The visage of celebrity studded stereotypes associated with the Los Angeles basin is erased from a viewer’s mind the moment the credits for Southland are cued. The premiere of the series’ second season struts confidently past the sun-bathed streets of LA’s grittiest neighborhoods and onto TNT’s Tuesday nights. Taking into account that nearly any post-Law and Order network police drama is a challenge to bring into existence, the arty realism of this tough guy gem proves the series is capable of carving out a place of its own.
The show first drops in on rookie cop Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) as he struggles to fend off an angry mob in a brutal Los Angeles neighborhood. What follows is a series of interweaving law enforcement tribulations that come full circle in a non-chronological move typically reserved for the silver screen, culminating with a redux of the mob scene in the second half of the episode that ignites a climactic whirlwind of events now synonymous with the Southland brand.
Regina King also stars as gutsy Detective Lydia Adams, who is still coping with her partner Clarke’s (Lee Everett Scott) career-threatening injury at the end of Season One. She is hastily introduced to Detective Cordero (Amaury Nolasco), Clarke’s wisecracking replacement whose thirst for fame borders on ostentatious. Although he proves his worth to Adams subtly throughout the episode, the two cackle back and forth like opposites on a blind date.
Southland is driven by a tension that often relents or intensifies at the whim of Sherman’s meandering squad car. His chauffeuring often underlies an imminent danger that attests to the success of the show’s strategic ambivalence and leaves the viewer addictively insecure and nail-less. Michael Cudlitz shines as the ruthless Officer John Cooper, providing counterintuitive comic relief through an imposing demeanor that interrupts the grave tone of the show and animates the droll side of police work. These interludes give our adrenal glands a break.
The show’s writers demonstrate a keen awareness to LA’s unique demographic architecture through the inclusion of multiracial characters that often don accents and use colloquial expressions with the sensibilities of HBO’s The Wire. In addition, they draw interesting parallels between characters that come alive within compelling, intersecting plotlines that develop with a Zen-like patience. The delicate construction of these scenarios ensure the episode is a gift packaged with the local section of the Los Angeles Times, waiting to be unraveled throughout the next hour.
The remaining law enforcement officials come off as insipid vis-à-vis the show’s top billed figures however, and they are often victims to a number of stereotypes. The patrolling officers include an overweight cop who is predictably more concerned with junk food and dry cleaning than his patrol work while the two detectives in charge of a drug related shoot out are marked by snarky attitudes that hearken back to the crime investigators of pulp magazine lore.
Southland’s overexposed cinematographic mien embodies a cinema vérité approach to story telling that enhances its hyperurban abrasiveness. The trajectories of these characters are refreshingly grounded in real world issues that seesaw from joyous to tragic. Producers Ann Biderman, Christopher Chulack and John Wells made significant strides to elevate the program beyond last season’s benchmark and have succeeded tremendously. The structured ambiguity of the plot makes watching the program an intriguing and adrenaline-fueled adventure that helps me sympathize with cops like Sherman, whose taciturn intensity is electrifying. Needless to say, the gravity of NBC’s wrongful decision to cancel this series after only six episodes looms ominously before the first commercial break.
Starring: Ben McKenzie, Michael Kudlitz, Regina King, Shawn Hatosy, Michael McGrady, Kevin Alejandro
Created By: Ann Biderman