Monday, August 23, 2010

Memphis Beat: "Don't Be So Cruel"

Posted By on Mon, Aug 23, 2010 at 12:17 PM

The Peabody
  • The Peabody

Memphis Beat, "Don't Be So Cruel"
Originally Aired August 17, 2010

Rowdy Memphis (Plot synopsis):: Tony (Daniel Hugh Kelly) proposes to Ms. Hendricks (Celia Weston) at the Furthermore Hotel. Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee) isn't sure how he feels about that, but thankfully (for him), a crime has happened at the hotel that he can investigate instead.

A groom has gone missing on the day of his wedding. Greg Watson, the groom, was set to be married to Hilary Orland (Kayla Mae Maloney). Hilary is the daughter of Memphis City Councilman Gerald Orland (Sam Anderson), and Greg was his aide.

Suspects include Greg's best man, the famous basketball player Colin Stevens (James Aaron Smith), and Greg's dad, with whom he recently had an argument at the Rendezvous.

There's blood all under the marble floor in Greg's hotel room.

The investigation leads to a link between Rachel Stein, a reporter for the Memphis Voice newspaper, and the missing groom. Stein was investigating kickbacks going to Councilman Orland for the passage of a $300 million mall development on the Mississippi River. She has since gone missing. But she left her reporters notes in her car, providing valuable clues for Dwight.

The developer of the mall, Chester Bayonne, is implicated in the kickback scheme, and Dwight surveilles Bayonne meeting with a suspected hired gun. Dwight, Whitehead (Sam Hennings), and Officer Sutton (DJ Qualls) open up the trunk of a car at the scene of the meet-up and find the bodies of Greg Watson and Rachel Stein.

Dwight approaches the councilman who admits in a roundabout way that he took the bribe. Dwight deduces who was behind the murder: Hilary Orland. She's arrested. It's unclear if Gerald Orland takes a fall in it all. Well, I couldn't figure it out anyway.

Otis Redding redux
  • Otis Redding redux
Respect (Memphis music featured in the episode): "That's How Strong My Love Is" by Otis Redding. A cover of the 1964 hit by O.V. Wright. Wright was from Leno, Tennessee, and died at the age of 41. Anybody know where Leno is? One bio says it's near Memphis. I haven't heard of it, and neither has my office neighbor Vance Lauderdale nor mapquest. Wright is buried at Memphis' Galilee Memorial Gardens and has a spiffy new grave monument.

"I've Got Dreams to Remember" by Otis Redding. (An excellent cut.)

"Knock on Wood" by Eddie Floyd, written by Floyd and Steve Cropper. This Stax classic hit #1 on the soul charts.

"Don't Be Cruel" performed on the show by Dwight. By far the best cover song "Dwight" has performed — the real singer is Mark Arnell. This bluesy version is probably worth a download on its own merits.

The City (Truthy Memphis): The Peabody of the Memphis Beat world is the Furthermore Hotel, a mecca of opulence for ordinary Memphians such as Ms. Hendricks. She marvels at the palm fronds embossed on the top of her breakfast. Palm fronds? A panning camera finds a sculpture of a goose or a swan in the hotel. Not a duck, but it's a nice touch.

A notorious strip club in town is called the Leopard Ladies Lounge.

The house dick at the Furthermore Hotel says of his establishment, "The clientele is elite. They do not tolerate indiscretion on the part of the hotel."

Lt. Rice (Alfre Woodard) gets onto basketball star Colin, who has gotten mixed up into some drugs. "Do you know how many little boys look up to you?" she asks. I wonder if Colin Stevens is the Memphis Beat analogue to Zach Randolph. Chris Herrington thinks Colin is supposed to be a local guy who made good, such as Lorenzen Wright, Penny Hardaway, or even Antonio Burks. (Though, obviously, the episode would've been written before Ren's death.)

One character says that seedy real estate developers like Chester Bayonne "flock to Memphis, thinking that there's still some opportunity here for manipulation or corruption." Still opportunity here for corruption? Did the town get cleaned up?

The Orlands get big scenes at the end to wax about Memphis. Dwight calls Gerald out for his crimes, saying, "Do you realize what this is going to do to Memphis? One of the city's most trusted men, not only a damn sellout but he's a murderer?"

Gerald responds heatedly: "I understand things about this city that you're too scared to face, young man. Don't tell me how Memphis will feel. I know the pulse of this town keener than you ever will. You're like an infant, criticizing how a war is fought. You've got no clue. Everybody who's ever made any kind of history in this town has sacrificed their principles briefly for a little bit of comfort. Because dealing with this city, sometimes you need a little bit of comfort. It's the Memphis story."

