Memphis Beat: "Suspicious Minds"

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Memphis Beat, "Suspicious Minds"
Originally Aired August 3, 2010

Episode Named After: The great Elvis Presley song "Suspicious Minds" — the greatest, in my opinion. Written and first recorded by Mark James, "Suspicious Minds" was released in 1969 and was Elvis' last #1 song in the U.S. Elvis recorded it, "In the Ghetto," and "Kentucky Rain" in his "Memphis sessions" with Chips Moman at American Sound Studio. Thematically, the song, about a troubled relationship full of doubt, is perfectly matched to several episode plots, including a strained marriage, a police officer considering taking a bribe, and a son wondering if his dad was the stand-up guy he always thought he was.

Rowdy Memphis (Plot synopsis): Detective Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee) testifies during a criminal case about an altercation at a toy store. A pretty defense attorney — and instant love interest for Dwight — grills him on the stand, but Hendricks wins out with a speech about how he grew up knowing there's a right way to treat folks. The jury nods in agreement. Defendant: Guilty.

After the credits, we see Dwight's mom (Celia Weston) and her beau, Tony (Daniel Hugh Kelly), smoking a joint behind a moonbounce at Tony's birthday party in a park. A Beechcraft airplane emergency lands on the grassy strip of the park — but there's no one inside flying it. Whitehead (Sam Hennings) thinks it must be a "ghost plane." An Air Force officer and FAA liaison shows up to help investigate and sparks up a flirtatious relationship with Lieutenant Rice (Alfre Woodard). The investigation leads to a missing couple, the Oneys, who recently won $82 million in the lottery. Suspects include the son, an ex-brother-in-law, and then Mr. Oney (Andrew Sensenig) himself. Turns out, the Oneys didn't really win the lottery, they just said they did so they could glom some free stuff and get credit with businesses and friends. Mr. Oney was an inventor who needed money for a patent. His wife supported him, to the detriment of the rest of her family, and, when she was about to leave him and expose the lotto fraud, he killed her.

Two other plot threads look at police corruption. In one, the (foreshadowingly named?) Detective Greenback (Leonard Earl Howze) appears to have taken a bribe from a restaurateur he catches in the midst of a same-sex act behind his restaurant. In the other, Dwight is flipping through some of his police-officer dad's manuals and finds gobs of hundred-dollar bills cut in half — an indication that he and his partner might have been on the take.

Respect (Memphis music featured in the episode): "Tennessee Waltz" by Sam Cooke. "The House That Jack Built" by Aretha Franklin. There's a great, stripped down blues song that might be a version of "Rising High Water Blues," but I don't know for sure. The song "Who's Been Talking" is playing in the background in one scene, but I'll have to re-watch to figure out if it's Howlin' Wolf's version or someone else's (perhaps Robert Cray). My notes and memory aren't helping me out here. Dwight sings "Suspicious Minds" in a bar, as he's wont to do.

The Memphis Beat website has a good breakdown of each episode's music, but this week's list isn't up yet.

The City (Truthy Memphis): The show starts with a great travelogue montage to the tune of "Tennessee Waltz." We see the Arcade — again, and maybe even the exact same shot we've seen in a previous episode — Effie's Lounge on North Second Street, the statue of W.C. Handy, and a Beale Street sign on the wall of what I think is Strange Cargo (and a Performa sign there, too).

Dwight gives Tony a book for a birthday present. Could have been a nice moment to have a specific book of regional significance — Robert Palmer's Deep Blues, or Vance Lauderdale's Ask Vance, say — but instead it appears to be a generic History of Memphis prop.

I think it's been said before, but really, what's with all the peeling paint and rustic ambience in Memphis police interrogation rooms?

Mr. Oney works at IT support for "Package Express" — and thus we have our Memphis Beat version of FedEx, finally. I look forward to the case of the missing Package Express overnight hub worker. Oney's stepson says he's an electrical engineer for "Memphis Light and Power," the TV analogue of MLGW. Dig it.

Greenback mentions a spring break destination of Daytona Beach, Florida. That's not crazy talk, but a more accurate place to visit might be somewhere on the Redneck Riviera, the tried-and-true playground for vacationing Mid-Southerners.

Greenback visits Chicken King restaurant: the #1 fried chicken joint in Memphis, run by apparently famed restaurateur, "the King." This is like a celebritized Gus's, though I'm not sure Gus's would like a portrayal of its owner receiving BJs in the back alley and paying off cops to keep hush about it.

Dwight references the Mark Twain short story "The Million Pound Bank Note," which has some similarities to the lottery-winning couple in this episode. Twain obviously holds regional importance due to his writings on the Mississippi River.

Union Street (Unreal estate): It's cool to see Effie's Lounge. It's funny that there's a carriage going by in the shot. If you take a downtown carriage ride and they take you by Effie's Lounge, get your money back.

