Created by Ann Biderman, who won an Emmy for NYPD Blue, and produced by ER’s John Wells, Southland has all the earmarks of a potentially great drama with engaging characters, intense and dramatic situations and storylines and enough police action and procedure to satisfy even the most devout cop show fan. Originally produced and broadcast in a limited run on NBC, the show was scheduled to return late last year. Inexplicably, NBC canceled the show and TNT decided to pick it up. I, for one, am glad they did.
In the deal, TNT will rebroadcast all the original 7 episodes that aired on NBC and then the remaining completed ones that NBC never showed. TNT will see how the rating do for the show to determine if they will order any more episodes. In the meantime, the original pilot airs tonight.
In the pilot, new police trainee Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) is having a pretty bad day. His training officer (Michael McGrady) is on him and trying to get him to quit, he’s being harassed by other cops and to top it off, he’s had to **SPOILER** shoot his first suspect. All in all, a pretty intense way to spend your first day as a cop.
As if that’s not enough for one episode, detective Lydia Adams (Regina King) and her partner, detective Russell Clark (Tom Everett Scott) are looking for a missing little girl and the clock is ticking. Not only that, when they do find out what happened, the answer, although somewhat expected, still carries emotional weight because of the excellent performance by King. All of these events, and many more, make for a compelling hour of television in Southland.
On the surface, Southland could look like a typical cop show where the good guys work to put the bad guys behind bars. However, calling Southland typical would be a great disservice. Bideman and company manage to find a great deal of character development in the first hour and provide the cast with plenty to do so they don’t come across as your typical two dimensional cop show regulars.
She’s obviously learned a thing or two from her time on NYPD Blue and from that show’s creative force David Milch, because you are instantly drawn into the world of these officers and detectives and that helps you enjoy and be invested in their conflicts and situations all the more. Even if some of the situations and conflicts may seem a bit well-worn, they are introduced and unfold so well you don’t really notice or mind.
Like The Shield, Southland pulls very few punches and portrays its officers and detectives as flawed human beings with problems who still try each day to make some sense of what they see and experience while doing their jobs as police officers. It isn’t always pleasant and it isn’t always polite, but it feels real and is one of the best portrayals I’ve see on TV in awhile.
If Southland suffers from anything its an embarrassment of riches. All of the actors attack their roles with gusto, the direction is crisp and economical and all the other technical details are first rate. This is obviously a show the people involved with care about and wanted to see succeed, and it comes across in every frame. Its just a shame that NBC didn’t feel the same way. But their loss is TNT’s gain.
Southland airs tonight at 10/9C on TNT.