Memphis Beat, "At the River"

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Memphis Beat, "At the River"
Originally Aired June 14th, 2011

Memphis Beat — TNT's set-in-Memphis, filmed-in-New Orleans, borderline-anachronistic cop procedural — returned for a (somewhat surprising) second season last night, bringing us more of Jason Lee's Elvis-loving MPD detective Dwight Hendricks and his colorful coterie of sidekicks.

Jason Lee is back in TNTs Memphis Beat, which somehow returned for a second season last night.
  • Jason Lee is back in TNT's Memphis Beat, which somehow returned for a second season last night.
As was the case last season, we're going to keep tabs on this — with an eye on the show's notion of "Memphis." Memphis Beat recap originator Greg Akers and I will be tag-teaming the show again this season. With Greg away on paternity leave at the moment, I'm leading off:

Episode Named After: This is unclear. Last season, every Memphis Beat episode was named for a song recorded by Elvis Presley. That appears to not be the case for season two. I'm guessing "At the River" is not a reference to the 1997 single by techno outfit Groove Armada. Instead, it's likely a religious/gospel reference. But is it to the gospel standard "Shall We Gather at the River" or to "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" (Lyric: "At the river, I stand/Guide my feet, hold my hand")?

Plot Synopsis: The episode opens with a dead cop and a bullet shell found in the grass on the banks of the river. Lt. Rice (Alfre Woodard) splits up partners Dwight and Whitehead (Sam Hennings), having Whitehead work the murder and having Dwight pair up with a (comely) new Internal Affairs agent, Claire (Beau Garrett), while she looks into questions surrounding the late policeman.

New addition Beau Garrett, as St. Louis native Claire, gives Lees Dwight a romantic interest and cultural foil for Season Two.
  • New addition Beau Garrett, as St. Louis native Claire, gives Lee's Dwight a romantic interest and cultural foil for Season Two.
The investigation into the fallen officer opens up connections to gun-running and a white supremacist group, the Resistance Militia. It also leads to an exploding trailer that allows Dwight and Claire to dive forward in front of the flames — an action cliché that Memphis Beat deploys without a trace of irony. Meanwhile, a subplot reveals tensions between Rice and Whitehead that subtly hints at race and gender issues.

As usual, the procedural stuff is run of the mill. More interesting is Claire, a new addition to the show and to Memphis ("I was a beat cop in St. Louis for five years — got to a glass ceiling I couldn't break through," she explains) that opens up some potentially fruitful avenues for the show, not counting the unavoidable romantic subplot.

One is that Claire, in this episode at least, is used as a conduit for the show's writers to address assumptions and criticisms lingering from the first season. Upon seeing Dwight's Elvis-memorablia-packed house for the first time, Claire says, speaking for the television-viewing public at large, "I heard you were an Elvis impersonator." Dwight's — and the show's — defensive response: "Nah. I just admire the man. I play lots of people's songs."

Respect (Memphis music featured in the episode): Last season, Memphis Beat was heavy with staples like Elvis and Booker T. & the MGs. If episode one is any indication, the show could be headed in a different direction the season. The only three songs I was able to ID from this episode were generally unrelated to Memphis: Dwight leading a group rendition of "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" at the officer's wake, Ben Harper's "Faithfully Remain" at the funeral, and Waylon Jennings' "I'm a Ramblin' Man" as Dwight walks away to end the show. There were a few other snippets of song, but these were all too brief and too obscure to ID. Last season, the show kept a running list of songs used in each episode on its web site. That hasn't been updated yet for this season.

Brother Junipers: Where Memphis Beat cops go for breakfast.
  • Brother Juniper's: Where Memphis Beat cops go for breakfast.
The City (Truthy Memphis): Though the show is filmed in New Orleans, there appeared to be some new Memphis "B" roll used in the opening credits and coming out of commercials, featuring: Beale Street, the Hernando-DeSoto Bridge, riverboats, front street near the convention center, the inside of the Arcade, and the "Sputnik" sign at Joe's Wines on Poplar.

When the deceased cop's partner is interviewed, he reveals that the pair ate breakfast "at Juniper's every Friday," presumably a reference to Brother Juniper's, the awesome breakfast spot near the University of Memphis, and a new addition to Memphis Beat's "real Memphis" lexicon.

And, in this episode, the addition of the St. Louis transplant Claire provides a skeptical foil for Memphis booster Dwight. Meeting Claire for the first time at the fictional "Sal's Diner," the following exchange happens:

Dwight: Great restaurant. Classic Memphis.
Claire: Only place I've found here that I like.
Dwight, incredulous: Are you kidding, this town's full of good food.
Claire, shrugging: Must have missed it.

Later, Claire is dismissive of a Beale Street barbecue joint Dwight has recommended. Something tells me Dwight will make it his mission to crack Claire's anti-Memphis shell in coming weeks.

Oh, and just for the record, because people (i.e., "Yankees") makes assumptions about this stuff: White supremacist groups and militias aren't really a thing here. Memphis isn't Idaho.

Perhaps St. Louis native Claire could rep for her own citys rock-and-roll royalty in future episodes.
  • Perhaps St. Louis native Claire could rep for her own city's rock-and-roll royalty in future episodes.
Union Street (Unreal estate): The investigation leads to a tip about a fight at "the Whiskey Snake," a bar "over on Union." There's obviously no bar named the Whiskey Snake on Union — Raleigh, maybe — but I think we would all welcome such a thing. We also visit a joint called "Mike's Hamburgers," a gas station/diner hybrid that advertises that it also sells and fixes tires. The place is fiction, but the notion of entrepreneurial versatility it imparts fits right in. Later, a there's an attempted murder of a federal judge in "Germantown Heights."

Analysis: Oh, Memphis Beat. If we're gonna keep doing this you're going to need to give us more to work with — fewer Ben Harper songs and more attempts to include Memphis-y material. The addition of the non-Memphis-loving St. Louisan to the cast is a promising note. Maybe we can get some Elvis Presley-Chuck Berry arguments going.

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