Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Memphis Beat: "Run On"

Posted By on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 at 11:14 AM

Memphis Beat, "Run On"
Originally Aired July 27, 2010

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Episode Named After: The traditional gospel song, sometimes called "Run On" and sometimes called "God's Gonna Cut You Down." It's been recorded countless times over the years, but because this is Memphis Beat, the song is an Elvis reference. Presley recorded it in 1966 and it can be found on Amazing Grace: His Greatest Sacred Songs. Other notable recent versions have been done by Johnny Cash, Moby, and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Plot Synopsis: Nice opening as we see fingers hit "A3" on a jukebox then reach for a beer as the percussive opening of Sam & Dave's "I Thank You" starts. It's Officer Sutton (DJ Qualls), who begins singing along and is soon joined by colleagues Detective Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee), Whitehead (Sam Hennings), and Greenback (Leonard Earl Howze).

A drunken sing-along leads to roughhousing shenanigans which leads to a bar fight with civilians, whom our heroes polish off before returning to their Sam & Dave. Off-duty cops beating up people in bars. Just another fun Memphis night.

After the break, the week's mystery is established, as professional boxer and "local hero" (every crime victim here is a local celebrity of some sort) Wendell "Honeyboy" Taylor is attacked at a gas station by a mystery man wielding a pipe. Dwight sorts through the suspects. Chief among them is the promoter and the sparring partner who both lost income when Taylor made a surprise retirement announcement. Dwight confronts the fleeing sparring partner in an alley behind a gym and challenges him to a bare-knuckle bout, which is avoided when Dwight's random shouting out of the names of blues musicians ("Howlin' Wolf! Little Walter! Sonny Boy Williamson!") spooks the fighter.

Meanwhile, the promoter is confronted at an "underground restaurant" in, um, Little Rock, preparing to feast on "unsanctioned" dishes such as "live eel soup" and praying mantis. Is this a thing that I just haven't heard about? Did someone slip a foreign substance into the Memphis Beat sweet tea this week?

Anyway, Dwight somehow manages to figure all this out, Taylor has a heartwarming reunion with the guy he once crippled as a pre-teen, and Sutton has his own bizarre subplot involving a police station doppelganger who turns up dead and a long-held crush on a former classmate's mom. At the end, like Lucinda Williams, he goes to West Memphis to look for his joy. Just another week in the Bluff City.

Respect (Memphis music featured in the episode): One of the better music weeks, really: "I Thank You" by Sam & Dave. "Love & Happiness" by Al Green. "(Do the) Push & Pull" by Rufus Thomas. The ubiquitous bit of "Green Onions." There's a brief bit of an early rock/R&B song that I couldn't quite place. Had a "Bo Diddley" beat and some piano. Anybody figure out what that was? Finally, Dwight ends the show by singing "Run On" at a black church with full choir accompaniment.

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The City (Truthy Memphis): On the surface this is Memphis Beat's boxing episode. Boxing has a pretty steady role in Memphis sports culture ranging from Tyson-Lewis to the New Daisy, and while I can't think of any homegrown contenders a la this episode's subject, you could consider him something of a Rampage Jackson reference if you want. Memphis Beat finds the inevitable Elvis tie-in by having Dwight give Taylor an autographed photo of Presley and Muhammad Ali.

But the real focus here is religion, or at least churchiness, which certainly rivals barbecue as an unavoidable Memphis subject. The boxing promoter is a "Guardian Angel" at a local African-American church, a designation that cost him $100,000 — a nod toward church corruption the show doesn't really follow through on. The minister of this church factors in the investigation, which allows the show to end — no less embarrassing for its predictability — with Dwight belting out "Run On" backed by the choir, with old church ladies in their Sunday crowns waving fans and dancing in the pews. Kinda like this. Or this.

We learn that Dwight "sang in the choir, it was the only way I could get through church with my mama" but then quit the church after his father was killed in the line of duty. "God's got a lot of explaining to do." The churchiness of other characters is revealed on Dwight's path back to belief.

Other Memphis stuff: The bar scene is pretty decent until the fisticuffs, with a 45-playing jukebox a la the Lamplighter. We learn that Dwight has a contact with the Commercial Appeal. At this point I'm sort of impressed they didn't make it The Daily Gazette or something like that. Finally, there's a pleading bit of conversation between Dwight and Whitehead. "A local hero pulls up in a pristine Porsche and no one sees anything," Dwight laments. To which Whitehead plaintively responds: "Why can't we help each other Memphis?"

Union Street (Unreal estate): The b-roll this week had nice shots of a riverboat on the Mississippi, the Hernando de Soto bridge, the Arcade, the Peabody, King's Palace, and the general downtown skyline, but the show didn't do much to fill in the geography of Memphis Beat's Memphis. There was a stray reference to a "Chickasaw Junior Princess Contest."

Analysis: Some nice use of music early, with the snazzy introduction of "I Thank You" and then "Love & Happiness" over the post-credits opening, as Dwight and Whitehead are on a nighttime patrol: "Something's going on/Someone's on the phone/3 o'clock in the morning." But mostly this episode was an odd mix of the completely bizarre (the underground restaurant in Little Rock) and the mind-numbingly inevitable (Dwight at the black church).

Memphis-y Trope Central to Next Week's Mystery: Hey, we have the lottery now. This means missing lottery winners. And a "ghost plane" is sure to provoke a Lisa Marie reference.

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