Memphis Beat, TNT's resident cop show, had its second season premiere last night. But unlike many season openers, the episode didn't feel like a big "We're Back!" announcement -- because Memphis Beat doesn't really announce anything.
Most shows have a driving force -- a certain pace that helps to create drama. Even shows like White Collar, Covert Affairs and Royal Pains have an urgency to them. That's how TV goes! But that's not how the Memphis Beat goes on. It's completely unconcerned with pacing.
Now, this doesn't mean the show is bad. It's actually good. The slow burn actually works, but it's just that it may throw you off at first. If you watched Season One, I would like to think you know exactly what I mean. If not, let's talk about the Season Two cold open:
The camera moves across a hillside, stumbling onto a bullet casing and the body of a dead cop. Any other show could open like this -- CSI: Miami does every week -- with Jaws-type music in the background and then a David Caruso catchphrase. However, here, we see the bullet casing and the body and it doesn't feel CSI-like by any means. The twangy Southern music in the background lulls along, a blue Pontiac GTO pulls up and Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee) saunters out of his car in his cowboy boots and flannel and surveys the scene. His boss Lieutenant Rice (the always brilliant Alfre Woodward) is certainly the most flustered character on the show, but even she seems unconcerned with the pace at which everyone's moving. Dwight's a detective with (of course) unconventional methods for solving crimes, but it's not a Cuddy/House dynamic -- Rice just sticks him with Claire Ryan (Beau Garrett) to make sure he doesn't do anything stupid.
That's much how the rest of the hour goes. The show doesn't linger on the crime. The cop who was shot was Dwight's friend, but unlike other police detective shows, the focus is on Memphis as a city in general -- the people that work there, the sights and the music. For example, Dwight and Claire have to tell the cop's wife of his death, Claire finds out that Dwight's father was killed in the line of duty and it all culminates in a moving wake in which the cops sing a song in memory of their friend (a cappella always gets me). There are endless shots of Memphis, glowing lights of bar signs and police cars, smoky bars and Johnny Cash and Elvis on the soundtrack. The crime itself is basically put on the back burner -- it's the reason everyone's on the show, but not the most interesting thing about it. Even when Dwight figures out who the killer is, he handcuffs him and sighs, like it's just another day -- not unfulfilling, but not terribly exciting, either. Lee makes it work, setting the tone with his understated but still attentive performance. Side note: We don't get to see him perform in the first episode, but it should be said that those moments are some of Memphis Beat's strongest.
And apparently, the slow pace may have more of a purpose in the second season -- Woodward promised that they're taking a more careful look at "personal relationships" this year. But I'm not sure they're right in doing so -- the show is good for what it is, which is a very low-key drama that's really an ode to Memphis. Lee added that he felt like the first season was "a season-long pilot" and that focusing on the characters more may help the show to find its groove, but as far as I'm concerned, it already has.
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