Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Memphis Beat: "Baby, Let's Play House"

Posted By on Wed, Jun 30, 2010 at 10:32 AM

Memphis Beat, "Baby, Let's Play House"
Originally Aired: June 29, 2010

Episode Named After: Elvis' Sun Records cover song of the Arthur Gunter original. Elvis' version hit #5 on the Billboard Country Singles chart in July 1955.

Plot Synopsis: Dwight (Jason Lee) sniffs out some graffiti artists just by staring them down — he's a crime whisperer or like the guy in The Mentalist. Alex (Sunny Mabrey) is introduced as Dwight's ex-wife with benefits. Dwight and Whitehead (Sam Hennings) straighten out some fighting youths and check out one of the boys' strange tale about a daddy kidnapped by terrorists. The boy's mom, Cleo (special guest star Juliette Lewis), plays dumb but the truth comes out in dribs and drabs. Dwight joins his mom and her neighbor on a date. Dwight's dad is revealed to have been a Memphis police officer. Whitehead reveals his thespian proclivities. Dwight plays "Baby, Let's Play House" alone on his couch.

Respect (Memphis music featured in the episode): "You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover" by Bo Diddley. "Trust in Me" by Etta James.

This episode represents a step backwards in the hope that Memphis Beat will be a force for good in promoting Memphis music. There's nothing wrong with the songs they chose, except that Diddley isn't from or associated with Memphis: He's from deep South Mississippi — much closer to New Orleans than Memphis — and got famous in Chicago. And James is a Californian and as associated with Chicago's Chess Records as Diddley is. The pair would be natural fit for Chicago Beat. Not so for Memphis.

There's also an acoustic "Candy Man," though I can't figure out its provenance based on the two lines of lyrics in the show. Is this a cover of the Mississippi John Hurt tune "Candy Man Blues" — in which case, it fits the show since Hurt was from the relatively nearby town of Avalon, Mississippi? Or is it "Candyman" by the Grateful Dead, which mentions Memphis in the lyrics? Or is it of the Rev. Gary Davis "Candyman" version — which would be the worst of all since it names New Orleans in it.

The City: Lt. Rice (Alfre Woodard) invites Dwight's mom (Celia Weston) up to her office to have sweet tea. Because everybody in Memphis has sweet tea to offer guests at their workplace. Cleo has a car up on blocks in the front yard. A gun store owner has a big Rebel flag hanging up in his shop.

Union Street (Truthy Memphis): 1. A truck driver on a long cotton haul? 2. Rice says she and Dwight's mom "both belong to the Curves out on Monroe." There's not one on Monroe, I'm sad to report, but it was a nice touch. 3. Lightfoot (Abraham Benrubi) says his brother raises cotton, buckwheat, and sunflowers. Buckwheat is NOT a local agricultural product. 4. Cleo says she threw a gun in the Mississippi River, and Dwight assumes she did so in South Memphis. 5. The Southern accents are all over the map.

Analysis: Weston and Woodard share a nice scene together at the police station, as do Woodard and Lewis. It might be interesting over time to see what the show has to say about Memphis gender roles. The police procedural element will have to tighten up a lot, and the revelation of the solution is handled sloppily, as it was in the pilot. The editing has got to get better. But it's nice to see Dwight as a detective in the Sherlock Holmes, observational-prowess mold. At least he won't be solving mysteries with nothing more than his gut every week.

Memphis-y Trope Central to Next Week's Mystery: Young women in beauty pageants.

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