The other evening I was talking with several friends and asked them if they had seen “Memphis Beat”, a new show on TNT. They said they found it a bit too folksy and cutsey, but they’re originally from Connecticut/New York, and the Montana/California area. I spent my formative years in the South, grew up in Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee, before our family moved north to New York, to join my dad, who was working there. So even though I could never see myself living in the South again, some of the rhythms in the blood will always be there. I can still speak the language, and my small stature does indeed sheathe the blade of a Steel Magnolia.
Speaking of those hardy flowers reminds me of a scene from this week’s episode of the show. It takes place in a bar, a loud, smoky, bluesy Memphis bar, where Dwight goes to sing at night. A racially-mixed, perfectly amicable crowd enjoy themselves in the background. Jason Lee’s Detective Dwight Hendricks is at the bar, when his new boss, Lt. Tanya Rice, played by the wonderful Alfre Woodard, approaches and orders another drink.
Dwight is working on a difficult investigation, he’s concerned about a friend’s financial straits, and he and Lt. Rice are still in getting-acquainted mode. Pitching his voice to be heard above the noise, Dwight poses a question to Lt. Rice concerning the victim’s finances, to which she replies. “Money! It warps family. Too much of it or not enough of it. You know, I do believe, Dwight, that more than personal chemistry, more than sexual chemistry, a couple needs financial chemistry, or else bad choices will be made. The way a person spends, that’s…that’s their most secret self and you can’t touch that.” Alfre Woodard is an enormously talented actor and a very beautiful, strong woman. Her character and Jason Lee’s play off of each other very well, after their initial clash in styles. But there was something so compelling about her delivery in this scene, such a mix of smoky, earthy, almost absent-minded sensuality, driven by the power of her intellect and fueled by her years of experience, that I rewound and rewatched it four or five times. It was worth it for her delivery and her expressions alone.
The show has the usual lovable mix of ensemble characters, including D. J. Qualls, Officer Davey Sutton, who I remembered from an episode of “Lost”. His rather offbeat appearance and endearing personality add a lot to the show for me. Celia Weston plays Paula Ann Hendricks, and I love the scenes between her and her son, Dwight. This show gets the Southern vibe right for a change, and I love Dwight’s reverence for his mother, his city, his people and the music that is woven into every frame of the show. If you enjoy actual people more than heavy weapons fire and car chases, this quirky, charming show just might strike the right note for you.