Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Case of the Final Fade-Out

One of the season 9 episodes my local station keeps is The Final Fade-Out. Often I try to avoid it when it’s on either that station or MeTV, but I’ve really meant to sit down and watch it through once again. Since I was working the night MeTV had it on and I only caught the last half of it, and since the local station’s copy was going to air shortly, I decided to watch the latter airing in full.

Or as full as I could get, anyway. The blasted thing decided to run an emergency test right during one of the scenes I especially wanted to review! I don’t know why they always do that. Without fail, it happens during Perry. Why can’t they schedule it for the time in-between shows? I was happy I have the episode on my 50th Anniversary set to be able to look through later.

Anyway, after watching the cut version and filling in the blanks with the uncut just now, I’ve determined that my basic feeling is still the same. It’s not the greatest send-off for such a long-running series, but it has some fun scenes and bits.

One of my favorites is right after the murder, when Steve and Brice show up to question everyone. That’s when a lot of the real Perry crew gets to cameo, I think. This part is extended in the uncut version. It’s neat to see some of the actual crew on-screen finally. I wonder if the parts they had in the episode were the same roles they had in reality (key grip, best boy, etc.)? We even learn a little of what the crewmembers do. I was as clueless about a key grip as Steve was, but it sounds like they have a pretty important part in things.

It’s also neat that the crewmembers got to interact with Steve. More screentime for him, yay! And Brice handles some of the questioning too. It’s always good to hear him talking.

And I still love the epilogue. I had momentarily forgotten that Hamilton was unable to stammer out a real apology and had to have Steve do it, so I was thrilled that Steve had that one final bit of screentime. Season 9’s “Core Five” all have something to do in the last little scene, very fitting for the end of the series. I also love how the very last bit is Perry and company looking over the information for their next case. The show is ending, but the characters’ lives are continuing off-screen, and things in the Perry world march on just as they should.

I do find it a little sad that since Dan Tobin’s character is also a central part of season 9, and is credited as such, he does not appear in this last episode. I wonder why they couldn’t figure out how to work him into a little scene.

I also wonder a bit why Della doesn’t have more screentime. Perry, Paul, Hamilton, and Steve all have quite a lot to do, but save for one scene where Della interacts with Paul, and the epilogue, it seems that Della is mostly quiet in the background. That’s often her role, but I would have thought that she’d be given something more to do in the final episode.

And honestly, of course murder is not a solution to a problem, but sometimes some of the victims really do act like they deserve it. Barry Conrad is such a teeth-grating, obnoxious, arrogant wretch. It’s awful how he cons Jackson Sidemark and criticizes the aging movie star who gave him his break. He’s so sweet to her face and then acts so horrid behind her back, even while she continues to think he genuinely is sweet. He refuses to even work with her!

Barry is likely one of many commentaries the series did on how real actors can behave atrociously. I really couldn’t feel that sorry for him when he was shot dead on-set.

The episode is certainly unique in that there are two murders, two defendants, and two hearings—and that the defendant in the first becomes the victim in the second. Very tragic, really. He just thought he was free of the murder rap and then he solves the case and is murdered himself because of it.

Denver Pyle turns an excellent performance, as always, as Jackson Sidemark, the first defendant and second victim. I’ve really been impressed with his dramatic work on Perry, and although bumpkins like The Andy Griffith Show’s Briscoe Darling are amusing to watch, I far prefer to see the more serious characters. He certainly was talented, to be able to play both comedy and drama so flawlessly!

Also of interest is Jackie Coogan as the prop man who is even willing to perjure himself to try to clear Jackson’s name. I wonder if the two spoke and he was able to tell Jackson why he lied on the witness stand, since the way he did it made it look like he was trying to get Jackson convicted. Instead, he knew about the pictures Perry had that would show he was lying, and he hoped the case would then be bounced out of court, which is exactly what happened. I was about to say it was sad that Jackson died without knowing the real motivation, but then I remembered the guard commenting that he wondered why Jackson let the prop man on the set after the hearing and I wondered if they could have spoke then. It would have been nice for Jackson to have known that the prop man remained a true friend, albeit a misguided one.

