apology as Mr. Burger will ever get (which actually isn’t true, according to season 2’s The Lost Last Act, but Drumm hasn’t known Mr. Burger for very long and can be excused on those grounds). Perry and company forgive Mr. Burger and accept the invitation.

One has to wonder why Mr. Burger calmed down so inexplicably. Maybe he learned the truth off-screen. Or maybe he was just humiliated at having been shown up as he was and he blamed Perry in his anger and mortification without actually believing Perry was responsible. Then, upon calming down at last, he was ashamed of his outrageous behavior.

The Final Fade-Out is not the only example of preposterous accusations flying after the character development fully began to sink in, but it is the most shocking example I’ve found so far as I re-watch every episode I come across. (Season 3’s The Singing Skirt provides another, less shocking example. And Deputy D.A. Chamberlain takes a crack at accusing Perry in season 4’s The Wintry Wife.) What with the way the writers continually fell back on the concept, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if there are others on the level of The Final Fade-Out.

Perry and Mr. Burger are wonderful sparring partners without ever needing to return to the days when Mr. Burger often accused Perry of illegal and unethical activities. Countless episodes prove this. So then, why did the latter keep happening now and then? Just to keep the formula as predictable as possible? Did most of the viewers like seeing Perry get accused over and over?

If the character development had never happened, on both characters’ parts, it wouldn’t be such a troubling issue. But it did, and therein lies my disbelief. I’m not sure what to make of the subsequent accusations. Should they be dismissed as bad writing? Or accepted as part of the show’s “canon”? Should it be thought that Mr. Burger still remembers Perry’s actions from the early episodes and is never sure if Perry will fall back on those tricks once more? (Albeit that would not explain his blow-up in The Final Fade-Out.)

I hope to resolve how I perceive this stumbling block when I write my next Perry story. But my confusion over why it exists in the first place will persist.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In Memoriam: Raymond Burr

A day late, but every bit as sincere as if it were on time.

Many times has the tale been retold of how Raymond Burr and William Talman were auditioning for the opposite roles and Erle Stanley Gardner intervened and insisted they switch parts. It was a move of sheer genius.

Raymond Burr was (and really, is) our Perry Mason. I find it inconceivable to imagine someone else (anyone else) playing that iconic role. And after the series has been over so long, the very thought of Raymond as Hamilton Burger and William as Perry Mason is terribly amusing. Could they have played the opposite roles? I’m sure they could have; they were both excellent actors. But I’m so glad Gardner had them switch.

Some people aren’t crazy about Raymond’s acting style. Personally, I love it. His Perry Mason was so deadpan at times but always compassionate and devoted to justice. And he had a mischievous side; I enjoy his smiles and his teasing of Paul and Mr. Burger. Some of his “legal tightrope walking” still makes my eyebrows raise, but I have to admit that if I were in trouble, I would most certainly want him as my lawyer. He always tried to put the needs of his clients first, even if that meant getting into hot water himself.

Raymond was certainly like his character in some respects. His kindness and generosity are well-known. Ever since I read about him at The Perry Mason TV Show Book website, I have admired him for his charitable acts and, of course, never ceasing to lobby for William Talman’s return after the scandal in 1960. I love the stories of how he made the Perry set such a friendly, familial place.

I haven’t seen Raymond in too many things aside from Perry, something I plan to remedy soon. I have seen him in Rear Window, and it was certainly a switch to see him play the villain! (Seeing him with graying/white hair was unique as well.) And I viewed the Puzzlelock episode of Ironside. That character was quite interesting; I saw shades of Perry in his dogged determination and devotion to justice (and hearing him call one of the guest-starring characters “Paul” was an eerie blast from the past). But Ironside was different too—more blunt and brusque with some of his comments. I intend to view more of that series sometime.

Years ago I recall looking through our old TV Guide issues from the early nineties and seeing ads for some of the Perry Mason TV movies. While even then the thought of most of the cast being dead saddened me, I thought it was neat that the character had made such a comeback. Raymond reprised Perry Mason for 26 of those TV movies. That’s really quite impressive. And it’s a definite testament to the fact that audiences had found their quintessential Perry and wanted no other. Nineteen years after the end of the TV series, Raymond as Perry was welcomed back with open arms and high ratings.

And we still welcome him back every time we view an episode of Perry Mason. Raymond Burr left us on September 12th, 1993, but his legacy lives on. We may not be able to donate anywhere near the money or time that he did to good causes; however, we can certainly take a page from his life and do what we can to better the lives around us. It's true that even just a kind smile can go a long way.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

On completing a Perry Mason multi-chapter mystery fanfiction story

I’m very shortly going to put up the final, epilogue installment of my first major Perry Mason fanfiction project and second Perry story overall, The Case of the Persecuted Prosecutor.

