Jason Lee wasn’t necessarily looking for another TV series after “My Name Is Earl” ended last year, but another TV series kind of found him.
Lee stars in TNT’s new show “Memphis Beat,” in which he plays a dedicated Memphis detective named Dwight Hendricks who moonlights as an Elvis impersonator. It premieres at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday (June 22).
“It was a really big commitment working on ‘Earl’ and doing 20-some-odd episodes a season,” Lee tells Zap2it. “But I learned a great deal as a producer, being on set and being hands-on and creatively involved. … I thought, Oh, not another show. But it’s so good, the material, and it’s so different. I wanted to make myself available to the challenge of playing this role.”
Here are five things you need to know going into Tuesday’s premiere:
It’s no joke. Despite the goofy-sounding premise — cop by day! Elvis impersonator by night! — and elements of quirky humor, “Memphis Beat” isn’t a jokey show. “I was intrigued by the cop-Elvis thing,” Lee admits, but “I thought, Uh, that’s not good. I don’t know if I’m into that. I don’t want to do some schticky kind of thing. … Then it turned out to be less of that and more of what it became, which is something much, much different.”
Dwight takes it to heart. Dwight is a dedicated cop — almost to a fault at times. “He cares a great deal for his city and the people he’s protecting and serving,” Lee says. “That’s a blessing and a curse, because it’s a rewarding but also a saddening thing knowing that no matter what you do, people are still going to be committing crimes, and life isn’t as nice and sweet as we’d like it to be. I think he wears that burden, unfortunately, a little bit heavily.
“And that’s why he has music, you know? When he’s up on stage and performing, maybe he feels like a normal person who can hide out in not knowing.”
On location. The show shoots primarily in New Orleans, a few hundred miles down the Mississippi River from Memphis, but has traveled to its title city a few times. In any case, Lee says, shooting in the South adds a flavor to the show that it might not have if it filmed in Los Angeles. “You’re getting all the things you can’t fake somewhere else … in terms of the people, the Southern culture, the hospitality, the music, the food. … And the cherry on the sundae would be the heat and humidity down here. It’s like, yeah — we’re certainly not in L.A.”
Female troubles. Dwight has two prominent women in his life — his mother (Celia Weston) and his lieutenant in the department (Alfre Woodard) — and we’ll also meet his ex-wife, played by Sunny Mabrey, later in the season. His relationships with all three are a little, shall we say, fraught. “The mother isn’t strong enough, and Lt. Rice is too strong,” Lee says. “So I’m sort of stuck between the two, and in my own selfish way I wish there were other people than they are. That has a lot to do with the side of Dwight that’s always wanting to fix things and have things be a certain way — he’s very uptight in that regard.”
He’s a music man — almost. You’ll see Dwight perform at the end of Tuesday’s premiere, but it’s not Lee singing: “I gave it a shot. I went into the studio and recorded, and I came pretty close. But it wasn’t as good as what we got.”
Here’s a preview of Tuesday’s premiere.
Photo credit: TNT