TV

The Rundown: The Mustaches Of HBO’s ‘Perry Mason,’ Ranked

The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items could vary, as could the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday, and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — This is important

HBO’s new Perry Mason series debuted this week. It is fine. It is even good in places. It is darker than you might have expected, and there is almost definitely more dead infants and hefty nude comedians engaged in pie-related sex acts with young starlets than you expected going in, too. And that was all in the first 10 minutes. It’s really quite a lot.

But that’s not what I’m here to discuss today. I am here to discuss mustaches. There are so many mustaches in Perry Mason. All kinds of them: little thin ones, big bushy ones, the whole deal. That’s the beauty of a show set in the 1930s. Mustaches galore. There are not enough mustaches in present-day television shows. I have always said this.

And so, to recognize this achievement in facial hair, to call attention to this monument of whiskers, we are going to rank some mustaches. We’ll start with the show’s biggest disappointment and build to its biggest triumph. You can probably guess where it’s headed if you, say, looked at the large banner image atop this page. We call this foreshadowing. Or poor storytelling. Either way.

Here goes.

7. Perry

HBO

Perry does not have a mustache as much as he has a drunkard’s perpetual stubble. It makes sense for the character because this version of Perry is usually drunk and/or hungover, and it gives Matthew Rhys an excuse to look very sad and beaten-down in a prestige television series, which is his specialty. But still. Come on. I’m so tempted to open up MS Paint and draw a mustache on him right now, just to see what it would look like. I won’t because we have pressing matters to get to and because once I start scribbling facial hair on people I can lose hours of the day. You can picture it, though.

Huge missed opportunity. Very upsetting.

6. E.B.

HBO

Look at John Lithgow with his fancy little mustache. I love it. It’s thick and white like a vanilla milkshake. And it’s trimmed up so nicely, too. It fits perfectly with his whole look in this picture: glasses, suit, handkerchief, glass of brown liquor. Perfect match of facial hair and character. I’m proud of everyone involved. But we can do better.

5. The morgue guy

HBO

The important thing to remember about the morgue guy — the one who lets Perry use the dead’s discarded clothes as his own morbid Goodwill — is that he wasn’t growing “a Hitler mustache” in the timeframe of this show. We’re only in the 1930s here. Hitler has not yet ruined this look for eternity. If fact, at this point in time, the mustache is probably more associated with Charlie Chaplin. It was cool. People liked it. It’s just that history has not been kind to the look.

I bet if you get the ghost of Charlie Chaplin good and drunk, he’d tell you how mad he is about the whole situation.

4. The evil studio chief guy

HBO

Excellent evil mustache. Kind of a menacing Groucho Marx situation. I knew the instant I saw it that things were about to go very sideways for Perry Mason very quickly. I did not necessarily predict “a red-hot gun barrel will be seared into his sternum like a cattle brand,” but I wasn’t shocked when it happened, either. The mustache never lies.

3. The as-yet-unintroduced district attorney

HBO

I am admittedly cheating here. Stephen Root as the shady district attorney has not yet been introduced in the series. This is a promotional picture that HBO released before the season. I stand by my inclusion of it in this list for the following reasons:

  • It’s a great old-timey thin mustache
  • Stephen Root rules
  • It is not any kind of spoiler to say that Stephen Root is playing a morally flexible authority figure because that describes about 85 percent of the characters he plays, something that no one in the world does better

Moving on.

2. The judge

HBO

This guy was on-screen for like 90 seconds but he still cracks the top two because, like, look at that sucker. Huge and bushy and styled into little points at the ends. A magnificent display of grooming all-around.

A small part of me hopes we never see this character again and the actor grew all of that out just for this one scene in the premiere. Like, he’s clean-shaven the rest of his life but he’s such a committed method actor that he spent two months growing this out for one day on set. I hope he kept it in working order for weeks in case they needed reshoots. I like to picture him going to the gym in Santa Monica with this exact look but little running shorts and a t-shirt on.

1. Pete

HBO

There it is. Look at Shea Wigham. Look at the king. I suppose he’s getting bonus points here for the entire picture, the snooping and the face and all of it. I can’t help it. This was a real promotional picture that HBO released for the show and I just adore it. Every part of it. Including the mustache. I don’t think the rest of this works without it. It ties it all together. A perfect mustache for a perfect picture.

