Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Memphis Beat: "Polk Salad Annie"

Posted By on Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 10:06 AM

Memphis Beat, "Polk Salad Annie"
Originally Aired July 13, 2010

I'm taking the baton from previous Memphis Beat re-capper Greg Akers this week. We'll probably be alternating — or something close to it — the rest of the way.

DJ Qualls in the spotlight this week.
  • DJ Qualls in the spotlight this week.
Episode Named After: The signature song from Louisiana swamp-rocker Tony Joe White, "Polk Salad Annie" was originally released in 1969 and almost immediately picked up by Elvis Presley, who made it a concert staple throughout the ’70s. A food-themed song for a food-themed episode.

Rowdy Memphis (Plot Synopsis): Detective Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee) and fellow officers Whitehead (Sam Hennings), Lightfoot (Abraham Benrubi), and Greenback (Leonard Earl Howze) chow down on several platters of ribs at Fat Red's Barbecue, where Greenback draws a standing ovation for his rousing takedown of a man attempting to rob the restaurant.

Back at the station, Lt. Rice (Alfre Woodard) readies her charges for the influx of tourists at the annual "Beale Street Barbecue Festival." This week's mystery gets underway when Fat Red ends up stabbed in the stomach during the contest. The initial suspect is hog farmer Bryce Harper, a former supplier with whom Red had severed ties. It turns out Harper has made an attempt on Fat Red's life, but not this time. A dispute between Fat Red and his sister Analise (Sing All Kinds favorite Melanie Lynskey guest stars) over a $20,000 order from Harper puts Analise under suspicion, and officer Sutton (DJ Qualls) is mic'ed-up and sent undercover to romance Analise at a Beale Street club in search of information. After revealing a conflict over the future of the restaurant, Analise hires Sutton to finish the job on her brother and, with Fat Red's help, Dwight and crew attempt to ensnare Analise in the murder plot. But Fat Red breaks character, leading to comic sibling-rivalry hijinks, a car chase, and Sutton having to use his downhome wisdom to talk the volatile couple down. Meanwhile, Lt. Rice is having trouble with one of her sons, who finds himself down at the police station for all the wrong reasons, and Dwight has decided to let his smokin' hot ex-wife Alex (Sunny Mabry) "stand on her own two feet."

Respect (Memphis music featured in the episode): "Polk Salad Annie," sung by Dwight in a bar to open and close the show. "Hip Hug-Her" by Booker T. & the MGs. "Tennessee Flat Top Box" by Johnny Cash. Carla Thomas' "Gee Whiz," performed by the (fictional) band Kitty & the Falling Stars at the (fictional) Beale Street club Mooney's. (Earlier the band is performing a song I think is Sam Cooke's "You Send Me," but it's too faint to be sure.)

"Tennessee Flat Top Box" is a 1961 Cash single, recorded after he left Sun, but definitely retains his Memphis sound. "Gee Whiz" was a very nice touch. One should-have-been-obvious slice of Memphis music NOT featured in this episode: Wendy Rene's "BBQ" — c'mon now!

Not sure how they missed this one:

The City (Truthy Memphis): The episode opens with a brief montage of barbecue being cooked. There's a lot of plain old grilling going on here, but it passes muster. Fat Red is "a city treasure," but they show him cooking a single rack of ribs on a large but still backyard-style grill situated outside behind his restaurant. Not quite verisimilitude for an A-list Memphis pitmaster.

Finally, a focus on what really matters.
  • Finally, a focus on what really matters.
Inside the restaurant, Dwight and crew argue the merits of various (fictional) Memphis cue shops, with references to revelatory barbecue spaghetti and "rich and complex" dry rubs. I'm pretty sure most of us have had conversations like that.

Barbecue is touted as a "religion," with Fat Red's as a "place of worship." Replace Fat Red's with Payne's or the BBQ Shop, and I can co-sign that.

The Memphis in May International Barbecue Contest here is transformed into the "Beale Street Barbecue Fest," a somewhat smaller street-party type affair, but with "thousands of out-of-towners" and outside media. There's also a streaker who appears to be a clean-cut young black man. Never seen a streaker at the barbecue fest, but I thought all streakers were either hippies or white college students.

"Don't you hate the way these so-called hotshots parade in here every year thinking they know something," Fat Red says. "Texans. Georgians. No sir, barbecue ain't barbecue unless it's Memphis barbecue." You tell ’em, Fat Red!

Union Street (Unreal estate): The fictional Beale club, Mooney's, is presented here more like a ramshackle, standalone neighborhood bar/juke joint, more like an Earnestine & Hazel's or Wild Bill's. Presumably in the shorthand of Memphis Beat, however, all local nightlife is "Beale Street."

There's a car chase out on "Route 45 and Old 21," which are presumably just made-up road names, but they're out in the country at that point, so whatever.

Dwight seems unusually learned on the subject of area hog farmers for a city detective.

Sutton's reference to his brother's ability to "play stickball like a champ" is another moment that underscores how much of a "’50s" mentality the show seems to have.

Analysis: Barbecue theme aside, this was probably the least Memphis-y episode so far, which is disappointing. But Memphis Beat continues to find its footing after its awkward pilot episode, becoming more watchable each week. This was the first real showcase for Qualls, a Tennessee native and Hustle & Flow veteran, and he was able to develop his character nicely beyond the junior Barney Fife caricature of the early episodes. One thing I'm noticing four episodes in is that Memphis Beat has to be the least gory, least corpse-ridden police procedural on television right now. I find this somewhat refreshing, though you could certainly argue that a "realistic" cop show set in Memphis should have more gang- and drug-related violence.

Memphis-y Trope Central to Next Week's Mystery: Dwight goes "behind the music" to investigate a crime connected to what seems to be a country band. Giovanni Ribisi guest stars.

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