Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Memphis Beat: "I Want to Be Free"

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Memphis Beat, "I Want to Be Free"
Originally Aired August 24th, 2010

Memphis Beat: Its been a rocky first year, but were glad weve gotten to know you.
  • Memphis Beat: It's been a rocky first year, but we're glad we've gotten to know you.
Episode Named After: A song penned by songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and recorded by Elvis Presley for his film Jailhouse Rock.

Plot Synopsis: It's the season finale of Memphis Beat and things get a little crazy with an opening dream sequence. Detective Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee) is onstage performing a rousing rendition of Elvis Presley's "Guitar Man." After screaming female fans chase him to the dressing room, Dwight looks in the mirror and sees a familiar sight: It's Jerry Schilling, the old Elvis buddy (and onetime embattled head of the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission).

"You know who I am Dwight?," Schilling asks. "I was one of Elvis' best friends since we were kids. He called us the Memphis Mafia. I think Elvis would be very proud of what you've done for Memphis and I want to give you something very special."

With that, Schilling whips out a gold "TCB" necklace and Dwight kneels to accept it, as if he's being knighted.

"He gave all of us guys one of these," Schilling says. "Mine always meant the world to me. But I'd like you to have one now. Dwight I hope you'll remember what this means."

At that, the dream takes a dark turn, as Dwight sees a small girl and follows her into a different dream world, a dark, outdoor landscape where he sees a bloodied tarp on the ground and reaches down to turn it over, revealing his own corpse.

After that Lynchian intro, the episode gets going. Dwight's partner, Whitehead (Sam Hennings, calls and tells Dwight about a shooting, with the victim surviving but suffering memory loss. Dwight knows something is fishy when the victim is a pretty white guy from "the burbs" and has taken the bus to a rough city neighborhood. A clue leads Dwight to a psychic located down the street from the crime scene, who acknowledges that the man had been in that night, and wanted to know "if he was going to hell."

Meanwhile, Dwight stops by a local diner to get biscuits (Memphis Beat loves biscuits) and has a conversation with the young man behind the counter, telling him, "I had another dream about your sister last night." Eventually we learn that the young girl was a murder victim Dwight found beaten and abandoned and that the case was never solved, something that's haunted Dwight over the years. And Dwight has maintained a relationship with the girl's brother and grandmother.

As Dwight and Whitehead investigate the shooting of the suburban mystery man — an investigation that includes a "damn Parrothead" played by guest star Pruitt Taylor Vince and a used Nissan with a blood-stained trunk — Dwight begins to suspect a connection between the new shooting and his old cold case.

The first real-life cameo for Memphis Beat is ... Jerry Schilling (and his hair)? No offense to Jerry, but Memphis Beat, we can do better than this.
  • The first real-life cameo for Memphis Beat is ... Jerry Schilling (and his hair)? No offense to Jerry, but Memphis Beat, we can do better than this.
While this heavy stuff is going on, subplots include Lt. Rice (Alfre Woodard) prepping her resume in pursuit of "a more lucrative situation than MPD" due to some financial problems, with Dwight dispatching Officer Sutton (DJ Qualls) to help her, and Sgt. Lightfoot (Abraham Benrubi) recruiting volunteers for a "men of the MPD" calendar.

The show — and season — ends with mysteries solved, something like justice dispensed, and Dwight giving a passionate rendition of "I Want to Be Free" at the club with most of the regulars — and Schilling — in the crowd.

Respect (Memphis music featured in the episode): Lots of good music this week, but not all of it Memphis. Jason Lee bookends the show by lip-synching his way through "Guitar Man" and "I Want to Be Free." In between, B.B. King's "Worry, Worry," R.L. Burnside's "Come On In," Aretha Franklin's "Save Me" (she was born in Memphis), and Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" (he did a memorable supporting turn in the classic Memphis film Mystery Train) sort of apply. The doo-wop classic "Sincerely" by the Moonglows, Hank Williams' honky-tonk "Move it On Over," and John Lee Hooker's "It Serves You Right to Suffer" maybe not as much.

The City (Truthy Memphis): Lots of real Memphis material this week, starting with Schilling (who is sorta real Memphis, though admittedly lame as the series first real-life cameo). From a geographical standpoint there are references here to Madison Avenue, Orange Mound, Germantown, and Overton Park. One character mentions having beers at the Lamplighter.

From a verisimilitude standpoint, the city's hustling young music scene gets a nod when the kid at the diner slips Dwight his latest demo tape. "It's a little rough," he says. "Still using my cousin's 4-track." But Dwight assures him, "No man, its all good. It gives it a raw, old-school sound."

When Dwight finds the shooting victim in Orange Mound, with a Germantown driver's license and a bus ticket on him, he asks, "What's a preppy looking guy doing riding a bus from the burbs all the way out here?" That's what's called a real Memphis reaction.

We also learn, in a crucial bit of Memphis-centric backstory, that Dwight is Central High School, class of ’85.

Union Street (Unreal estate): Memphis Beat is making progress on fleshing out its Memphis setting, but it's definitely of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back variety.

Dorignacs: Cool sign, not in Memphis.
  • Dorignac's: Cool sign, not in Memphis.
The show locates Madison Avenue in Orange Mound and Montgomery Street in Germantown. The former is obviously wrong, as for the latter, the only "Montgomery" I can find crosses North Parkway in the center of the city.

The Dorignac's Food Center that Whitehead calls Dwight to at the outset is a real location, but not in Memphis. It's in Metairie, Louisiana, where the episode was shot. Clearly, the crew behind Memphis Beat just really liked the store's sign. And who can blame them?

Overton Park here is described as being two miles from the victim's Germantown home and is presented as harboring a natural-looking body of water. They mean Shelby Farms here, but name would have understandably confused the non-Memphis audience. Maybe "Shelby Park" would have been a better compromise?

This is the second time Overton Park (earlier, soldiers were described as jogging there) and Orange Mound (Clarence Williams III's aging musician from a couple of episodes ago also lived in the Mound) have been used. Hopefully the show's writers can branch out a little more in the event of a second season.

Analysis: It took awhile, but Memphis Beat ended up rounding into a pretty watchable show. The second half of the season was less inept and featured somewhat improved procedural plotlines than in the early episodes. The last two episodes probably ended up being the two best. I've found I root for the show to at least halfway get things right more than I resent it for getting things wrong.

Memphis-y Trope Central to Next Week's Mystery: There is no next week. Will there be a next season? Remains to be seen.

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