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TV Review: Memphis Beat – “At the River”

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TNT’s Memphis Beat returns for a second season with “At the River.” A cop is killed, and Lt. Rice (Alfre Woodard) decides to split up her top detectives to solve it. She helps Det. Whitehead (Sam Hennings) work the actual case. She also lets him know he isn’t really welcome in her department, and wishes he would leave. Dwight (Jason Lee) is ordered to assist Claire Ryan (Beau Garrett, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior), an Internal Affairs investigator, figure out if the dead cop is dirty or not. Dwight takes the case personally after meeting the deceased’s son, recalling his own father’s death in the line of duty. Not only does Dwight clear the cop’s name, but he catches the killer, too.

By and large, Memphis Beat is a procedural. The main focus is on the cases, not the characters. The season premiere, “At the River,” is no different. Even when bringing up Dwight’s past, it’s more of a footnote to explain motivation than an actual plot point. Only Whitehead gets any real exploration this week, as he takes Rice’s promise to help promote him to get him off her team very personally. His reaction is certainly the most interesting thing about the episode.

The case itself isn’t badly done, with some unexpected twists and turns, and a bit of flirting between Dwight and the Guest Star of the Week, Claire. They have palpable chemistry, and a show that concentrates a bit more on the main characters might bring her back for at least an arc so the two can get to know each other a bit better. Memphis Beat may eventually do that, but disappoingtingly, there is no sign or mention of her in next week’s second episode of the season.

The setting (Memphis, though filmed in Louisiana) and type of crimes do differ Memphis Beat slightly from the other series of the same genre on the air, but not enough to make the show a must-see. In fact, only watch if it’s convenient and you don’t have anything else better to do. It won’t be a waste of an hour, but there is little to gain from it, either. Lee recently said in an interview that the series would be retooled dramatically for season two, but the first two episodes do not make this obvious, if it is being done at all.

Next week’s entry is a bit better, though it’s hard to pinpoint why. Perhaps the additional interplay between Dwight and Whitehead make it a bit more entertaining. Or it could be the appearance of Tom Lennon (Reno 911!, Night at the Museum) as a consultant obsessed with a series of old break-ins who is smitten with Rice. There certainly isn’t anything plot-wise that furthers any development.

If you’re into procedurals, I would recommend Memphis Beat over many of its peers. But if you are looking for intelligent, gripping, deep series, skip this one. Memphis Beat airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com