Take a few minutes this weekend and ask yourself how you’d react if you saw someone doing exactly this on the street someday. I would be so curious. What’s he doing? Why’s he being so sneaky? What kinds of secrets does he keep in that mustachioed head of his? I must know. I must know at once.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — Rest in peace, Joel

Regency

Joel Schumacher passed away this week, which stinks. I didn’t love all of his movies, but I did love that he made Choices — Capital C — in all of them. Greasy sax man in Lost Boys, greasy… everyone in A Time to Kill, nipples on the Batsuit, the man never saw a flourish he couldn’t flick into a big-budget Hollywood picture. One of my favorites is depicted in the screencap up there, from The Client, where he had Tommy Lee Jones briefly stop interrogating — threatening — a child to take a big old sip from the kind of tiny milk carton you get with lunch in elementary school. It’s so preposterous, so outlandish, and yet perfectly effective. It’s so much more menacing than if he had been drinking, for example, scotch. Milk. From a carton. Total psycho move.

Schumacher was also a blast in interviews, as anyone who has read his chat with Vulture from a few years back can attest. That interview goes places, buddy. I’ll leave most of the fun discoveries for you to find, but please note this section.

Another one of your talents has always been your respect for actors. You very infrequently said terrible things about them in the press.

No, I said Tommy Lee Jones was an asshole in People magazine.

But you hired him twice, in The Client and then Batman Forever.

He was fabulous on The Client. But he was not kind to Jim Carrey when we were making Batman Forever. And I didn’t say Val [Kilmer] was difficult to work with on Batman Forever. I said he was psychotic.

I love this for two major reasons:

  • The interviewer tries to pay him a compliment and Schumacher immediately corrects it, not by saying “that’s not correct” but by including a specific example that provides evidence from the past and evidence from the present, because he calls out Tommy Lee Jones by name, unprompted, just to make a point
  • He also heaves Val Kilmer under the bus for good measure, again, completely unprompted

I have said this hundreds of times. I will say it hundreds more. The best interview subjects are aging celebrities who have seen decades of wild stuff and are old enough to no longer care about biting their tongue. No one needs another interview with the hot young star of the moment. They don’t have anything to say yet, just because they haven’t seen anything worth discussing. Give me a long freewheeling chat with someone who has stories and wants to tell them instead. Give me one every week. Make it a podcast if you want. Have their grandkids teach them how to use GarageBand to set it up. Whatever it takes.

ITEM NUMBER THREE — This counts as news now

Will Ferrell has a new movie coming out. It’s called Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and it co-stars Rachel McAdams and it’s coming to Netflix. That’s a good enough excuse for us to rank Will Ferrell movies and it’s definitely enough for me to use an entire section of this column to discuss “Red Ships of Spain,” a very old and very weird SNL sketch that I like very much. It features Ferrell as Robert Goulet, which is already a nice start, and please watch his old appearance on Conan in character as Goulet for confirmation. It also features Alec Baldwin and Chris Parnell doing Goulet-style impressions. They’re all putting on a musical titled Red Ships of Spain that looks terrible and beautiful and… actually, let me just blockquote a pretty helpful explanation instead of bungling it myself.

The sketch cuts back and forth between excerpts from the show, itself, to reviews of the show that appear in various print media. Much of the humor is derived from how sloppy and unprofessional the stage production is, from the Goulet brothers performing in their signature dark glasses (while smoking cigarettes), to singing nonsensical lyrics that are inconsistent with the show’s period setting, to random breaks in character which culminate in Robert angrily storming off stage after an altercation with Ken (Baldwin). A particularly memorable review notes that the reviewer, “fell asleep during the production and when I woke up, was so convinced I was still dreaming, I got up on stage and walked around. The odd thing is, the show is such an ugly mess, no one seemed to notice or care.” Another review points out that for the show’s opening performance, two of the Goulet brothers were replaced by their understudies. In spite of this, tickets are said to cost $90 and up.

Want to know my favorite thing about that blockquote? I’ll tell you: I got it from the Wikipedia page for Robert Goulet. This sketch covers a full two paragraphs in a section titled “Legacy.” There’s something almost powerfully funny about that. The man lived a long life, crooned with the best of them, made a name for himself as a Vegas institution, and a huge chunk of his Wikipedia page is devoted to a stupid SNL sketch that only maybe 60 people in the world care about. Life is a journey.

Want to know my second favorite thing about that blockquote? I’ll tell you that, too: It is immediately followed by this sentence.

The American Mustache Institute presents The Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Award to the person who best represents or contributes to the Mustached American community during that year.

Give it to Shea Wigham. He’s earned it.

ITEM NUMBER FOUR — Only the Minions can save us

UNIVERSAL

Well, we’re trying to open things back up a little after a few months of quarantine. It’s not going great so far. Cases are spiking, people are refusing to wear masks, it’s not been a super ideal situation. The lesson is that people can’t be trusted. We need barriers to hold us back. We need an external source of prevention to keep us safe. We need, apparently, the Minions.

French movie fans ventured back into cinemas on Monday for the first time since the COVID-19 lockdown, helped by a new safety feature: minions placed at intervals in the seats to ensure social distancing is observed.