And speaking of the incident in court with the prop man’s perjury, that brings us to what has always been my main complaint about the episode: Hamilton suddenly snapping and accusing Perry of being in on the plot.

Actually, Hamilton’s grilling of the prop man and being furious over the perjured testimony is pretty awesome. It reminds me of how he really tears into some witnesses in season 9, especially the creep in The Fatal Fortune. I love to see him become outraged over someone misusing the court.

But the scene stops being awesome when he suddenly and out of left field accuses Perry of being involved and becomes fixated on that idea. Of course, it’s something that happens often during the series. But it lessens or outright stops for a while, adding to my exasperation that it returns off and on in season 9.

In previous posts I said that my specific complaint with the outburst here wasn’t so much that Hamilton accused Perry again, but that he seemed to think Perry was deliberately trying to show him up and make him look ridiculous. Upon reviewing the episode again, I didn’t quite have that impression, but rather, was simply exasperated by the return of the wild accusations in general.

It really does seem to come out of nowhere. Of course, Perry has orchestrated many eyebrow-raising stunts, many of which Hamilton knows about or suspects, so on the one hand it makes sense for him to present the accusation. On the other hand, since aside from some season 9 episodes the accusations have largely been in the background, the sense of it all seems to get lost. Adding to the confusion of it popping up again at this point and in this way is the fact that there have been other witnesses that perjured themselves and while Hamilton was furious about them, he generally didn’t accuse Perry of being involved. So what causes him to think it this time?

There’s also the question of what causes him to calm down again, since he remains upset after court and is so upset that it makes Steve flee from his presence. That’s definitely worse than usual. But during the second trial he seems quite docile, even when objecting to things. It isn’t just following the second trial that he calms down, even though it’s only then when he tries to apologize.

Perhaps since the wild accusations are such a large part of season 1 in particular, they wanted to have the final episode include the element once more. Or perhaps, as I speculated before, it was something Erle Stanley Gardner wanted, especially since he’s in that episode.

In any case, it does make for a tense situation. When Steve says he had to get away, it’s a definite signal that Hamilton is far more upset than what generally happens. There may have been similar incidents years earlier with Tragg, but I don’t recall Tragg ever mentioning them and this is probably Steve’s first exposure to such a thing.

I do question why, with such a vicious confrontation in court, they decide to be rather anti-climatic by having Hamilton so calm the next time we see him, during the second trial. Perhaps, also as I speculated before, Hamilton doesn’t really think Perry was involved and was just extremely frustrated and upset over the unpleasant surprise in court. Once he has the chance to cool off, he gets over it and can get on with his life, just as in The Ice-Cold Hands.

Without any proof one way or another, however, this is one Perry mystery that will forever remain unsolved.

Overall, The Final Fade-Out is still not one of my favorite episodes, and probably never will be, but I do appreciate the good it has to offer and I love fun things like seeing the crew and Erle Stanley Gardner onscreen. Della should have been given a little more to do, but her screentime is enjoyable and key to the episode, especially the scene with Paul where they discuss examining the film—the thing that leads to the discovery of the true murderer.

The series started nine years prior with a bit of a different Core Five, but it persisted through two cast changes and ends with the current Core Five carrying on and on good terms with each other. That’s a nice thought to take away.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A return to The Scarlet Scandal

I need to make a better Wesley tribute post. I had an idea a couple of weeks ago, but then I got caught up with the other posts, took smidgens of my ideas for those posts, and then I couldn’t remember the rest of my ideas when it came time to write Wesley’s post. Plus, Wednesday was a busy day, I’d run out of time, and I was desperate to get something up while it was still his birthday. As it was, I didn’t manage to get the Tumblr tribute going (http://lucky-ladybugs-lovelies.tumblr.com) until the following morning. I have been thinking I might do a detailed Amory and Andy personality comparison post, if I haven’t already talked about that subject beyond a few sentences. With so many posts, I often forget exactly what I’ve talked about before!

I also want to do another Tragg tribute post. I’ll definitely be doing one in July, but I had wanted to do one sooner. Keeping it till July, however, will give me time to watch him in season 1 for a good while and hopefully gather material for a unique angle.

