Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas (@peteramartin)

A grisly murder, a hail of harsh profanities, and a slew of unhappy characters quickly soured the tempting visual landscapes offered by Perry Mason in its opening scenes.

Developed by Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald, who stepped in as writers after Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective) departed, and starring Matthew Rhys (The Americans) in the titular role after Robert Downey Jr. (superhero movies) departed, the series begins in 1932 Los Angeles, where war veteran Perry Mason scraps out a living as a private investigator, often working for famed defense attorney Elias Birchard Jonathan (John Lithgow), who is assisted by Della Street (Juliet Rylance), and sometime working with his old buddy Pete Strickland (Shea Whigham).

As a Los Angeles native, I was drawn to the series because of its historic setting, as well as the terrific collection of actors, but those unpleasant opening scenes convinced me that it's not a show for me. Other series on HBO have also fallen into this category (e.g., Westworld S3) in recent times, which would, ordinarily, prompt me to cancel my monthly subscription until more attractive fare compelled me to resume watching.

Except that HBO Max debuted as a new streaming service on May 27, 2020, which was too tempting to ignore until I had explored it more fully. Unfortunately, I remain frustrated that the service has not been able to strike a deal with Roku, so the only way I can watch HBO Max is on my laptop and/or hooking it up to my television via a long cable, which kinda defeats the purpose of owning a television that's hooked up to the internet, and also makes the service clumsy, if you like to sample different shows, as I often enjoy.

HBO Max has already proven to be an unexpected landing place for planned theatrical releases that were left homeless when the pandemic struck, springing Scoob! on the service recently, a few weeks after it debuted On Demand. Truthfully, that's probably the proper home for the movie, which is a frantic origin story that seldom gains much momentum and appears to be targeted at nostalgic adults more than children. At least on HBO Max, it fits along with Scooby shows from earlier incarnations.

(Just for comparison's sake, Universal and Focus Features shifted some of their releases directly to their VOD platform, FandangoNow, at a premium price; Disney elected to release Artemis Fowl and (today) Hamilton directly to their streaming service, Disney+; Paramount sold The Lovebirds to Netflix; and STX sold My Spy to Amazon Prime.)

The service has also just added Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Ultimate Edition, which runs over 3 hours and may hold a kind of demented fascination for anyone who needs background music while cleaning the house.

Of the "Max Originals," the only show that caught my eye was Love Life, starring Anna Kendrick, following the vicissitudes of romance experienced by a woman in New York City. As always, Kendrick presents a very appealing and poppy screen appearance, but it's not, I'm afraid, the kind of show that would make anyone reading this drop everything on the floor, shout "I've got to have that!" and instantly subscribe.

For indie and international film fans, so-called "HBO Max Hubs" include three curated collections of special interest: Crunchyroll, Studio Ghibli, and TCM. The Studio Ghibli collection is wonderful, offering their wonderful feature films, available to enjoy in the original Japanese and/or English dubbed versions.

Both the Crunchyroll and TCM offerings are curated, which means they are really more like sampler dishes, bonuses from beyond the Friends mainstream, meant to enhance the service as a whole. This enables the anime curious to enjoy something recent and fabulous, such as Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! (discussed here), though the selections all appear to be from the past; for new shows, one would need to subscribe separately to Crunchyroll. It's still a good bonus for subscribers.

Likewise, the TCM hub featured popular classics, but also (as of now) "Creepy Cult Classics," such as David Lynch's Eraserhead, George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Joe Dante's Piranha, and David Cronenberg's The Brood. (These types of movies are a regular feature of the TCM mothership channel as well.)

The idea of the channel hubs as sampler hubs is probably why the TCM selections gained attention with the inclusion of Gone With The Wind, without any supplemental material to place it into context. After writer/director John Ridley wrote an Op-Ed for Los Angeles Times in early June, asking HBO Max corporate parent WarnerMedia to remove the film from its rotation, prompting a wave of concurring complaints, the service did so. Ridley noted that the film should be accompanied by other films to "give a more broad-based and complete picture of what slavery and the Confederacy truly were." He also suggested that it could be paired with insightful perspectives, which is the path that HBO Max ultimately followed when it returned the film to its rotation -- with an hour-long TCM Classic Film Festival panel discussion from 2019!

Yes, HBO Max already had that material available, though I don't know when the introduction by Jacqueline Stewart, a panelist and professor of cinema studies who joined TCM a few months after the panel to become the first African-American host on the channel, recorded her introduction. But it now fits to provide a much-needed perspective on the film.

Though TCM is a cable channel, the service is also available to cable subscribers (only) to watch via an app, WatchTCM, which I enjoy watching regularly on my Roku TV. The app enables me to watch movies I missed seeing on the channel, and also includes supplementary material (text, video clips, host intros) for individual films. All this to say, HBO Max dropped the ball on Gone With the Wind because they decided not to make very much supplemental material available for their programming.

And this points to WarnerMedia's delicate balancing act, which is also evident in the acts being performed by Disney (with their Disney+, ESPN, and Hulu offerings) and other corporate giants who have supported cable television giants for many years with their programming. They want to keep income up, keep their creative partners happy, and keep customers as subscribers.

So, I think this is an example of how WarnerMedia is doing that with the HBO Max hubs: include enough for a broader base of viewers to sample and see that there are many reasons to subscribe monthly. Dedicated fans of some of those hubs may travel elsewhere, and/or continue to rely upon their own private stash of physical home video releases.

For animation fans, HBO Max includes the aforementioned collections, as well as collections of programming from Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, and Looney Tunes. The DC collection also features animated shows and movies.

The second season of the live-action Doom Patrol, drawn from the comic books, debuted recently on the service, and it may be worth a look; the first season was promising.

The monthly price for the service puts HBO Max on the same price level as Netflix, but it all depends on the shows, of course. I remain glad that streaming services enable a viewer to pick, choose, and easily cancel the service, though it can require more time and effort to maintain than "the good old days" of ordering cable, hoping for good service, and then constantly complaining because we didn't have any other choice. It turns out that too many choices offer their own kind of potential pitfalls.

Visit HBO Max for more information.

Now Streaming covers international and indie genre films and TV shows that are available on legal streaming services.

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