Sometimes watching a TV show about the South when you're living in the South can be a burden. Even a Northern transplant like me gets bugged by a labored Southern accent, gets hung up on whether the location is actually the South or not, and recognizes when the quirkiness (there's always quirkiness) gets a little too thick.
All of that went through my mind as I watched "Memphis Beat" (TNT, 10 p.m. Tuesdays), a promising, but unfocused series about a quirky (see I told you) Memphis detective who loves his city and his Elvis.
It stars Jason Lee, late of "My Name is Earl," as Dwight Hendricks, a cop who also loves his momma (played by Celia Weston), and has his own way of doing things. He's recently divorced too, which is supposed to be troubling to him. I kinda missed that he was in some kind of emotional turmoil until another character brought it up. Mostly, Lee comes across with the same mix he did as 'Earl." He's funny, a little off, potentially scary, kind of sweet. Maybe it's the context, but I didn't think he was as quirky as "Earl." He also, in my view, does a good Southern accent, particularly for a Southern Californian.
Hendricks' fellow officers include Davey Sutton (the always quirky DJ Qualls), a uniform cop; and Whitehead (Sam Hemmings), his partner. As the show opens, they get a new boss: Lt. Tanya Rice played by Alfre Woodard. (Her Southern accent? Exaggerated.)
Rice and Hendricks clash; she's about law with order, while Hendricks prefers his law less orderly.
George Clooney's production company is behind the show, but there's another quality name behind the pilot. Clark Johnson directed and produced it; he was an actor in "Homicide" (Meldrick Lewis!) and an actor and director on "The Wire."
That might be why the "Memphis Beat" pilot has some "Treme"-like qualities. There's a lot of music for mood and scene setting, (the show is filmed in Memphis and New Orleans), you get to see a lot of the city. But, at least in the pilot, it's a tourist's view; I didn't feel immersed in the culture as I did after one episode of "Treme."
The biggest problem is "Memphis Beat" runs through too many genres; it's a procedural like "The Closer" (although the crime isn't interesting enough), but it's also character-centric, and it also tries to show us the 'real' Memphis. I guess it could be all those things, but in the pilot the balance isn't quite right.
But it's the pilot, which means there's time to get it right. And I think "Memphis Beat" can.