At six episodes in, he has been a delight, as he always is. His interaction with all the characters is gold. I would have loved if we had seen more of him interacting with Andy, and also to have seen him interact even once with Steve, the latter of which is something that sadly could never have happened.

My local station has been pledge-driving and that bumped their Perry episodes down farther. They’re still in season 9. (Or at least, still in the few season 9 episodes they still show.) And since Mom suddenly realized Mala Powers is in The Scarlet Scandal, she wanted to see it when the local station aired it. So we watched it (or I watched some of it, anyway; I was away from the TV for some of it) and I came away with a couple more musings.

Aaron Chambers, the ballistics guy for the small town, is awesome. The scene where Paul runs into him and they walk around the murder scene discussing the forensics of it is a lot of fun. Aaron’s reveal at the end of his identity is both amusing and a cringing “Ohh boy”, particularly when seeing Paul’s expression. As Paul says later, “I was only the second-best detective out there today.”

Perry often talks about the efficiency of the police, and forensics have always been an important part of the show dating all the way back to episode 1, but it really isn’t often that we get to see a character on the prosecuting side who is actively depicted as being so good at what he does that when Perry or Paul mentions him as being formidable, it’s totally believable. As much as I love Hamilton and the L.A. police and try to highlight their good points and the times when they are portrayed as efficient, with all the screw-ups they’ve been forced to make due to the formula, sometimes it’s hard to fully believe Perry when he talks about efficiency. Even as early as episode 3, Tragg comes to Perry wanting to know how he figured out a particular forensics element. Tragg’s reaction to the explanation is classic and hilarious, and endearing in how he’s ready and willing to learn something, but it doesn’t help much to make the police look competent that none of them thought of it!

Since Aaron is up on the forensics of the Scarlet Scandal case and actually does peg the correct murderer from the start, and it’s unclear if he personally ever switches to believing the girl is guilty instead, he might not run into the same trouble as the poor Perry policemen, always suspecting and arresting the wrong people. It’s both really cool to see a character like Aaron on Perry in general and to see him in a small town that might ordinarily be behind the times as far as modern forensics are concerned. It would have been great if he had turned up in another episode—as long as he wouldn’t have been alongside the L.A. police while on vacation in L.A. and made them look ridiculous with his forensics expertise. But since he was introduced in season 9, I doubt that would have happened. By season 9, they seemed to have the police as more up and doing forensics-wise, save for perhaps one incident in The Impetuous Imp when no one thinks of a bullet in the ceiling except Perry.

Later on in the episode, I was kind of irritated when Paul expresses worry about losing his license if he saws off the county property post Perry wants him to and Perry simply replies, “You’ll have to take that chance.” Paul is definitely right to be worrying about destroying county property! Good grief. I think this is perhaps one of the most eyebrow-raising stunts yet. (And one of the last, since the series ended soon after.) I appreciate that Perry is seeking justice for his client, but even if he is willing to run the risk for himself, he shouldn’t put it on someone else. It always has bothered me when he does that with Paul, especially since he knows how Paul worries about his license. I love that Paul’s response this time is to hand the saw back to Perry and say, “You’ll have to take that chance.”

Of course, since Paul’s execution of Perry’s less-than-legal plans has always been a key part of the formula, I imagine there are those who don’t like to see that element being altered in any way. But for me, I think it’s about time that Paul doesn’t just resignedly do every law-bending or –breaking thing Perry wants. I wonder if we would have seen Paul balk a little more if there had been a season 10?

Overall, I find it amusing that while I initially found The Scarlet Scandal to be quite a blah out-of-town episode, I have warmed up to it greatly. I think my next Amazon purchase should be the latter half of season 9, so I can finally see the rest of those episodes uncut. And that includes this one.

… Also, this is the 250th post. Sweet.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Birthday Tribute: Wesley Lau

I wanted to get this up hours ago, but it’s been a rather busy day. I’ve definitely been thinking about it, however, and I like to think that Wesley knows I haven’t forgotten him.

Today would have been his birthday. Such a gifted actor and a kind man, taken from us much too soon.

The Perry crew must have been aware of his amazing talents, as they very likely specifically requested him for the role of Amory Fallon in The Impatient Partner. And he brought the distressed and high-strung character to life in such a real way. It’s a common thread with many of Wesley’s characters—how they feel so three-dimensional that you feel you could reach out and touch them.