My first story for the fandom was a oneshot piece that served as an addendum to The Misguided Missile. Being a devoted Simon Oakland fan, I was heartbroken by his character Captain Caldwell’s needless death and wanted to write something to cope.

It’s been quite an interesting process. When I wrote my first piece, I was concerned about capturing the characters’ voices properly and wondered if I would be able to do so. Although the focus was on Major Jerry Reynolds and Captain Mike Caldwell, Perry and Paul appeared as well (mostly because I hoped they would boost reader interest). Their dialogue flowed, encouraging me as I considered the possibility of undertaking a multi-chapter idea.

Always disappointed by the lack of stories featuring Mr. Burger as a main character and exploring his complex friendship with Perry, I knew that any Perry mystery of mine would have such elements. And I was gaining a vague plot idea, which I eventually decided I would try to write. I wasn’t even sure if I would end up finishing the story, but a clear plot outline in my mind and the enthusiasm of readers has inspired me to keep it going until its completion.

I’m not a stranger to writing mysteries; I composed a series of mystery stories for the Japanese anime Yu-Gi-Oh! that, I must say, seemed to be popular with fans. My main inspiration for their structure was Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, although everyone and their dog seemed to think it was Scooby-Doo. (Scooby-Doo was probably partially inspired by Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys too, actually.) Recently I started to wonder, however, what influenced my epilogue chapters, wherein all the loose ends were tied up. When I wrote the epilogue of my Perry mystery, it was so similar to that of my Yu-Gi-Oh! mysteries that I had to start pondering on whether Perry Mason was the inspiration for those epilogues. I was definitely familiar with the show and the characters at the time I started writing the Yu-Gi-Oh! mysteries (2002).

It’s always an odd feeling when I finish writing a multi-chapter venture. I feel triumphant and pleased that it’s done, but sad that it’s over. Soon, however, I’m usually involved with another. And though I hadn’t planned on writing more for Perry, I find I have a couple of other mystery ideas in mind now—one of which will be Halloween-themed if I write it.

I loved writing for the characters in The Persecuted Prosecutor. I didn’t include a lot of silent monologues, as I tried instead to have the characters discuss the problems out loud and work on the solutions, just as in the series. But every now and then I inserted some type of monologue for one of the characters.

The mystery itself was confusing, twisted, and I hope surprising. I always take great pride in crafting something like that. Sometimes I worry that I’ve thrown in too many clues, but I usually end up discovering that I stumped my readers after all.

After finishing the initial first draft I was more familiar with the characters than when I had begun, and I determined that some additional dialogue would benefit the overall effect. I went back over the story, fixed a couple of embarrassing discrepancies, and set about adding any scenes I felt should be included.

The basic plot of the story, for those who have not looked at it, involves a series of mysterious and apparently connected deaths. Mr. Burger appears to have been one of the victims. He is later shown to be alive, but for a while Perry and the others believe him dead.

Two important parts that I added are the expansion of a conversation between Della and Paul in chapter three and an entirely new scene between Perry and Della in chapter four. Both scenes involve said characters talking about Mr. Burger when they think he is dead. The part from chapter three features Della and Paul discussing how Mr. Burger’s untimely demise is affecting both of them as well as Perry. The scene in chapter four is Perry giving a rare glimpse into his feelings and memorializing his friend and rival to Della. I have also added a silent monologue for Lieutenant Tragg, which appears in chapter four as well. I’m afraid I increased chapter four’s word-count exponentially compared to the other chapters!

Throughout the story I have been making other, small tweaks to dialogue and narration. And, as always happens, I have been finding more and more loose ends to tie up in the epilogue. But I believe it will be ready to go online as the weekend approaches.

I have been bowled over by the number of people who have been visiting (and sometimes re-visiting!) my humble story. It’s a great honor, especially for one just newly integrating into the Perry fandom. I sincerely hope I can continue to entertain my fellow Perry fans, both with future fanfiction stories and with this blog.

Next topic, unless something else comes up: Deputy D.A. Sampson, how he is a complete contrast to Mr. Burger, and why he is both the most irritating and the most interesting of the long parade of deputy D.A.s in season four.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Concerning The Case of the Sun-Bather's Diary

Few episodes depict such a multi-faceted view of Perry Mason and Hamilton Burger’s relationship as does The Sun-Bather’s Diary, from season 1. So far, the only one I’ve found that can begin to compare is The Curious Bride, from season 2. Both episodes run the full gamut, with Mr. Burger frustrated to no end over Perry’s antics while showing both lawyers extending friendlier feelings towards each other.

