I have a thing for quirky cop shows. The Unusuals, Raines, Justified, The Closer, the D'Onofrio-era Criminal Intent... If there's an unusual cop tracking down a criminal, I'm on the case. So when I heard that My Name is Earl star Jason Lee was going to be playing a Memphis police detective who sang in nightclubs at night, I knew I had to see it. I wasn't sure that Lee had the gravitas to pull off a cop role, since Earl was a light-hearted fairy tale and most of his most famous film roles have been of the "talkative man-child" variety, but I was certainly rooting for him to prove himself. And while I'm not entirely sure that he did (yet), the show itself is a entertaining Southern cop drama with moments of levity, which puts it somewhere between Justified and... well, My Name is Earl. And since I liked Earl, that's good news in my book.
Lee plays Dwight Hendricks, a detective with a fondness for music, Memphis history, and a lamp in the shape of a go-go dancer's chest -- a lamp he rescues from the trash when his new commander, Lt. Rice (Alfre Woodard) cleans house upon her arrival in the city. The first episode leads off with the wacky -- a perp found hiding in a tiny cupboard drops trou at the crime scene, and Dwight almost takes down his mother's dinner date thinking he's a burglar -- but it quickly takes a turn for the grim when an elderly woman is brought in with bruises and bedsores. Recognizing the woman as a legendary DJ who used to broadcast the blues to the masses, Dwight takes a personal interest in the case, which of course leads him to make wild threats toward suspects and eventually gets him reassigned by his new boss, as is wont to happen in these kinds of cases. But it also gives us some fun scenes of Dwight canvassing the neighborhood's bizarre residents and running a stakeout from a treehouse.
The first episode introduces all the characters, but this is pretty much a one-man show, with Dwight doing a lot of snooping on his own, getting his own monologue, and performing Elvis songs at the top and the bottom of the hour. But Woodard lights a fire under his ass (and ours) whenever she's on screen, which is often, and it looks like she'll end up being a second mom to Dwight, which can only be a good thing. Dwight's by-the-books partner Charlie White (Sam Hennings) barely registers in any of his scenes, but I look forward to a larger presence from the more interesting members of the precinct: Leonard Earl Howze's laid-back Reggie Greenback, DJ Qualls' slow-on-the-uptake patrolman Davey Sutton and Abraham Benrubi's braided, adage-spouting, barely Native American Sgt. Lightfoot. And I can't wait until the usually-hilarious Celia Weston has a chance to cut loose as Dwight's actual mom. Hopefully, we'll get to see it -- most of my favorite quirky cop shows were cancelled in their infancy. But if we're lucky, TNT will give the show a chance to find its voice.
Did you watch Memphis Beat? Let us know what you thought below, then check out our Q&A with the show's creators!
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