Burn. I don't buy Dwight's insistence that a corrupt politician would shock the citizenry, or Gerald's implication that the Memphis story is about do-righters driven to take a little bit for themselves. But I like the conversation.

Dwight figures out that Hilary killed her fiancee. She gets her own chance to verbally attack Dwight. The apple doesn't fall far. Hilary says, "I loved Greg, and I know he loved my father. But this city — this amazing, complicated city that needs our protection — this city can not bear to know certain truths about him. And for decades, he made their dreams, the simple rewards for their lives and survival, possible. And after all that, he only wanted a small reward for all his work."

Hilary's nuances to the argument are a little more convincing for me. I'll never accept that Memphis "couldn't bear to know certain truths," but she paints a picture of corruption that I can believe — "elites" looking down on who they represent, dipping into the cookie jar in an act of self-appointed appreciation.

Hilary concludes, "There is something more noble than the truth, and that is the innocence of the people, the constituents." Whatever. More realistic: Memphians aren't shocked in the least to hear that a City Council member is on the take, there are vows to hold officials to a higher standard, then, when the next election rolls around and Orland could be replaced, voters stay away in droves (probably rainy or hot that day) and Orland is re-elected. Or he goes away for awhile and comes back a few years later and is elected to some other position. Maybe I'm cynical?

"Don't Be So Cruel" is most notable of all, IMHO, for introducing the analog to the Memphis Flyer, the Memphis Voice (echoes of The Village Voice). Rachel Stein is the Memphis Voice reporter investigating the political corruption/kickback scheme. A tag on her rear-view mirror and her press credential have a snazzy Memphis Voice logo — with a font reminiscent of the Flyer's — that I'd like very much to have. (In case you're wondering, Memphis Beat has mentioned the Commercial Appeal already, so they're eliminated from being the influence here.)

Rachel Stein, er, Mary Cashiola
  • Rachel Stein, er, Mary Cashiola
So, let's see: A Memphis Flyer-type reporter. Young, female, dark hair. Investigating City Council shenanigans. Has a Chicago connection. Why, Rachel Stein is Mary Cashiola! (Mary went to Northwestern University.)

Union Street (Unreal estate): Rice and Ms. Hendricks work out at the Curves "out on Monroe" mentioned in the second episode. Good continuity.

The resolution of the mystery centers upon the construction of a mall complex at the Green Street Port near the river. There isn't a Green Street or a port named after one, whether "the river" is referring to the Mississippi, the Wolf, or Nonconnah Creek.

A Russian, Rick Stanislav, turns up as a suspect in the mystery this week. Dwight says he "liked [Stanislav] for the Carter murder-for-hire in Germantown two years ago." The Memphis Police would be out of jurisdiction in Germantown, whether they liked him for a crime or not.

Analysis: The marriage proposal between Tony and Ms. Hendricks is charming — he puts the engagement ring in her tomato soup, and she accidentally chokes on it. Okay, it comes off more charming than that sounds.

Basketball star Colin Stevens says, "Everybody loves Greg. We call him St. Greg." I endorse all that. His idol is Bobby Kennedy, Colin says. Hey, that's my favorite Kennedy too. Ripped from the real world, Memphis Beat is. Later: "Greg, he would've done anything for Memphis." Okay, this is fictional. I would do anything for Memphis. But I won't do that.

I don't understand how Dwight, the Memphis whisperer, can have such gaps in his knowledge. He doesn't know about a $300 million mall construction on the river enough to recognize the name of it, and he doesn't recognize a famous local pro basketball player? Dwight's occasional ignorance is usually just a plot device to give Sutton something to contribute. Wish they'd be smarter about that kind of stuff.

Plus, the scene where Dwight deduces by the position of Greg's body in the trunk that he was protecting something in his pocket, which naturally holds the key to the whole dang mystery — thanks but no thanks screenwriters.

Should the show get renewed, I'd like to see Sgt. Birdie Thorpe (the undercover cop who flirts with Rice, much to her anger) as a show regular. She should at least be around as much as Sgt. Lightfoot (Abraham Benrubi).

Provided he's gotten off free, I'd also like to see Councilman Orland show up again. An interesting foil to Dwight's wide-eyed belief in the city.

Memphis-y Trope Central to Next Week's Mystery:: A missing little black girl from Dwight's cold case file. Not sure if that's a trope, but it is the season (and possibly series) finale.

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