Review: Memphis Beat 1×1

Like Heartbeat but with (My Name is) Earl starring

Memphis Beat

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, TNT

Over here in the UK, we’ve just seen the end of Heartbeat after 18 years. That featured various nice policemen going around nice locations to the constant soundtrack of music of the 50s and 60s.

Memphis Beat is a strangely similar show (not just in title), despite being set in modern day Memphis. In it, former pro-skateboarder Jason Lee follows up his nice guy Earl routine in My Name is Earl with another nice guy: this time, a cop who really cares and who’s really into old music, particularly Elvis – what with him being an Elvis-impersonator and all.

It’s about as exciting as Heartbeat, too.

Memphis Beat centers on Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee), a quirky Memphis police detective with an intimate connection to the city, a passion for blues music and a close relationship with his mother. He is “the keeper of Memphis,” a Southern gentleman who is protective of his fellow citizens, reverential of the city’s history and deeply rooted in its blues music scene.

Despite his impeccable instincts as a detective, Dwight’s loose, relaxed style of police work rubs his demanding new boss, Lt. Tanya Rice (Alfre Woodard), the wrong way. But Dwight may eventually win her over to a Memphis state of mind, especially when he takes the stage at his favorite hangout to perform a legendary song or two.

MEMPHIS BEAT co-stars DJ Qualls as Davey Sutton, a uniform cop who considers himself to be Dwight’s protégé. Also starring are Celia Weston (Junebug) as Dwight’s effervescent mother; Sam Hennings (Saving Grace) as Charlie White, aka Whitehead, Dwight’s seasoned, hypertensive partner; Leonard Earl Howze (Barbershop) as Reginald Greenback, a fellow detective struggling to make ends meet with two teenage daughters; and Abraham Benrubi (ER) as Sgt. JC Lightfoot, an officer who uses Chickasaw tribal wisdom in his police work.

MEMPHIS BEAT was created by Liz W. Garcia (Cold Case) and Joshua Harto (The Dark Knight), who also wrote the first two episodes. Harto, who grew up in the South and has spent a lot of time with his country-musician grandfather, sees the show’s setting as a chance to spotlight one of America’s great cities. “Memphis has been largely forgotten in film and TV today,” he says. “It’s where the blues and Johnny Cash and Elvis came from. It’s where Martin Luther King was assassinated and where Isaac Hayes and Aretha Franklin were born and raised. It’s the perfect blend of drama and humor for our show.”

Music is just as vital to MEMPHIS BEAT as its unique characters, drama and humor is the music. “Music is a huge part of this show,” Garcia says. “It has to be. You can’t live in Memphis and not have your life steeped in music. The city has a soundtrack.”

To get that perfect Memphis feel, the production team approached noted blues singer/songwriter Keb’ Mo’. He will provide original compositions and performances for the show to supplement classic Memphis tracks.

MEMPHIS BEAT is executive-produced by Clooney, Heslov, Garcia, Harto, John Fortenberry (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Scott Kaufer (Boston Legal). Sean Whitesell (House M.D.) and Smokehouse Pictures’ Abby Wolf-Weiss are co-executive producers. The pilot was directed and executive-produced by Emmy® nominee Clark Johnson (The Shield). Harto and Garcia are a husband-and-wife team. Harto is also an actor.

Is it any good?
It’s not really going to be a keeper, I don’t think. As nice as it is to see Jason Lee doing something and to have a cop show where the cop’s actually quite nice and doesn’t spend his whole time shooting people, beating them up and so on, it’s otherwise very conventional, despite Lee’s Elvis impersonating nighttime hobby.

Lee doesn’t like to play by the book; he gets hunches; his boss orders him around and threatens to take him off the case; he has a troubled relationship with his mother; he cares passionately about the victims of crime; everyone in the department admires him; he gets the job done. That’s not new, is it? I’m not imagining things there, am I?

Indeed, there is very little here that you won’t have seen before, beyond the fact Lee seems so surprised by anything bad happening to anyone, that Lee and his partner actually sit out on stakeouts rather than getting everything magically off the Internet or “from the computer”, that his boss can admit mistakes and the Memphis setting.

But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Like Heartbeat, this is designed to show you there’s still a place where the police care, they’re all nice boys and they’ll even look after your mom for you when you’re gone, all while playing you those tunes you like. You know, the ones that nice boy Elvis used to sing. There aren’t even any troublesome ex-wives or potential girlfriends to, you know, be uppity or provide romance, or indeed any positive roles for women.

Lee’s okay, although his accent sounds a little forced; Alfre Woodward is a little wasted as Lee’s boss; and the whole show is a slow-paced affair, with little happening, Lee occasionally taking the time to visit his mom.

If you like your action shows gentle and predictable, Memphis Beat is the one for you. If you like them a little more edgy, you might want to think about steering clear of this one.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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