He must have impressed audiences and the staff extremely, as well he should have, since when someone was needed to lighten Ray Collins’ load, the crew turned to him as one of the possibilities. (As a prior entry states, it was Gail Patrick Jackson who asked him to come aboard as a policeman after enjoying his performance as Amory.) They tried several things, from having Sergeant Brice play a larger role to bringing in new police characters, including Lieutenant McVey (portrayed by Med Flory, who also played Captain McVey of the United States Air Force. Twin brother characters, perhaps?) and Lieutenant Anderson. In the end, it was, of course, Andy whom they decided to develop as a character.

I still wonder what their intention was by giving Andy dialogue specifically written for Tragg at first. Did they ridiculously believe they actually could make another Tragg? Or did they think Andy’s role would only be temporary and Ray Collins could later return full-time? It is sad if they thought the latter, since it could not be.

As always, Wesley adapted to the material as best as he could and really tried to make Andy a unique character. He certainly became a different character than Tragg, thank goodness. And he has some fun bursts of personality in season 6 especially. I love him in The Bogus Books and The Hateful Hero.

For whatever reason, the staff or the writers or all of them, did not allow Andy to develop anywhere as much as he could have with Wesley at the helm. But Wesley gave his all and they kept the character for four seasons.

It is a shame that television characters almost always faded into obscurity back then. If the actor left or was fired, the character just vanished without a trace. We don’t really know what happened to Tragg or to Andy. It’s nice to think that they stayed around and just remained unseen by the audience. If they followed the paths of their actors, then we would sadly have to believe Tragg died, and Andy . . . well, we don’t know what would have happened to Andy, since we still don’t know for certain why Wesley departed.

Andy gradually takes the torch from his mentor and friend Lieutenant Tragg, becoming more prominent in the stories while Tragg’s involvement fades. In season 7, however, Tragg is shown to still be active in the cases, just often unseen. And, if The Capering Camera is any indication, Andy continues to go to him for advice and as a sounding board. That’s rather cute, actually. I love the unspoken idea that Tragg is mentoring Andy and they’re very close friends.

I wish we could have seen a bit of interaction between Andy and Sergeant Brice similar to some scenes that happened between Tragg and Brice around season 3, where they discuss the crime scenes and Tragg points things out. One thing with Andy and Brice that I will always find amusing now is in The Careless Kitten, when Andy is ready to blow his stack over Perry beating him to the murder weapon and Brice is just standing there silently laughing over Andy’s frustration. I have this feeling Brice has probably seen Andy’s increasingly short fuse a lot of times, especially in season 8. It must be a source of entertainment to the very easy-going Sergeant. (Unless it really is motivated largely by Tragg's absence, in which case Brice would understand and feel sad too.) On the other hand, if Tragg is still around, I can picture him counseling Andy not to always take things so seriously and that life is too short to go through it always frustrated.

It’s been several months since I’ve seen any Andy episodes other than season 8 offerings, although the other day I re-watched The Impatient Partner on my DVD set. I’m hoping to watch my favorite Andy episodes again soon.

I have run across quite a few people who remember Wesley and Andy fondly, and with good reason. To have Wesley Lau is a great feather in the cap for any series. Perry really snagged a wonderful actor when they got him. I just wish they would have let him develop Andy the way he was most certainly capable of doing. But I’m thrilled he was there in any capacity, and for so long.

Here’s to you, Wesley: still remembered and loved.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ah, that debate of old vs. new again....

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.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Replacing main cast members

While pondering on Wesley’s tribute post for his birthday next week, my thoughts ended up turning to another topic: that of replacement characters.

Of course, both Andy and Steve were replacement characters, as first Ray Collins’ health declined and then Wesley disappeared from the show for reasons still unknown. I love all the police characters, but putting personal preferences aside, did replacing one of the original, key characters really work?

Many shows have to deal with the problem of replacements somewhere along the line. In fact, it’s difficult to think of shows that don’t. Contracts expire and aren’t renewed, there are contract disputes, actors sadly become ill or die, or they simply want to move on.

