Memphis Beat Review: TNT's Latest Cop Drama Starring Jason Lee
TNT is no stranger to cop dramas. In fact, shows like The Closer and Saving Grace are among the network’s identifying original series. They’ve set the pace and the bar for TNT, which is why Memphis Beat should feel right at home on the network.
If cop dramas with a quirky, majorly-to-moderately troubled leading character are your thing, then you’re probably already a TNT viewer, in which case, I see no reason why you shouldn’t add Memphis Beat to the shows you just can’t live without. The series stars Jason Lee as Dwight Hendricks, a Memphis police detective who moonlights as a blues singer. In many respects, Dwight is Memphis. Or at the very least, he’s a man who exemplifies all of the things that I expect Memphians pride themselves on. He’s a polite, intelligent, Elvis-loving gentleman who seems to genuinely believe in serving and protecting his community. As of the first episode, there doesn’t appear to be a dark side to Dwight’s character. If anything, he’s a little too clean in that area. Top it off with Jason Lee’s vocal contributions as Dwight belts out a blues number at the beginning and end of the pilot and what’s not to love about the guy?
Speaking of Jason Lee, his performance as Detective Hendricks is subtle but charming, which is nice considering he’s coming off a multi-season stint as the star of My Name Is Earl. Sure, we can look further back at his Kevin Smith days (Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, etc) or at some of his more serious roles in big films like Vanilla Sky and Almost Famous, but as Earl is more recent and shares the southern aspect with Memphis Beat, one might be inclined to compare the two characters. In that respect, Earl and Hendricks do share a similar accent, good-natured charm and well-intentioned behavior. I’m also willing to bet that Earl would appreciate the boob lamp that Dwight brings into the office to add a little spice to his desk. Other than that, Hendricks is a much more serious character or at the very least, is surrounded by much more serious problems. Earl never had to step over frozen blue slushie, which is spilled all over the floor and mixing with the blood of a convenient store clerk who was killed in a robbery. The same cannot be said for Dwight Hendricks.
The pilot episode follows Hendricks as he attempts to find out who is abusing an elderly woman who turns out to be a once famous radio DJ that Hendricks worshiped growing up. As the subject of elder abuse isn’t a common one in TV shows these days, the show gets points for originality there, as well as using the stand-alone story arc to help us get a feel for Hendricks’ compassion, as well as his appreciation for music. As both aspects seem to be identifying traits of the man’s character, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what this guy’s all about within the first episode.
Along with a decent premise, an interesting backdrop and a heroic lead character, Memphis Beat also gives viewers a reason to tune in by including great music and an excellent cast. Alfre Woodard is a scene-stealer in her role as Lieutenant Tanya Rice, Hendricks’ new boss. Also among the cast are DJ Quallsm Celia Weston, Sam Hennings, Leonard Earl Howze, Abraham Benrubi.
Memphis Beat isn’t really re-inventing the cop drama here, but it does follow the established format nicely and makes excellent use of the city on which the show is based. I can see Memphis becoming its own character in the show if the writers manage to find a balance between using the city and its contributions to American culture (particularly the music) without relying too heavily on. Seeing a handful of Elvis impersonators lined up on the background at the precinct is a perfect example of use without overuse. I also expect to see more Elvis and/or music-related crime investigations for Hendricks. I think as long as that's not all there is to the show, TNT has a winner here.
Memphis Beat premieres Tuesday, June 22, 2010 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.
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