Friday, June 25, 2010

Pilot Review: Memphis Beat

Memphis Beat (TNT)
Premiered June 22 at 10pm

After four years on the air as repented criminal Earl Hickey, Jason Lee is back minus his mustache on the other side of the law as a cop in Memphis. Lee’s Dwight Hendricks certainly has his own way of doing things, including his side gig as an Elvis impersonator. Yet what sets Dwight apart from many of the quirky cops on television these days is that he’s not corrupt, just persistent. He throws criminals off not by brutal physical intimidation in interrogation but instead simply by talking at them. The trouble is, his tactics aren’t terribly interesting, and as a result, the show lacks any real edge. The friction between Dwight and his new commander, Lieutenant Tanya Rice, played by Alfre Woodard, is hardly noteworthy. Compared with a show that overdramatizes the lack of cooperation between cops and their bosses like “The Good Guys,” this one is definitely less interesting even if it’s more realistic. The starting case here sure is dramatic, but I doubt that the writers can find a musical icon to take center stage in every episode. Despite the strong dramatic start with the serious reaction to the bruises all over the victim’s back, this episode wasn’t nearly as compelling or memorable as the debut installment of another TNT signature cop series, “The Closer.” Lee is fun but nothing more, and Woodard has played so many better roles previously in her career. DJ Qualls, recognizable as kind-hearted but ill-equipped J.D. pupil Josh from an early episode of “Scrubs,” seems to exist only to serve as a sounding board for Dwight’s often-ridiculous comments. Abraham Benrubi, fresh off a pathetic stint on ABC’s swiftly-cancelled “Happy Town,” has gained a whole lot of hair as a presumably Native American (judging by his look and last name) member of the police force who barely has a line in the pilot. This show isn’t necessarily bad, but there’s nothing terribly original or intriguing about this pilot to suggest that it would be any different from a standard cop procedural, even if this one does go out of its way to celebrate Memphis.

How will it work as a series? The cast isn’t terribly dynamic, and finding a way to connect each case to something specifically Memphis in nature might be tough. It’s difficult to judge the success of a procedural from the pilot because the cases can get better each time, and supporting characters like the Native American sergeant and Dwight’s mother could enhance the show as they are further developed. It just doesn’t appeal to me.
How long will it last? Ratings for the pilot were strong, but more importantly, TNT is looking to cultivate a good lineup of shows that will help them maintain their “we know drama” motto. Based on the swift renewals for recent shows like “Men of a Certain Age,” “Hawthorne,” and “Dark Blue,” I suspect this one will be quickly renewed in order to bank Lee and establish TNT as a solid and successful network. I could see this one running for a while if it develops a niche audience.

Pilot grade: C+

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