Imagine someone hopping out of a time machine from, like, 1988 and seeing a future where a movie theater only seats 40 people in masks and the rest of the seats are occupied by tiny yellow stuffed dolls with goggles on and none of the mask-wearing humans are acting like it’s weird. I would go right back to 1988. I would make so much money gambling on sports once I go back. I would be the bad guy from Back to the Future II, basically. I’m okay with it.

The minions, dressed in their trademark goggles and dungarees, were placed strategically around the auditorium to enforce a rule that viewers leave at least one place free between them and their neighbours.

Big shoutout to the theater employees whose jobs very surprisingly consisted of purchasing and arranging hundreds of Minions dolls. We’re all having a weird summer, but that’s something quite special.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE — It is time, once again, to check in with Werner Herzog

It has been a while since we checked in with German filmmaker and delightful maniac Werner Herzog, star of The Mandalorian and possessor of some wild opinions about chickens, which you can hear if you click that video up there, which you absolutely should. The man is a treasure.

And I have terrific news: The Guardian tracked him down for a chat over Zoom. The first part of the piece details the process of Zooming with Werner Herzog, and I do suggest you go there and read it after you watch the chicken clip, but I’m going to jump ahead to this paragraph.

Ideally, he would be out on a shoot right now. Until then there are books. Herzog reads voraciously; he says that all the good directors do. It doesn’t even have to be great literature. His friend, the documentary maker Errol Morris, recently recommended that he read, a real piece of crap. “It was a bad book by a failed lion tamer. His arm was bitten off by a lion. He wrote with the other arm. And it’s a wonderful book to read because you have to comb the content against the texture and it gives you fabulous insights into human nature. It is the same with trash movies, trash TV. WrestleMania. The Kardashians. I’m fascinated by it. So I don’t say read Tolstoy and nothing else. Read everything. See everything. The poet must not avert his eyes.”

He has said that exact thing about Wrestlemania and the Kardashians a few times, but it never fails to blow me away. And, somehow, none of that holds a candle to the other stuff he said about that poor lion tamer. I want him to get way into writing Amazon reviews. Werner Herzog reviewing the most trivial items you can imagine. A toothbrush, a cat calendar, a single spoon. We’re all quarantined. He’s not going anywhere. He has time, I bet.

READER MAIL

If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or whatever you want, shoot them to me on Twitter or at brian.grubb@uproxx.com (put “RUNDOWN” in the subject line). I am the first writer to ever answer reader mail in a column. Do not look up this last part.

From Amanda:

I don’t know when I knew my husband had this condition. Perhaps it was when we saw Monuments Men, and he asked who the actress was playing Matt Damon’s contact with the unconvincing French accent. “Cate Blanchett,” I replied.

He squinted. “That’s Cate Blanchett?”

I nodded. It was understandable he didn’t recognize her then, what with the period clothes and the accent and (I think) a wig. But then I noticed this happening a lot. Every time we saw a movie with Miss Cate, he failed to recognize her. Even movies in which she, to my recollection, doesn’t do much to obscure her appearance, such as “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Even on the frequent occasions where she dons a wig or sports an accent, one would think those piercing blue eyes and cheese slicing cheekbones would speak for themselves.

No.

My husband never recognizes her.

This raises so many questions. First, what does he think Cate Blanchett looks like? Is there any movie where she could pop up and he’d say “Hey, Cate Blanchett!” I have no idea. It’s deeply puzzling and it’s a mystery I will never solve.

This is a good email. And I didn’t even include the part where Amanda describes this condition as “Cate Blanchett Face Blindness.” More emails like this, please.

I have a similar but different issue that I deal with: I absolutely cannot keep Emily Blunt and Rose Byrne straight. I know they’re different people. I enjoy them in a number of movies (Blunt especially in Edge of Tomorrow; Byrne especially in Spy), but if you surprised me with a picture of one of them I’d probably stammer and babble for a second before tossing out a nervous guess. I don’t know why I have this problem. They don’t even look alike. All they have in common is a profession and an accent. This is very much on me and my broken brain. But it’s still true. I feel like Amanda’s husband and I would get along.

AND NOW, THE NEWS

To Pennsylvania!

This section is usually an exercise in me finding a goofy story involving an animal on the loose or an unconventional crime or both, but this time we’re going in a different direction. There’s nothing I can do about it. I saw this tweet — from the verified account of my home state’s Department of Health — warning people about going into a pool while afflicted with diarrhea and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. It’s partially the words, which would have been plenty, but it’s mostly the graphic. Look at that graphic. Look how cheery and summery it is, with its bright colors and floaties and fun font. I can’t get over it. I don’t know if I ever will.

Remember how I said the theater employees who set up the Minions were having a weird summer? The government employee who had to make this graphic has them beat by miles.

Still, solid advice, I guess.

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