Picks and Pans Review: A Perry Mason Mystery: the Case of the Jealous Jokester

updated 04/10/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/10/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

NBC (Mon., April 10, 9 p.m. ET)

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0ne peculiar wing of the TV mausoleum is reserved for those mysterious characters who are much with us—if only in spirit. Important, though invisible, personages such as Columbo's phantom spouse or, of late, Maris, the dreaded but disembodied wife of Niles Crane on Frasier. But it's rare when the never-seen individual is named above the title as in these late-era Perry Mason mysteries.

When Raymond Burr died in 1993, NBC avoided the sacrilege of recasting the burly barrister. They kept making movies, but with Perry always out of town on business and a colleague covering for him at the office.

In the fourth minus-Mason outing, even faithful Delia (Barbara Hale) bails out after an early cameo. Standing in for the third time as our legal proxy is Hal Holbrook, a canny country attorney. Holbrook is defending his niece (Susan Diol), accused of murdering the scandal-plagued star (Dyan Cannon) and namesake of Josie, a hit sitcom. It's a familiar formula stocked with familiar faces (Tony Roberts, Victoria Jackson, Tina Yothers and David Rasche), but it's presented with more verve than we've seen since Burr himself called the surprise witnesses.

Ironically, soon after the murder, Josie's producer confides to Holbrook, "The network wants us to stay in production. We'll change the name. Call it Josie 's Family." If this movie teaches anything, it's that the show can go on after the star is gone.

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