The Sun-Bather’s Diary is the infamous “window blind” episode, in which Perry gets himself in hot water by concealing in said blind suspicious money sent to him. Unfortunately for him, someone else was in the house after him and also used the blind, for more nefarious purposes. The police, staking out the house, mistake the fleeing suspect as Perry.

Mr. Burger is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. (Quoth Perry: “Burger is out to get me.”) While it certainly looks bad for Perry, and there seems to be no doubt that he was the one at the window, Mr. Burger declares that he doesn’t want to think the worst, that Perry was actually signaling an accomplice to come commit murder in the house. He does, however, believe that Perry is perjuring himself on the witness stand and charges him likewise.

One thing I highly admire about Mr. Burger is that, in spite of his aggravation over Perry’s “legal tightrope walking”, and his desire to catch Perry on such charges, he doesn’t let those feelings get in the way of the bigger picture. Time and again he puts aside his frustrations and rescinds his objections when it looks like Perry is on to something. If he were outright hateful towards Perry (which this version of the character is not), it would have been so easy to pursue the angle that Perry was an accessory to murder far more than he did. But that was not what happened; Mr. Burger just wanted to get at the truth, whatever the truth happened to be. I believe he was sincere when he said he did not want to think that Perry could be guilty of so gross a crime.

Perry has been shown to have the greatest respect for Mr. Burger and his work. But he is understandably discouraged and frustrated by the events of this episode, as is shown by his more cool and clipped behavior when talking with Mr. Burger in court. The infamous and amusing epilogue also depicts this, albeit in a different manner.

The Sun-Bather’s Diary is not the first episode in which the lawyers call each other by their first names; they had a fairly congenial scene in Mr. Burger’s office during The Crooked Candle (in complete contrast to a colder scene, on Mr. Burger’s part, in the episode before that—The Run-Away Corpse). It’s also not the first episode in which they dine together, as, on Mr. Burger’s invitation, Perry joins him and Lieutenant Tragg for lunch in The Crimson Kiss. However, that lunch had an ulterior motive.

The epilogue of The Sun-Bather’s Diary is much different and far more intriguing. It opens with Perry and Della having lunch at a restaurant. Soon a friendly Mr. Burger comes in and slides in at their booth to talk with Perry. He is not apparently expected, but Perry and Della accept and welcome him.

Mr. Burger tells Perry that all charges of perjury have been dropped (as Perry has been shown to have told the truth). Perry is gratified and offers to buy him lunch. Mr. Burger accepts, and Perry stops the waitress. With eyes twinkling in mischief he says, “One order of crow for the gentleman.” Poor Mr. Burger. His expression of shock is classic. Perry adds, “He’ll eat it here,” and chuckles good-naturedly. One last dig at what he was put through during the episode.

Aired as episode #17, this may have been one of the audience’s first glimpses at how different this Mr. Burger was going to be in comparison to the original book character. It is hard, perhaps impossible, to comprehend the one-dimensional and bitter prosecutor that Erle Stanley Gardner created ever coming to Perry so congenial. Not to mention just looking so shocked in response to the teasing, rather than growing outraged and furious.

The teasing in itself is also a surprise. I’ll confess to not being aware of whether Perry teases Mr. Burger in the books, but I would rather doubt it. The few times teasing has come up on the show, it seems to actually be an indication of how close the two are in spite of their clashes in court. When Perry gets in a good-natured rib during the season 3 episode The Prudent Prosecutor, Mr. Burger recognizes it for what it is and it puts him at ease, whereas prior to that he was quite nervous and awkward about asking Perry to defend his friend in court. (This episode will get its own post later, as it should be discussed in more detail.)

By season 6, Mr. Burger feels relaxed enough to tease Perry at least once, in The Shoplifter’s Shoe. (Actually, he seems quite relaxed in season 6 in general, if his calmer attitude in court is any indication.) After they have utilized some wonderful teamwork to trap the guilty party together, Mr. Burger looks to Perry and says that maybe, just once, he was wrong. “On this case,” he adds quickly. He has a mischievous smile/smirk as they turn to go. Perry seems amused as well. I find it difficult to picture this ever happening during season 1, when Mr. Burger was far more uptight for the most part!

Anyone in doubt that there was character development throughout the series has only to look at the evolving dynamic between Perry and Mr. Burger as the seasons went on. They never ceased to be professional rivals, but they developed and cultivated a very unique friendship at the same time. It’s the very facts that their rivalry continued and Mr. Burger still became frustrated at times that add to the intrigue of this friendship existing. When did it begin? That is unknown; the series never shows us their first encounters, and the books, while giving us that, definitely had no such element as a friendship.

All I know for an absolute certainty is that the seeds of that friendship were present as early as season 1, and The Sun-Bather’s Diary, for all of its intense conflict, does a great deal in furthering that.