Scott D. Pierce: 'Memphis Beat' is just another cop show

Published: Monday, June 21 2010 5:08 p.m. MDT

Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee) has another disagreement with Lieutenant Rice (Alfre Woodard).

Skip Bolen, TNT

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TNT and the producers of "Memphis Beat" really, really want us to know that this is a show that takes place in that Tennessee city.

The new cop show opens with an Elvis Presley impersonation.

"Have mercy!" are the first words out of the main character's mouth.

We've hardly begun before it's made clear that one of the cops was not eating a hotdog — he was eating a catfish po' boy.

And the show is just filled with bluesy music.

Y'all know this ain't New York or Los Angeles.

However, except for the setting, there really isn't much to distinguish "Memphis Beat" from hundreds of cop shows past and present. As a matter of fact, it's far more like them than it is different.

Y'all know that means "Memphis" is just loaded with cop-show cliches. Fo' shur.

Jason Lee ("My Name Is Earl") stars as Dwight Hendricks, a fulltime police detective and part-time blues singer. (Remember — this is Memphis.)

Dwight is a darn fine detective, but he's quirky. You know that because he is fond of the tasteless, rather vulgar lamp he has in the squad room.

Dwight also just doesn't care about police procedure. We know this because he grabs a suspect, all but pushes him off a roof and says, "So help me, I will hunt you down and make you pay!"

Because all good TV detectives are quirky and don't care about procedure.

This puts him at odds with the new boss, Lieutenant Tanya Rice (Alfre Woodard), who's a by-the-book kind of commander.

Because all TV cop lieutenants are by-the-book types. So they all clash with the quirky detectives.

Oh, we also quickly discover that "Memphis Beat" is supposed to be funny. Because shortly after we see puddles of blood, we see a suspect's pants fall down when he's told to raise his hands.

And we see his, um, bare assets. From, um, behind.

"Memphis Beat" takes a rather predictable path. Dwight and his partner, Charlie Whitehead (Sam Hennings) are assigned a case they think is beneath them. But it turns out to be more interesting that it first appeared.

Dwight — quirky, caring soul that he is — is soon waaaaay too personally involved in the case. Which doesn't make his boss particularly happy.

Despite some shaky evidence, Dwight is sure he knows whodunnit. Rice is skeptical, but the rest of the cops in her station stand behind their buddy.

"He may not always do things by the book, but I for one have learned to trust Dwight when he's got one of his feelings," Charlie says.

Because all good TV cops just have an instinct for this sort of thing.

Eventually, Rice tells Dwight he's off the case. But — surprise of surprises — he is so committed that he disobeys orders and continues to investigate.

And ... I'll bet you can figure out who solves the case. Because you've all seen cop shows before.

"Memphis Beat" isn't a bad TV cop show; it just isn't an original one. So it depends largely on the characters and the setting.

The setting is OK. Not that a good cop show in Peoria wouldn't be better than a bad cop show in Memphis.

And the characters are OK. Maybe a little too quirky for their own good.

Lee is fine, but he'll need help to pull this one off. Fortunately, he got Woodard — who's great in everything she does.

And the rest of the cast — including DJ Qualls, Abraham Benrubi and Celia Weston — will be called on to pitch in.

For now, however, "Memphis Beat" is, well, just OK.

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com

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