Some shows honestly can’t seem to hold on when a key person leaves. James Garner’s departure from Maverick undoubtedly killed that show. They tried to struggle on, and perhaps they would have been successful for a while with British cutie Roger Moore, but the quality of the scripts had gone down with the departure of the series creator a year earlier and Roger was soon fed up. They even tried bringing in Robert Colbert to play a character so much like James’s that it was painful to watch. Even though James Garner’s and Jack Kelly’s characters were given the same speech pattern in scripts, the actors still managed to make them different. But Robert’s character was meant to be a clone of James’s in almost every way, right down to the exact same wardrobe, alarmingly similar name, and exact dialogue and delivery. That only worked for two episodes. Jack Kelly carried the final season alone and the show was canceled.

Other shows seem to manage to survive with cast changes, even though naturally the dynamic is forever different. M*A*S*H is perhaps one of the most successful examples of cast changes. Several key characters left over time: Trapper John, Colonel Blake, Frank Burns, and eventually Radar O’Reilly. But the show adapted to each loss and brought in someone new in most cases (there never really was a Radar replacement; Corporal Klinger took over his job). And although people were upset by the changes, many of them adjusted and accepted the newcomers and the show went on. Some people even preferred the new characters. I myself count Charles Winchester as one of the best things to happen to M*A*S*H. He was stuck-up and arrogant upon arrival, but he grew and adjusted and became one of the team. There was a good person under the stuffy exterior, one who honestly cared about people and even came to be fond of his strange comrades. Frank Burns was never depicted as being so deep, even though Larry Linville did try to portray him as a real person and not a one-dimensional caricature.

So how did Perry hold up? Ray Collins brought to life a beloved and adorable Lieutenant Tragg. He is heavily present in the early seasons, enjoying many scenes and hilarious exchanges with the other characters. To have his role gradually reduced and eventually eliminated out of necessity certainly changes the dynamic of the series. His strong presence is always missed.

But Lieutenant Anderson is a bright and eager young policeman when first introduced, not impish or dubiously friendly like Tragg is, but cheerful and congenial and intelligent. (And aloof.) He’s a different character for the series, perhaps one of the best changes they could have made since change had to come. A Lieutenant Tragg clone would have been a painful and very bad idea. One thing that often makes replacement characters work is when they’re different from the ones they’re replacing. Of course, Wesley had to struggle with using dialogue specifically written for Tragg for a while, but thankfully that soon changed.

Apparently the replacement worked, since the show continued. It likely helped that Andy is introduced gradually, often appearing with Tragg and then quietly taking some of the burden of extra screentime from him. Andy begins to appear more while Tragg appears less. Eventually Andy is the only one appearing at all, as Ray Collins’ health forced him to leave altogether.

The show changes in a negative way when Tragg is gone for good. So does Andy. Perhaps he misses his friend (if we take the stance that since Tragg isn’t seen, he must be gone as the actor is). Perhaps Andy finds he just can’t hack the burden without him. Whatever the reason, Andy is not the same cheerful fellow he started out as. Although he is stressed as early as season 6, it isn’t the dominant personality trait then as it becomes by season 8.

People have complained that all of the characters are far more serious by season 8. But while Perry and company seem to have used that seriousness to grow and mature, Andy just seems lost. He flounders, makes far more mistakes than before, and mostly seems very unhappy. Perhaps some of it is Wesley’s unhappiness with the amount of screentime he was getting. Largely, however, it seems to actually be written into the script. For some reason, they wanted to change Andy’s character in that way. And it was a very bad idea. Perhaps if they had left him as he was, or found a different way to make him more serious, there wouldn’t have been the need to replace him.

When that time came, the staff knew that the show was unlikely to continue. They must have had some hope of renewal or they wouldn’t have played with filming in color for one episode. But with only one more season as the most likely option, they chose Richard Anderson, a previous two-time guest-star, to come in and play the third police lieutenant.

