Southland (TNT, Tuesdays, 9pm, CST)
In the spring of 2009, NBC unveiled Southland as a spring replacement series. This gritty, tough, well written, and well acted gem performed well enough for NBC to renew it for at least 13 episodes on their fall schedule. NBC had the program slated to air in late September of 2009 but in August, pushed back the premier to late October. A week into October, NBC announced it had decided to cancel Southland and not air any more episodes. This is a typical decision from a network that wouldn’t know a good show if one bit the peacock’s beak.
A month later, TNT bought the show and aired the episodes already shot in January of 2010. They continued the program in 2011 and renewed it for 2012, with a reduction of the budget and cast. Thus, we have been lucky enough to get more episodes of this remarkable show.
Southland is a remarkable look into what goes on in the day-to-day life of a Los Angles police officer. The first two season split time between patrol officers and detectives. This format started to lean more away from the detective story lines in the third season as the budget cuts took affect. In the present season four, it has really been stripped down to one detective and two teams of patrol officers. I don’t mind the more focused story lines and it has not weakened the intensity or overall quality of the show.
The main characters are well penned and brilliantly portrayed. Regina King is Detective Lydia Adams, who is a person fighting to maintain her feminism without forsaking her tough, no nonsense but fair, position as a cop. She has worked hard for her position, earning her place as a detective but she has sacrificed the part of herself that was a normal woman. We get a glimpse of that harsh reality as she grows older and as she tries to find that part of her she has pushed aside over the years.
Michael Cudlitz is always terrific as a veteran, career patrolman who loves his job and understands that the personal sacrifices he has made will go unappreciated when his career is over. He only cares about being a good cop and he tries to be professional at all times. He carries his own secrets and when he injures his back on the job, he becomes addicted to pain pills because he doesn’t want to leave the streets. He is what one can imagine is a cop’s cop. The work Cudlitz does as John Cooper is subtle but powerful and he needs some shiny hardware as reward for such stellar performance week in and week out.
Cooper’s partner is season four is Lucy Liu. She is growing into her part each week and I am excited to see where it goes. Already, her Officer Jessica Tang, is building a strong professional relationship with Cooper and they work together and get used to each other’s habits and methods.
Ben McKenzie and Shawn Hatosy are partners, Ben and Sam, and they are now the other featured pairing. They are younger than Cooper and Tang and they have different ways of approaching their jobs. Ben (Cooper was his training officer in the first three seasons) is an idealist and sees in only black and white and Sam has had some things go against him on the job. He had been a detective but had resigned and returned to patrol.
The story lines are taunt and intense. The cops are doing the best they can and it is not always by the book. They are doing what they can in a general atmosphere of distrust and disrespect from the people they are paid to protect. They are in constant danger and sometimes do what they can to survive, even when it blurs into a gray area of right and wrong. Southland does not make saints out of these characters, nor are they villains. They are men and women who are doing a very tough job to the best of their ability and sometimes they do not handle every situation as they should.
I never feel the plot lines are sensationalized and they seem real to me. The characters are fleshed out slowly, and in depth. These are not caricatures or canned scenarios. The gritty feel to the program rings true to me, as do the characters themselves. I often find myself on the edge of my seat as I hope each officer handles themselves correctly in very intense situations. Sometimes they do, other times, maybe not as much. You never get the feeling though, that these people don’t care. They understand they have a tough job and do what they can to do it right.
Violence, language, and content matter keep the show for adults only. It is brilliantly shot and the plot lines and active seldom lag. I always look forward to watching it (it is always one of the first shows to come off my DVR) and I am always ready for next week as soon as it is over. This program needs viewers so we can enjoy it in upcoming seasons.
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