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September 17, 2014

'Memphis Beat' - 'It's Alright Mama' Recap (Series Premiere)

by Bob Sassone, posted Jun 23rd 2010 11:00AM
Jason Lee(S01E01) I haven't checked yet, but I'm going to assume that every single episode of 'Memphis Beat' is going to have a different Elvis Presley song as the episode's title, only slightly tweaked. Tonight's first episode was "It's Alright Mama," and I'm sure that future episodes will have titles like "Love Meat Tender," "Heartburn Hotel," "Don't Be Gruel," and "Suspicious Mimes."

I hope you like Elvis, because he figures heavily into this show in many ways. Not only is our police hero Dwight Hendrciks an Elvis impersonator at night (doing his own thing actually, more early thin Elvis than later overweight Elvis, thank God), there are dozens of other Elvis impersonators scattered around the Memphis landscape, at least in this first episode.

The show itself? Like Elvis, there's a lot to like and some things ... not so much.

First, the good.

• The cast is great. It's terrific to see Jason Lee play a serious, divorced, drinking cop -- albeit one with a quirky nighttime gig -- after playing such a goofy, spacey guy like Earl on 'My Name is Earl.' Remembering him from that show and then watching him in this one makes this performance even more effective. DJ Qualls has one of the great character faces in film. The look he gave when he had to frisk the nude guy was priceless. Alfre Woodard has the role that every show like this has, the hard-as-nails police chief who really as a heart of gold, but she's talented enough to give it a little something extra to make the character interesting.

• The location work helps a lot. You're not going to like this show unless you love being drenched in the entire atmosphere of Memphis, Tenn., from the various neighborhoods to the bars to the river to the skyline. A good location -- and good cinematography -- can make a show with a routine plot seem just a little more special.

• The music is the type of music that will make you want to buy the inevitable soundtrack. Besides the Elvis stuff, which is always good to hear, there are blues songs and country songs and honky-tonk that fit the show quite well. 'Memphis Beat' is one of those shows that uses songs as sort of a shorthand to get to the heart of a scene. Sometimes it's overdone; here it's well-done.

I bet producer George Clooney had a hand in the music selection. I think one of the repeated themes here was in 'Ocean's Eleven' too.

The bad?

• As I said, this could easily get to be a little routine, and the only reason we might like it is because there's a good cast and a good location and good music to cover up that routine-ness. But then again, so what? I don't know if any show can be so outrageously original anymore. Give me a routine plot with great stuff around the edges and I'm entertained. Still, I hope the plots are strong enough where we don't just say this is a show filled with quirks and "characters" and a good location. That could drift into faux-gravitas when it's really just a cop show.

• Yes, Woodard is a fine actress, and tonight we saw glimpses that she might actually be a real person and not just the typical chief who stands behind a desk and yells at the star of the show to "take a break or you're suspended." I was impressed that they actually had the character leave the station and go out to crime scenes and not just walk around office huffing and puffing and scowling at the "loose cannons" she has on her hands. But let's hope that the character actually does something different, like not threatening Hendricks in future episodes. Wouldn't that be great?

• So far the show is very moody, very talky, very music-oriented. I hope future eps has a little less conversation, a little more action.

More thoughts:

• You know what this show reminds me of? 'Burn Notice.' Loner hero who has a few close friends that help him on assignments, and he has a mom who is sometimes proud of him sometimes frustrated by his life and his job. It's 'Burn Notice' mixed with a little 'Justified.'

• Let's hope the Elvis stuff is toned down a bit. We don't have to see Elvis impersonators or even Lee performing his nightclub shows to remember that this is Memphis.

I did like that last scene. How many cop shows do you see that ends in the lead cop on stage, mic in his hand, singing an Elvis song (no, 'Cop Rock' doesn't count)? And they played the entire scene seriously, not as a joke, as his fellow officers -- even Woodard -- looked on with enjoyment. That's sort of a risky thing to do in a show like this, but the gamble plays off because they don't go for camp or laughs.

So the good outweighs the bad so far.

Here's Elvis singing "That's Alright, Mama" at his '68 Comeback Special. By the way, that's actor Lance LeGault playing tambourine on the left.

[Follow Bob on Twitter.]

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mslindateacher

I would enjoy having THE CD SOUNDTRACK (MUSIC) Played on MEMPHIS BEAT TV Series. Where do I purchase ? I've about given up. Memphis Belle~

September 12 2010 at 8:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Aly

I woulld love to know what song/band played on the show week of 7/18/2010 the lyrics went something along the lines....Do what you did when did to me ... they were in a bar singing along to a juke box song...

August 08 2010 at 5:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nisha

I am a true-blue Memphian, born and raised, and still here- I just can't seem to leave a stay gone...it's something magnetic about my hometown. And while this show explored this and the way Memphians do truly do try to take care of our own, there were some things I didn't feel were portrayed well.
One- we are not really that country. Yes it's hot as hell here, but we're very AC friendly, not running fans everywhere!
Two- we don't all worship Elvis! Many of us are quite tired of this obsessive adoration. We respect the King, his art, his contribution, and so on and so forth, but really, there are many wonderful, great artists, musicians, celebs who have shined a spotlight on our city, some who are actually still alive!
Three- although the establishing shots and constant verbal reminders illuminate the fact that the show is based in Memphis, quite a bit of it has more of a New Orleans vibe, than my hometown!

June 23 2010 at 3:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bob Sassone

Well, I guess that's how successful the show is with the setting, because I believed it was Memphis, heh.

June 23 2010 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Yancy

"You're not going to like this show unless you love being drenched in the entire atmosphere of Memphis, Tenn."

Well, being born and raised in Memphis, I can attest to being one of those individuals that "love being drenched" in the atmosphere of this city. BUT I absolutely hated this show. First of all, Elvis is nowhere near the priority to the city that show makes him out to be. Secondly, although I love my city, there is so much crime and corruption here in Memphis (some of it pretty hilarious) that a much better show could have been crafted. Finally, if you're going to create a show about Memphis and put the name of the city in the title of the series...at least shoot the show IN MEMPHIS. As I see some of the other more knowledgeable viewers have informed the author of this review, the show is filmed on location in New Orleans.

June 23 2010 at 1:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
shadowracer

I got Justified and Good Guys, what do I need this for? It was a little too generic. And was I the only one completely distracted by the editing?

June 23 2010 at 12:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
DC

I kept hearing reviewers rave about this being an apt replacement for Justified, which finished its run last week. In no way did I feel it was good enough to fill in for Justified. I will probably give it another try, but the show seems a little tired.

June 23 2010 at 12:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sandee

I'm not being reminded of either Burn Notice or Justified. It was an okay episode but the cast is excellent and the music is well phenominal.

June 23 2010 at 12:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BC McKinney

I think Hollywood has gone to the well of quirky Southerners once too often. The case actually had a few interesting twists, and subject matter few shows outside of 'L&O: SVU' have delved into. But...unconventional cop clashes with by-the-book new boss, but they begin to develop a mutual respect. Adult son doesn't like widowed mother dating. Not wholly original doesn't even begin to describe the tedium. The characters need to be much more appealing to sell this pig in a poke.

June 23 2010 at 11:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeff

Uh, the show ain't filmed in Memphis, TN. Shot in New Orleans.

June 23 2010 at 11:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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