Articles: "Memphis Beat" is Upbeat Winner




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Janet Singleton

If you believe the folksy, compassionate atmosphere portrayed in Memphis Beat, and you are not in Memphis, you might be on the next plane there.  When in the first few minutes Jason Lee declares "Ha' mercy!" as he looks over a minor crime scene, we know that he is carving a character defined by southern roots.  

He plays Dwight Hendricks local cop-- and Elvis impersonator-- with a talent for understanding human nature.  The character is an updated version of Sheriff Andy Taylor of the Andy Griffith Show.  He lives in a world where elders are respected and protected, a "southern gentleman" actually is a gentleman, as opposed to some Gone with the Wind-type oily, ethnocentric, misogynist, and where, "we take care of our own" and that means all the good, well-meaning folks in town.  Yes, I am going to book a flight right now.

There is even a sincere but bumbling Barnie Fife-type portrayed by DJ Qualls. But of course Sheriff Taylor and Barnie Fife would not have been reporting to a supervisor like Alfre Woodard's Lt. Tanya Rice.   When they first meet in the pilot episode, it is predictably an oppositional relationship that gets its friction from differences in style, gender, and age.             

Predictable is a nasty word, but reasonable assessment here.  The characters are compelling, but the way they relate to each other is not.

Woodard, as always, is in fine form.  One of America's best actors, her interpretation of the maternal Rice deftly incorporates nuance.

In the first installment Hendricks struggles to protect an elderly abuse victim who was once a groundbreaking woman DJ.  A proud mama's boy, he also keeps an eye on his widowed mother (Celia Weston), who has caught the eye a bouquet-bearing neighbor.

The pro-social script takes a few compelling twists and turns with suspects who are either better or worse than first impressions imply.  And at the end of the day Hendricks turns out to be a pretty good singer.  "Memphis" is not a bad place for a TV viewer to land.

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