It’s regrettable there is only one season with this intriguing character. Richard’s Lieutenant Steve Drumm takes some elements from both Tragg and Andy, as well as some fresh, new elements all his own, and becomes a very good representative for the police department in the series. Of course, with the formulaic nature of the series, the wrong person is still always arrested at first, but unlike how Perry can make both Tragg and Andy look like idiots on the witness stand, he really can’t do that with Steve. Steve is sharp as a whip. Alternately gruff and hardboiled and friendly and open, Steve is happy sharing lunch with Perry and company and is comfortable being their friend, but he won’t tolerate law-bending. Andy never does seem comfortable being very friendly and instead prefers keeping them at arm’s length. Like Steve, Tragg also seems quite comfortable being friendly, but unlike Steve, sometimes it’s difficult to tell how often Tragg means it and when it’s just an act. By contrast, and similar to Andy, Steve doesn’t put on airs. He is genuine through and through. I don’t think Steve could put on an act if he tried. It’s just not his nature.

The show always tries to be as kind to the police department as possible, but from the first season to the last, it certainly goes through changes in how it chooses to portray the main police characters. And by and large it seems to work. Even with season 8, I haven’t run across anyone else who feels that Andy is drastically different that year, so perhaps to the majority, they feel that things carried on the same as always. But in any case, each character is his own man and handles his role uniquely and expertly. With continuing strong characters, Perry managed to survive the cast changes. With lesser actors and lesser writing, it most likely would not have worked.

However, even though the police characters are supposed to be as much a part of the main cast as the lawyers, Della, and Paul, would replacing other characters have worked as well? They certainly had a devil of a time figuring out what to do with the district attorney character when William Talman was suspended. The clashes between Perry and Hamilton are such an integral part of the series, much moreso than any scenes between Perry and company with the police. Could the series have replaced, say, Hamilton and survived as it did with the police?

Again, the key is quality writing and acting. The acting was no problem; everyone is at the top of his game. But, as what happened when they tried to replace Tragg, there is no unique dialogue for Hamilton’s assistant D.A.s They all have lines originally written for Hamilton, so each actor had to figure out his own way to best interpret things differently to make for a noticeable character.

I still maintain that H.M. Wynant managed to do that the best. If they actually had done the unthinkable and refused to bring William Talman back, I think that of the parade of assistants seen, only H.M. Wynant and possibly Robert Karnes could have carried the prosecutor’s role long-term. Or, as with Andy, perhaps the staff would have gone with someone else who hadn’t even appeared as a prosecutor. Of course, again as with Andy, the writers would have then needed to flesh out the character and give him some unique dialogue not written for Hamilton.

But would it have worked? Would people have been as receptive as they were to the new policemen? That is honestly hard to say. Actually, the season 4 episodes with the assistants are very strong episodes and many are quite popular among fans. But it was only temporary. If things had continued in that vein, or if a new prosecutor had come in for good, it might not have worked that well. Many fans love the clashes between Perry and Hamilton. Having Perry clash with any other prosecutor just isn’t the same.

One could argue that the movies managed to survive and be strong without steady police or prosecuting characters, so possibly the entire cast of the original series could have changed except for Perry and Della and it would have worked. But I think not. The movies worked because so much time had passed following the end of the series and the old fans were thrilled to reunite with Perry and Della again. They were so happy to get those two back that they were just fine with everything else changing (again, out of necessity). And the young, incoming fans mostly didn’t know any different until later, when they started researching the original series.

Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps Perry and Della really are the only mainstays as far as most fans are concerned, even in the original series. But one thing I am very happy about is that as far as the original series goes, that was something we never had to find out. Overall there were very few cast changes, especially compared to some other series.

Sadly, if the series had continued, it could have only gone another season or so with William Talman. So I try to console myself about the series ending feeling that it probably ended at the best possible time, carrying through with four of the original five main cast members to the end.

If it had continued, though, it likely would have only been for that one extra season, since Raymond Burr was tiring and apparently so was CBS. So it is interesting for me to ponder and dream about what season 10 of Perry would have been like.

Hopefully there would not have been any other cast changes.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The defense of guilty clients

I meant to post no later than Tuesday. I got a bit sidetracked when a Mannix multi-chapter suddenly decided to take off running! I have five chapters posted so far. It isn’t one of the Perry crossovers I mentioned, but I am quite pleased as punch with it. As per my love of including every important character in a series, it brings in Joe Mannix’s boss and friend from season 1, Lew Wickersham. I absolutely adore him and he will be in all Mannix stories I write, except, I imagine, the short story where Della and Peggy meet.

