Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review! The Case of the Alliterative Attorney: A Guide to the Perry Mason TV Series and TV Movies

I admit that I have a mostly casual relationship with the long running Perry Mason TV series. This association was so informal, in fact, that the only guest star I could rattle off the top of my head was Bert Convy, which is a surprise to no one, I’m sure. However, when MeTV began re-airing the Mason movies in 2013, I fell hard for the telefilms (and a handsome bearded Burr), even though I think they may be a bit like the 90s Columbo reboot in terms of being considered a step down in quality. But, there was drama, mystery and intrigue, William Katt and William Moses, and a whole lot of Raymond Burr commanding the screen. In short, I couldn’t get enough!

There’s been a few books on the Perry Mason television series, but to the best of my knowledge, there is little writing about the run of telefilms that graced our small screens from 1985-1995. C’mon, that’s ten years of courtroom shenanigans, and oodles of amazing guest stars. I’m still working through those TVMs, but was thrilled when I saw that someone had included them in their Mason book. And spoiler free, no less, so I could sit down and read about a TVM without worrying about it taking away from what I had not seen yet. This awesome tome is titled The Case of the Alliterative Attorney: A Guide to the Perry Mason TV Series and TV Movies. When I recently acquired my copy, I couldn’t wait to dive in. But then, like any good Perry Mason mystery, there was a twist – I could barely turn myself away from the section about the original series, even though it was originally of secondary interest to me.

OK, not the most suspenseful twist, but work with me. 

Perry Mason and Hamilton Burger working with me.
That’s just a long way of saying The Case of the Alliterative Attorney is an immensely enjoyable, page-turning read. The amount of research that co-authors Bill Sullivan and Ed Robertson put into this book is head spinning! There is not only lots and lots of fantastic trivia, but there’s quotes from those who were there to help make the series and films a success, including the incomparable Barbara Hale, and actress turned producer Gail Patrick (an intriguing woman who deserves her own book!), as well as a fairly in-depth look at how the show was put together, while also working as a tribute to the profound friendship Hale and Burr enjoyed until his passing in 1993.

These are my people.
And, for the record, this book is huge! At well over 600 pages, the authors incorporate as much as they can into each episode synopsis, spotlighting guest stars, important dialog quotes, and pieces of interviews with some of the people who worked on that episode. And, as mentioned earlier, all spoiler free.

Monte Markham > Not a terribly great idea for a series
Also, working like a good commercial break, there are sections titled Exhibits located throughout the book, highlighting interesting aspects or themes from the show. For instance, there is a list of episodes featuring jury trials, as well as a compilation of episodes where the court meets in a non-traditional location. In short, you are bound to be a Mason expert by the time you finish the book. Despite the fact that it’s throwing loads of info in the reader’s direction, Sullivan and Robertson's style is casual, energetic and breezy. The authors really go the extra mile too, and Mason gets his full small screen due, so expect a section on The New Perry Mason Mysteries too! Go Monte!

Hal Holbrook, the badass.
As a newbie to the main content of the book, I can say that it has a little something for everyone, and may well bring in new fans (i.e. me). My one minor nitpick is that the four Perry Mason Mysteries, filmed after Burr’s passing in 1993, deserve more attention. They can be looked at as a simple novelty to keep a brand going, but they are also entertaining in their own right and wonderfully preserve Mason and Burr while attempting to develop their own cozy mystery niche. Also, seeing a pushing-70 Hal Holbrook riding a Harley is just the best. True story.

The verdict is in: The Case of the Alliterative Attorney wins!
But as I said, that’s just a TV movie freak being a bit fussy, and perhaps that just comes from wanting the book (and the Mason telefilms) to go on forever. I highly recommend The Case of the Alliterative Attorney to anyone with even a passing interest in the show who is also drawn to getting a deeper behind the scenes perspective on a golden age of television.

Available through Amazon.

PS: Raymond Burr is everything.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

About the podcast...

Just a quick update to let you know that we're gearing up to record our next episode this Thursday (September 15th), and we'll be discussing our favorite made for TV movie actresses. You have time to let us know who your faves are, by commenting here, on our facebook page, or our twitter feed, or by emailing us at!

