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Music is often merely background filler for some television series while others - like TNT's "Memphis Beat," for example - utilize the sounds of music greats like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Etta James, Otis Redding and contemporaries like Keb Mo to regularly add depth and meaning to scenes and characters on the show. In fact, while star Jason Lee may only be lip-syncing when his alter ego, Detective Dwight Hendricks, croons at the end of a long day, the lyrics of the songs speak volumes about the character in a unique way.
As the second season of "Memphis Beat" kicks off tonight, Lee told our Jim Halterman that Dwight will still be singing on occasion but, overall, "we made a lot of changes but we tried to not take out any of the good stuff from season one." To find out exactly what was left in and what was taken out in these new episodes, their chat follows.
Jim Halterman: In a second season of any show, we usually get to dig a little deeper into the characters. What will we see in the new season of 'Memphis Beat?'
Jason Lee: Everything has been refined and defined and everything has been smoothed out, rehashed and revamped. You learn from the whole first season and you try to make the second season better and we've done that. You have a much more well-rounded show, you have a wider variety of music, more intensity and you get to follow the other characters more. I feel like it's a little more fun, little bit lighter, looser and more real. That's what I wanted to do with Dwight and I think we've accomplished that. I'm really happy about that.
JH: What was it about the first season with Dwight that needed adjusting?
JL: To our fault slightly... we had the right idea at the time it felt. We really wanted Dwight to be this savior of Memphis but I felt he came off a little too sacred, a little too precious and that made him a little too character-y versus just a Southern detective who loves to have a good time and take care of his city. To me, it's a little more real this year and that has really opened up the show. We also get to see Dwight perform Johnny Cash. The music is mixed up a lot and we get to see a lot more fun.
JH: In the season opener, there's a scene where Celia Weston (who plays Dwight's mother) brings Dwight his father's hat and it's such a simple gesture but profound moment. Can you talk about what that relationship brings to the show?
JL: She's a great character on the show and she keeps us reminded of where Dwight comes from and why he is the way he is so that's a nice anchor for us. That's the thing that we needed. He's got to be as real as the next guy so we have to see that stuff with his Mom. I felt last season it was maybe a little too serious. Now there's more old school cop show camaraderie and then you have those serious moments you get to play and have some fun.
JH: Talk to me about the music on the show, which is such a strong character. What do you think the music adds to the show?
JL: They've been doing a great job. I think everyone just wanted to mix it up a little bit. Look, anything that can be done to make the show true to the South, its culture and the lifestyles of the people... it has an energy to it because of that music the way that Memphis has an energy as a character. It's like you have to take what's real and put it in to make it believable and it just happens to be really great music.
JH: How about romance this season for Dwight?
JL: We don't really have that defined yet in terms of whether he'll ever settle down but we do get closure on his dad but, yeah, there's something ahead there that might be something but we'll have to see how that goes.
JH: Alfre Woodard's character, Lt. Tanya Rice, also seems a little less hard than last season. Can you talk about that shift in character?
JL: I like that we stopped with that cliché in season one of the mean lieutenant and there always having to be tension there. I like that we dropped that and it's more of an understanding and almost a motherly kind of thing instead that she doesn't understand him and all that stuff.
JH: You're actually shooting in Louisiana, right?
JL: Yes and then a skeleton crew goes up and it's amazing. Our DP will go up to Memphis and just get all this great stuff that we use in between scenes. I feel like everybody has come together and whatever needed to be awakened in the first season has been awakened on the show. That's the best way to describe it - it just has more energy.
JH: You're shooting in the South but one thing I know is that Southern food is not necessarily the healthiest yet you look very fit on the show. How are you doing it?
JL: Last season in New Orleans, I ate like a pig and this season I decided to stay fit so I just stay away from all the fried food and the heavy-breaded food. I missed a lot of what I ate last season but it's been worth it. My wife takes good care of me and makes sure I'm eating well.
JH: Your last TV series gig before 'Memphis Beat' was the sitcom 'My Name Is Earl.' How much of an adjustment was it for you as an actor to go from comedy to this genre?
JL: I will say that all the experience from four season on 'Earl' really helped because the more you do something the better you get at it but it all comes down to a personal kind of confidence of being able to tackle something and then adapting to it. Maybe underneath it all you have to have that experience to get that confidence and certainly four years on that TV show really helped that a lot.
"Memphis Beat" airs Tuesdays at 9:00/8:00c on TNT.