Tony's birthday party is held at Vance Park, which appears to be a nice, big greensward with trees all around. That sounds more like Shelby Farms Park than the real Vance Park, which is a little strip park atop the bluff downtown. You certainly couldn't land an airplane there, even if there was a pilot in it.

Early on in the mystery, the authorities conduct a 100-man search over a 100-mile radius looking for the missing couple. Included in that search is the important Coast Guard search for bodies in the Mississippi River (they've searched eight sectors of the river so far, we're told). Pardon my relentless non-suspension of disbelief, but if you're looking for two people who were last seen in an airplane — which isn't bound to any particular terrestrial feature — isn't focusing on the Mississippi River just as arbitrary a place to search as, say, focusing on the North Parkway/Summer Avenue corridor? They're both long, relatively narrow strips of acreage that aren't more likely a place to wind up as anywhere else in the region.

Whitehead refers to an unusual, perhaps supernatural encounter he had in 1997 at 2224 Hill Street. I can't find that's there's a Hill Street in Memphis, but I'm intrigued by the specificity and hope they revisit this in a future episode.

Greenback gets on the chicken king's case after catching him having sex in a back alley. Greenback says, "You pay your chickenhawk to service you in downtown Memphis, on the street named after the first post-Reconstruction mayor, and I see it?" There's loads of great things in this sentence, but my favorite is about the mayor, worded in such a convoluted manner that it draws incredible attention to itself. Follow with me:

The Reconstruction Era followed the Civil War and formally ended in 1877. John Flippin was Memphis mayor from 1876-1879. Is this the mayor Greenback refers to? There sure ain't a Flippin Street in Memphis, downtown or otherwise.

Here's where it gets funny: Memphis didn't even have a mayor after Flippin for two decades. Between 1879-1895, Memphis was struck by yellow fever, lost a significant portion of its population, and disincorporated. The first mayor after the new city charter, in 1895 (though post-Reconstruction, technically), was W.L. Clapp. Nope, not a Clapp Street in Memphis.

So, essentially, the TV show is so incorrect (or brilliantly satirical), it references, in an immensely roundabout way, a street that does not exist and could not exist.

Dwight's mom recalls the missing Meg Oney from an encounter at the Ladies Auxiliary Craft Fair. I don't know what that is, but interestingly there's a novel called The Ladies Auxiliary, by Tova Mirvis, set in the Memphis Jewish community.

Maybe the most egregious geographical inaccuracy/New Orleans bleed-through so far comes when a character says that the missing people are hiding out in an A-frame "in Bayou country." There is not bayou country near Memphis. Some swamps, sure. But bayou country, that'd be Louisiana. I thought, okay, so Dwight has to fly down to Louisiana, but no, he and a slew of Memphis city cop cars come to a screeching halt at the house shortly after being told that's where they need to be. A true slap-your-head moment.

Analysis: Some of the writing's still lazy. Tony, a supposed newcomer to the area, has a birthday party that has dozens of attendees, many of them kids, and even requires a moonbounce. Maybe I'm being too critical.

On the other hand, you could never convince me that a solar toaster — an invention that's a pivotal clue in the episode's main crime — sounds even remotely plausible in Memphis or any other city on the planet. What, are you going to take your toaster outside to power it up to make some toast, then lug it all back indoors to your kitchen? I suppose I should just be thankful they didn't opt for a solar-powered refrigerator, the only more-ludicrous thing I can think of.

The mystery elements lack cohesion at times, too. The Air Force officer shows up out of nowhere on the scene of the mysterious airplane, and he already knows the black box is missing. (I'm told small craft like the private plane featured don't have a black box. My pilot brother does confirm that autopilot could conceivably land a plane like that, though without someone inside to set the brake, the props would still give it thrust on the ground and it wouldn't come to a complete stop.)

Nevertheless, "Suspicious Minds" might be the best episode so far, just because it opens up the world of the characters a little and allows some gray area to enter their lives. Greenback may have accepted a bribe. (It appears he did.) Dwight's dad may have been a dirty cop. Finding a seamier side of Memphis and the characters would be very welcome. (Apart from the formula of having the criminals routinely be scofflaws who have stepped outside the lines and sullied some grand Memphis institution, which needs to be rectified so that the soul of the city can live on.)

The best line of the series so far also comes in an exchange between Whitehead and Sergeant Lightfoot (Abraham Benrubi), the Chickasaw who's on the police force. It's Lightfoot's 40th birthday, which, he tells Whitehead, is when he's "supposed to spend three days in the woods alone, communing with the Great Spirit." This is maybe the worst moment of the show so far, but Whitehead saves it by calling Lightfoot out: "You're only one-sixteenth Indian," Whitehead says. "I'm 75 percent water, you don't hear me talking like a fish, do ya?" That's a good line (even if really he should've said he's 60 percent water).

Memphis-y Trope Central to Next Week's Mystery: I don't know. My DVR cut out.

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