Skip to navigationSkip to content
Robert Downey Jr.
Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP
Trading in the Iron suit for a wool one.
STRIKE WHILE THE IRON MAN IS HOT

The creator of “True Detective” is writing a Perry Mason series for HBO

By Adam Epstein

We’re probably not getting a third season of True Detective, but maybe this will be even better.

HBO is developing a drama series based on the fictional investigator and criminal defense attorney Perry Mason, Variety reported. Actor Robert Downey Jr. will play Mason, and True Detective creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto will assume writing and producing duties. According to Deadline, the series will likely be an ongoing series with short installments—along the same vein as Pizzolatto’s anthology-style series, which for now appears to be in limbo following a disappointing second season.

Created by writer Erle Stanley Gardner in 1933, Mason became one of the most popular characters in detective fiction, spawning dozens of novels, films, and TV series, including the Emmy-winning CBS series Perry Mason in the late 1950s, in which Raymond Burr played the titular litigator. It was one of the first hourlong television shows to air weekly in the United States.

Mason is the precursor to many of today’s TV heroes: a dogged defense attorney who uses his detective skills to find alternate suspects and exonerate his clients, most of whom are on trial for murder. Very little is known about his life outside the courtroom. Downey’s charm and charisma should suit the role well.

There’s a touch of Perry Mason in one of the main characters in another HBO show, the successful crime drama The Night Of: John Turturro plays a lonely defense attorney tasked with defending a young man accused of rape and murder. Skeptical of his client’s guilt, he investigates the case on his own, turning up other suspects.

The Perry Mason reboot is part of Nic Pizzolatto’s overall deal with HBO, which lasts through 2018. It’s unclear if this is instead of or in addition to another season of True Detective, but HBO insists that the Emmy-winning anthology series is not dead yet. After a critically acclaimed first season, the second season of True Detective failed to impress audiences or critics.

Downey Jr. originally planned the project as a feature-length film for Warner Bros., which would have had a 1930s noir setting. If HBO keeps that style, and finds the right director (or directors), then this Perry Mason reboot could deliver more of the dark, character-driven mystery that audiences loved in the first season of True Detective.