June 23, 2010

The King Would Approve

I'm not sure why I was expecting TNT's new series Memphis Beat to be a dramedy. I guess I got that impression from all of the ads that showed DJ Qualls spilling a blue slushy while Jason Lee slid across the hood of a squad car? I mean, that kind of says "we're gonna be funny," right? Well whatever the reason, I expected this to be a little closer in tone to Psych and it really wasn't. Much heavier on the drama. I'm not complaining, I actually ended up liking it a lot.

It started very slow and for the first 15-20 minutes I wasn't sure I was going to be able to connect with the show. All po boys, new bosses, boob lamps and Elvis sight gags and not enough to grab a hold of and give a shit about. But just when I was sure that the show would not be getting a season pass at my house, something clicked. Dwight (Jason Lee) was put on the case of an old woman found wandering the streets with no identification who does not speak. Shortly after finding out that she's been abused, he deduces her identity as a legendary Memphis radio host and becomes mildly obsessed with finding out who has mistreated her and making that person pay.

The show very nearly falls into the trap of being boring. It's the millionth police procedural that we've seen so it has to bring something special to the table in order to seem fresh. What it brings is Jason Lee and a writing style that's a little sentimental about Memphis in a way that makes me understand why Dwight loves the city so much. When Dwight talks about the first time he heard an Elvis song he says that it was the sound of Elvis's voice, not his words, that he felt expressed all of Dwight's emotions better than he could himself. It's that sort of soulful appreciation for what's really important that puts me in mind of my favorite bit of Memphis affection, the song "Memphis" by Janis Ian and Willie Nelson, "if you could see Memphis, the way that I do, she would look different to you - Queen of the Delta, tip your tiara. Memphis, the belle of the blues."

I wasn't much of a fan of My Name Is Earl though I've seen an episode or two, and I've seen a few of Lee's movies, but until last night, I had never been particularly taken with his acting chops. He was fine, don't get me wrong, but it was never something I took notice of as being really impressive. In Memphis Beat, he is note perfect and it's hard to see him as Jason Lee when he's embodying Dwight Hendricks in every way. Except that I don't actually believe that's him singing.

Season pass it is!

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