I must admit, unlike my lack of shame with setting Perry Mason in the present day, I wonder if Mannix needs to be a period piece. Basically, it can certainly work in the present day just as well as Perry can, but whereas Perry’s Naval service during World War II is incidental, Joe Mannix’s service in Korea seems more integral to the show, especially since he ended up a prisoner of war—and since he’s been targeted by at least two homicidal maniacs that turned traitor to North Korea. But, I suppose, I could certainly do what I did with Perry and simply update the war in which Joe served to a more recent one. Or, as per the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew formula that originally inspired me, the characters could simply exist in both eras without any provided explanation. Or I could simply break down and write it as a period piece. At the moment I’m trying to be as ambiguous as possible (which is how I usually start), but I have thrown in a couple of sly references to other series and stories that I’ve set in the present day.

Amazon continues to release sets of Perry movies; set 3 is now up for pre-order. And interestingly, they are also starting to release double-feature sets. At least one is currently out, with another due in a few days. I wish they would release The Lady in the Lake on one of those! They’re certainly useful for those who don’t want to pay $50+ for six movies, although for two movies the price is still really too high, around $14 to $16.

The other day I watched The Scarlet Scandal while working on a sewing project. (Non-Perry related, but I have finally figured out how to work the hair if I decide to try making a Lieutenant Anderson plushie! Doll wigs work stupendously.) I always found that episode rather uninteresting, but when I watched it this time, I found it much more intriguing.

Unlike many Perry episodes, the murder happens within a very few minutes. One person is arrested, but is later set free in favor of a different suspect.

I’m curious to know what happens in the uncut version. In the cut, Perry has no interest in defending the first guy, so what makes him change his mind and decide to defend the second arrested party? Perhaps it’s simply because by that point, enough has been uncovered for him to know that there’s quite a mystery afoot, but it would be nice to know.

The most unusual thing about the episode is it turns out that the first guy was the guilty party all along. If Perry had defended him, he would have turned out to be one of the only guilty clients Perry has ever had—a twist that should have come in a Hamilton episode instead of an out-of-town one.

I wonder if Perry’s lack of interest in defending the guy was because the writer knew that guy would be the guilty one and they didn’t want Perry defending him, even if Perry didn’t know he was the guilty one.

Perry defending a guilty client is something that happens only rarely, but it does happen now and then—the most notable example being in season 1’s The Terrified Typist. He also acts as a friend of the court in defending an eventual murderer against a robbery charge, in The Woeful Widower. A similar scenario plays out in another episode, as well. Perhaps these are other cases of the writer (or more likely, Erle Stanley Gardner) not wanting Perry actually outright defending a guilty party?

It’s definitely noteworthy than in season 1’s The Baited Hook, Perry decides deliberately to defend the murderer once her identity and motive are revealed. In general, if he defends the killer, it’s because the killing was either accidental or self-defense. But in this one and only case, it wasn’t either one. Still, Perry seemed to feel that because the woman’s motive was protecting her daughter from hurtful information the murderer would have revealed, she was worthy of being his client. I wonder what kind of a sentence she was given. It seemed so senseless to kill the guy, as Perry himself said to Della in the epilogue. The girl even already knew the information and wasn’t that bothered by it. Quite a depressing, sad irony.

And I’ve noted that at least twice in season 9, Hamilton gets to deliver a response to the murderer after the confession. In The Vanishing Victim, he says that the murderer will be taking one more trip, and this time no one can take it for him. It’s one of the only parts I like in that strange, strange episode that feels like season 1 and plays so many tricks with the deceased’s identity that it’s like a long, winding, preposterous game of “Body, Body, Which One’s the Body?”

In The Fanciful Frail, Hamilton again speaks to the murderer, informing him that a murderer is never safe and the idea is as phony as the packet of counterfeit money.

I curiously wonder why Hamilton was allowed to speak both times. Usually no one speaks after the confession, unless Perry does, saying similar lines. I find it very neat to switch up that part of the formula by letting Hamilton get some profound lines in.