TV Review: Jason Lee Delivers Dead Elvis in ‘Memphis Beat’

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CHICAGO – There have been TV cops in New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles and even Hawaii, 5-0, so it stands to reason that Memphis, Tennessee, would get its turn. Jason Lee (“My Name is Earl”) and Alfre Woodard are on the “Memphis Beat,” premiering June 22nd on the TNT Network. TV Rating: 2.5/5.0
TV Rating: 2.5/5.0

Lee portrays Memphis plainclothes detective Dwight Hendricks, an unconventional (are there any other type of TV cop?) who seems not just to live and work in Memphis, but completely embody the town within his DNA. As Dwight and his detective partner ‘Whitehead’ (Sam Hennings) are introduced, they are investigating a brutal convenience store robbery. There is some comic relief among the carnage, though, as a Barney Fife-type uniform Officer Sutton (DJ Qualls).

Back at the station house – populated by Elvis impersonators for some reason – there is a new no-nonsense administrator (are there are other type…), Lt. Tanya Rice (Alfre Woodard), who is introducing some new computers and procedures as Dwight walks in, carrying a lamp shaped like a stripper. There’s going to be a clash of wills.

Running in Elvis Shoes: Jason Lee as Dwight Hendricks in ‘Memphis Beat’
Running in Elvis Shoes: Jason Lee as Dwight Hendricks in ‘Memphis Beat’
Photo Credit: Skip Bolen/TNT

Every cop superhero must have his kryptonite, and Dwight is no exception. He loves his mamma (Celia Weston) to obsession, like his idol Elvis, and she is altering his world by dating a new neighbor. It’s a wonder that this supercop can concentrate on his latest case – a former and popular Memphis disk jockey named Dottie, who is now around 90 years old, has been abused by a either her nurse or someone around her. How can Dwight solve the case (he was a huge fan of Dottie) and still get to Elvis Week on time?

There is nothing new in Memphis Beat, except the location and the unique art design. The characters are out of Cop Show 101. There is Lee’s superhero cop, the crusty-but-benign Woodward character and assorted eccentrics like the Barney Fife cop that have been done better on other shows. What is particularly annoying is Lee’s dogged cop character, who is perfect in every way (he even loves his mamma!), yet is portrayed as the outsider, the rebel. Lee doesn’t seem to fit the role.

It’s also discouraging to see superior TV and film veteran Alfre Woodard capitulating to the no-fun-official-that-has-to-reign-in-the-rogue-cop role. There was nothing for her to do in the pilot, except threaten suspension (which she doesn’t even follow up on). Another TV veteran, Abraham Benrubi from “E.R.,” plays another of the station house crazies, a uniform cop who has pigtail braids. I’m no expert on the police appearance rule book, but I’ve never seen a male cop with pigtails.

Partners: Jason Lee and Sam Henning as ‘Whitehead’ in ‘Memphis Beat’
Partners: Jason Lee and Sam Henning as ‘Whitehead’ in ‘Memphis Beat’
Photo Credit: Skip Bolen/TNT

Yes, Memphis Beat is another television fantasy ‘CopWorld’, where detectives can drop everything and stay up every night to solve the case of the week. It does have the essence and atmosphere of the great city of Memphis going for it, but there is a bit too much Elvis – a lazy reference – over thirty years after his death. It also has a decent art design, a retro Beale Street cool in the midst of the modern age.

George Clooney is listed as Executive Producer on the show, and he should know better when it comes to avoiding TV clichés, but this cop drama revels in them. Inevitably, Elvis Presley gave the best advice to Memphis Beat long ago. “Return to Sender.”

”Memphis Beat” premieres on the TNT Network on June 22nd, 10pm/9pm CST. Check local listings for channel locations. Featuring Jason Lee, Alfre Woodard, DJ Qualls, Abraham Benrubi, Sam Hennings and Sunny Mabrey, directed by John Fortenberry. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2010 Patrick McDonald,

Anonymous's picture

Memphis Beat

ok i’m only 1/2 way through—but already it’s a breath of fresh air. The humor is adult w/o being incredibly vulgar—and not so stupid only an 8th grade boy would enjoy it. The guy who wrote the review is too jaded—maybe he needs to find another job. Keep it up—so far so good!

Anonymous's picture

So you don’t like Elvis?

So you don’t like Elvis? Just keep on puffing on those cancer sticks. The show IS in Memphis, after all. Dorque.

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