Our last episode was a bit of a test run for what types of TVM games we can play. The whole thing turned out to be a grand success and we've even gotten some of the most amazing artwork inspired by some of the answers. You can check out our show here to listen to what the following images correlate to, but really, just enjoy these mockup ads brought to the Made for TV Mayhem Show via our listener and great friend Shannon, who did an incredible job of translating our off the cuff made up telefilm synopses! And we'll be playing again soon (we might do a truncated version on the next episode).

Also, I've got a book review and a couple of blog posts coming shortly. I thought I'd get a break when I graduated, but life just seems to keep rolling along. So lame. Thank you all for sticking it out with me!

And yeah, I'll say it again... Stay Tuned!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Family Sins (1987)

Network: CBS
Original Airdate: October 25, 1987

Admit it, whenever someone throws the word "sin" into their TV movie title, you're expecting a sexy TV-PG drama with a soapy edge and a tinge of glamour. I mean, just look at Sins with Joan Collins as an example of how to take one word and make it the best thing ever. So, whenever one of those delightful titles drops into my lap, the excitement and joy overwhelms me. Maybe I even faint, who knows? But I do know that I probably should have looked up Family Sins before I gave it a spin, because it couldn't be farther from melodramatic debauchery, and dammit, there wasn't a shoulder pad in sight. That's not to say that Family Sins isn't fantastic, because it is, but it's also one of the darkest and saddest telefilms I've seen in a while.

Bryan (Thomas Wilson Brown) and Keith (Andrew Bednarski) are two young brothers living under the subtlety strong arm of their father (James Farentino in the most controlled performance of his I have seen so far). Keith is the twinkle in dear old Dad's eyes. He'll do anything to win his pop's approval, excelling at sports, and sometimes rubbing his elevated status in his older brother's face. Bryan is withdrawn and complicated. He hates sports, but his father doesn't care and often ostracizes him for daring to be a computer nerd instead of a jock. The mediator in this family is their somewhat sheepish mother (Jill Eikenberry), who thinks Bryan should do what he wants instead of what his father demands.

Signs of trouble start early. Bryan is a bruiser, dark and a loner. It's not that he doesn't have friends or do well in school, but while other kids are camping and playing catch, Bryan often sits in his room staring at the walls. He has a teacher (Brent Spiner) who sees the potential in Bryan, and to cheer him up, he gives him the class rabbit to take home as a pet. Knowing he can't have a pet, Bryan sneaks him into the house but his new BFF is soon uncovered. Dad tells him to get rid of the rabbit and Brian... kills it!

What do the parents do about Brian's evil deed? Absolutely nothing. Mother wants Dad to lay off, and Dad wants to sweep it under the rug anyway. So, the family goes on a summer outing, renting a cabin by the lake (if you've seen Cabin by the Lake, you can guess this can in no way end well). After a strange game of control, Bryan accidentally lets Keith drown. And that's just the beginning of the end of this family.

Met with mixed reviews, I'll admit that Family Sins is looking to pound its audience over the head with emotion. The real issues is that viewers may wonder to what end? There are no answers or happy endings to be had. Not that it needs anything like that, but Family Sins is a bit of endurance test in terms of depressing content, with little in the way of relief. But it's also so damn engrossing and well made, I found that I truly cared about Bryan, despite his obvious troubles, and I wanted to see something good come out of all of the darkness.

One critic likened Family Sins to Ordinary People, and they were quite right, even all the way up to the boating accident. And while I'm not sure this is Oscar level filmmaking (but it's quite confident), James Farentino has never been better or more effective. Gone are his signature wide eyed OTT deliveries (not that I don't adore that), and this is by far Farentino at his most human and relatable. He's not necessarily likable, but it's easy to see how he honestly felt he was doing right by his family. It's a complicated performance, and expertly handled.

Now that I'm traveling into the more dramatic 80s and 90s domestic-centered TVM output, Jill Eikenberry has been popping up on my radar. She is an excellent actress, always drawing me in immediately by exuding a likable presence. She's fantastic in this film, and is really the everyman, speaking for the audience, demanding answers where there are none. The child actors are also great in their roles, and Spiner shows off some early adorable in a part that I wish was more integral to the film. I recommend Family Sins to those who enjoy these kinds of family dramas. It's quiet and methodical, but it's also a downer so bring your kleenex, and maybe a nice glass of wine. Worth seeing just for Farantino.