This summer, Jason Lee comes to TNT as a soulful police detective in Memphis Beat. The series, created by Liz W. Garcia (Cold Case) and Joshua Harto (The Dark Knight) follows Lee’s character, Dwight Hendricks, a Memphis police detective as he tackles crimes – as a Southern gentleman – in one of the most historic cities in America.
In an attempt to prove that they “know drama,” TNT is betting that Dwight Hendricks will entice viewers to tune in for his brand of justice and help Memphis Beat become another hit series for the cable network. Although, with his character being described as “the keeper of Memphis” and having “an intimate connection to the city, a passion for blues music and a close relationship with his mother,” the jury is still out on whether or not that’s a winning combination.
Well, the jury was out, until now…
“That’s All Right, Mama”
Detective Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee) investigates the abuse of elderly woman who happens to be a legendary Memphis disc jockey known as the “First Lady of the Airwaves.” But his loose investigative style is cramped by his new by-the-book boss, Lt. Tanya Rice (Alfre Woodard), who brings a den mother approach to her job. Meanwhile, Dwight’s mother (Celia Weston) starts dating a charming new neighbor.
We’ve seen this show before: It’s a police procedural about a detective who’s completely wrapped up in his job and will do anything needed in order to solve a case. What makes these shows different from each other is the “twist” - there’s always a twist. In the case of Memphis Beat, the twist comes from the series being based out of Memphis, Tennessee where it’s described that “blues music, southern charm and crime make a soulful blend.”
To their credit, the series does exude somewhat of a Memphis vibe, but there are moments when the “southern charm” (read: accent) becomes quite cartoonish. And in case you still don’t know by the title that it’s set in Memphis, there are more than enough Elvis references to help jog your memory - including Lee (or someone standing in from him) singing Elvis at the beginning and end of the episode.
While not far from the typical procedural, Memphis Beat does introduce refreshing elements to a now-stale genre. While many series focus on solving the case of someone who has already died, Memphis Beat (or at least the pilot) deals with the people who have been victimized and are still alive. It may be a tiny change of course, but it’s certainly noticeable. Whether it be from the theme of death being over-used on television or, in this case, the fact that the victim is an elderly woman, one can’t deny the impact of witnessing someone in pain - especially when they are helpless to protect themselves.
Of course, while giving positive remarks to Memphis Beat, one can’t forget Jason Lee. Unfortunately, I didn’t. As sad as it is to say, Jason Lee is probably one of the weakest elements in the series. To be fair, there are times when he does shine, but they are just too few to actually acknowledge them specifically.
Within the pilot, there are moments where I felt uncomfortable watching Jason Lee on the screen. Somehow he turned the “cop that loves his job and is willing to do anything to get the job done” cliché into a creepy, obsessed stalker.
Lee’s character, Dwight, is so obsessed with the elderly woman who got attacked that he wants her to stay at his mom’s house because “that’s where she’ll be safe” – despite already having another (safe) place to stay. There’s also a lengthy scene where Dwight returns day after day to “stake-out” a suspect’s house. The only problem is that he uses an adjacent tree-house for his stake-out spot… and there’s a little girl playing in it. I should also mention that he talks to her using Barbies.
If you’re looking for Lee to be the break-out star, you’re looking in the wrong place. In Memphis Blues, the surprising scene stealer is DJ Qualls. While I’ve never been a fan of his work, he might be one of the driving forces that will get me to tune in – no matter how limited his screen time is.
For a finished, set-to-air pilot, there are too many instances where the series is still trying to find its voice. While the highs (and there are quite a few) elevate the series above others cut in the same genre, the lows are what may prevent this series from finding and audience.
Memphis Beat brings the southern charm to the typical police procedural. Unfortunately, along with the charm comes the bitter aftertaste of uncomfortable over-acting and spotty storytelling. Still, if the series could somehow fix these issues as the series progresses, I have no doubt that it will be able to find a niche audience.
What do you think about Jason Lee’s new series? Will this be something that you will be watching? Do you think it’ll last?
Don’t miss the series premiere of Memphis Beat, June 22, on TNT