THE SHOW "Memphis Beat"
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Memphis - the city that never sleeps because it's too hot - has a fine police department with rather unorthodox ways and means. Take that squad room lamp in the shape of a naked woman's torso (probably won't find that in the NYPD). Or take one Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee). By day and by plenty of nights, too, he's a passionate, hardworking cop who knows and intimately loves his city. He's a singing cop, too - covering songs by some legendary local talent in various clubs around town. His partner, Charlie White (Sam Hemmings) and Sgt. J.C. Lightfoot (Abraham Benrubi) and uniformed cop Sutton (DJ Qualls) all love and admire their funky colleague.
And then, a new boss comes to the precinct: Lt. Tanya Rice (Alfre Woodward). She doesn't like loose policing and she certainly doesn't like naked lamps. In tonight's pilot, an elderly lady comes into the precinct. She's been abused, and Hendricks learns she was once a legendary music DJ at a prominent radio station in town.
MY SAY Years from now, deep-thinking film scholars will attempt to divine the subtle differences between Jason Lee's early filmwork in movies like "Mallrats" from the later, more mature oeuvre - like "Alvin and the Chipmunks." I'll make it easy for 'em - don't bother. There is no difference. Lee, as we in the critical trade like to say, has a "limited palette." Possessed of abundant goofy charm, he is and always has been a very likable screen presence - and is here as well. But Hendricks is supposed to have a bluesy soul - Lee may have one, but it's well hidden - and a menacing tough-guy persona at times. Yet, when Hendricks yells at a suspect, it sounds like Dave yelling at Alvin.
What's best, however, about this series is Memphis - a city with history, a great musical heritage and a pungent-sweet personality all its own. If "Memphis Beat" can capture some of that, along with the music, then this show has a future.
BOTTOM LINE A by-the-book cop show without much bite or heft. But it's got Memphis and Lee.