There are so many shows that aren’t given a proper chance to shine before getting cut (no, I’m still not over Freaks & Geeks, ok?). Every once in a million years, a program is given a second chance on another network, and one of my favorite shows, Southland, is a member of this small club.
Southland follows LAPD cops as they protect and serve the good people of Los Angeles. Now in its fourth season, Southland started on NBC and, after getting cancelled, was picked up by TNT. The show was deemed too gritty for NBC – it’s a pretty authentic look at the lives of police officers; you see dead people and hear indelicate words – and now that it’s on cable, you get to hear “shit” and “asshole” and see lots of blood. But, that’s not what the show is really about, and it’s certainly not why I enjoy it.
First, the diversity of the cast is awesome. While some characters have come and gone over the seasons, right now, it is refreshing to see two strong and capable women star, with Regina King as Detective Lydia Adams and Lucy Liu as Officer Jessica Tang. Both women are professional and no-nonsense, and for the most part, respected (I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who wants to start watching this season, but Tang was involved in an incident on the job that resulted in other cops calling her not-too-respectful nicknames).
The other main characters – Michael Cudlitz as a gay, former pill-popping senior officer, Shawn Hatosy, as a single father still trying to get over the murder of his former partner, and Benjamin McKenzie as a starting-to-become jaded young cop – are all fascinating in their own ways. Each of the actors portray them so well that it really does feel like I’m watching real police officers.
I also love how many twists and turns there are in each episode. Being a police officer, whether it’s on the streets of Los Angeles or in a small town in the Midwest, means that you never know what the day is going to bring you, and that’s exactly the case with Southland. We’ve seen everything from a detective being shot by a neighbor (season one) to a chef being murdered by her former boss/boyfriend (season two) to a teenager having his drug-dealing uncle killed for taking his PlayStation (season three). Sometimes, it does seem a bit too dramatic, and the dialogue slightly heavy-handed, but it is a drama, and it all comes together and works.
I’ve really enjoyed watching Southland from the beginning (well, I should note I didn’t watch it on NBC, but I started watching on TNT when they re-aired season one), and it’s been interesting watching the characters develop. When Officer Ben Sherman (played by Benjamin McKenzie) first joined the force, he was idealistic, sure that he was going to be able to touch lives and keep the streets safe. A lot has happened since then, and you can see how his changing worldview is affecting how he does his job and how he is out of uniform. I’ve loved McKenzie since he was Ryan Atwood on The O.C., and he does such a good job playing Sherman that I can’t help but somehow take it personally when I see him struggling with his life and the tumultuous relationships he always seems to have with his work partners.
Finally, I love how the city of Los Angeles and the citizens are players in the show. Southland is filmed on city streets, in some areas that I have not, and probably will not, ever visit. They cover the dark areas of downtown, the lush hills, the money-filled Westside, and everything in between. Often times the framing of scenes is beautiful, with distinctive buildings playing a role. For the most part, movies or television shows that are based in L.A. only show the beautiful parts, but trust me – it can be a gritty and grimy place, and Southland captures it perfectly.
There are only two episodes left this season, which is unfortunate, because not only is the show riveting, but it also makes up for the bleak offerings on television Tuesday night. I highly recommend watching seasons one and two on DVD, and then finding three and four online. You don’t have to be a fan of cop shows (because I’m certainly not!) to appreciate the fine acting, hard-hitting story lines, and sharp editing and directing.