A Second Look at Southland

By Matthew Jaffe

Jan 13, 2010

The big winners in all the contretemps over Jay and Conan and primetime on NBC may just well be Southland fans and TNT.

Caught up in NBC’s revamping of primetime when Leno moved to 10 pm, the gritty L.A. police drama (you have to use the term gritty at least once in any Southland story) was orphaned by the network. That, despite the fact, that six additional episodes were already in the can. The question is how gritty (there’s that word again!) can you really get on network television? Even co-star Ben McKenzie, who plays rookie cop Officer Ben Sherman, has said that Southland’s cast and creators will now be able to make the show as it was meant to be.

I’m certainly one of the beneficiaries of Southland’s resurrection. You know how it goes sometimes, you want to catch a new show, somehow miss the first couple episodes, and then it’s wait for the DVD. Now TNT is showing enhanced versions of the seven episodes that already aired on NBC, as well the additional unseen six. So for many of us, it’s catch-up time. Or for original fans, a chance to finally see a fuller vision of the show, thanks to additional footage and cable’s more grown-up standards.

So after watching last night's premiere, I gotta say that I was hooked pretty quickly. That opening wail of blues harp certainly set the tone. The credits featuring vintage L.A. crime scene photography tied the show to everything from Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy to Jack Webb. (Speaking of which, Southland is not a sanitized, Dragnet version of L.A.—not with the lights, sirens, and trickling blood of that opening sequence.) As Sherman’s veteran partner, Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) summed it all up with a laconic delivery that Chandler could appreciate: “The night had not gone well.”

The relationship between Sherman and Cooper was at the heart of the show. After Training Day, I can’t say that’s necessarily a new set-up, but one that, given the quality of the show’s writing, should work. Sure, the Tori Spelling putdowns and the Beverly Hills references piled up. But the Richie Rich mention not only captured Sherman’s background, it could also be appreciated as a parallel-universe reference to Rick Schroder—he of both Silver Spoons and NYPD Blue.

Like any first episode, there were a lot of characters to introduce and stories to lay out. Some were more clear than others, and Regina King’s (always good to see her) Detective Lydia Adams looked as if she would serve as a moral center in the morally ambiguous and dangerous world that these cops operate in. As Cooper described the job to Sherman, it was “like driving through the sewer in a glass-bottomed boat.” Last night’s show had it all including a child kidnapping and murder and a gang shooting known as an ABG. Anybody goes.

As an aficionado of L.A. television and film locations, I have to say the show made effective use of a wide variety of locales and captured the big boulevards, neighborhood enclaves, and darker corners that most television shows either miss or avoid. Like the cops, we’re getting what Cooper called, “a front row seat to the greatest show on Earth.” This is not Entourage's Southern California, but a far more menacing one. You can’t call a series Southland without showing the real thing. Or be gritty without a little grit.

What did you think of the episode? Do you think the show will fare better on TNT?

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  • xphilenz Jan 15, 2010

    I simply loved Southland the first time round and I was thrilled to follow Michael Cudlitz on Twitter as he slammed NBC for their short-sightedness & the joy when TNT picked it up. There is no Shield anymore, and that made me very sad. This was young, it was fresh, it was evolving. It was standing on its own episode by episode, the story was developing as a whole, and it was really pushing network TV to the limits. I thought good on you NBC, you've done something at last in renewing it (other than the only other good thing they've done all year which was renew Chuck) - then they squashed it with 6 episodes of a brand new Season 2 in the can and still unaired - I mean really - WFT!!. Man of all the brain dead bullsh!t you have come out with in the last 12 months this was surely the start of the very WORST decision making you have ever made. They said Southland was "Too dark for its time slot" and instead we got Leno - and damn hasn't that just been the deepest, darkest cess pool of a timeslot you have ever ever had... it's just too damn funny for words. And now when they need to back peddle and could so desperately use the show they don't even have it - sold to a fantastic foward thinking network in Turners. Boy do evil deeds surely come back and bite you in the ass! Now it will be right that Southland proves to be a truly great show; it really deserves it. John Wells is a master of great tv shows and this one captures an awful lot of good things even in the first handful of episodes. I've just found out that a whole SIX MINUTES was restored to the first episode by TNT, and that's a huge chunck of character building and other unseen footage to what was already a great Pilot. So I command anyone that hasn't taken the opportunity to see this show already. go find your way in front of the screen when it is on - you will not be disappointed you did. If it gets the shake it deserves my money says this could very well be this decades "Hill Street Blues" if given even half a chance.

  • Yohan88 Jan 14, 2010

    Thanks TNT for giving this great show a fair chance!

    I believe Southland was the sleeperhit of last tv season, so i'm thrilled that it will be coming back!

  • HalvardDahlberg Jan 14, 2010

    Hell yeah this will be better on tnt :) Thanks for tnt network :) Can't wait for new episodes...

  • orlandomorgan59 Jan 14, 2010

    i am orlando i live in jamaica and i love this show

  • orlandomorgan59 Jan 14, 2010

    i am orlando i live in jamaica and i love this show

  • k_adams Jan 14, 2010

    southland was one of the best new shows in the last year ... it's not that typical los angeles iconography. it's about the city as a whole. glad that it gets a second chance

  • filmstu2005 Jan 14, 2010

    I couldnt catch it on NBC b/c in all honesty i loathe NBC and all network TV, unless its House and . Cable TV is much less tame so when they re-air these hows on cable i'm more than likey to watch this time around. I've always wanted to watch Southland but b/c it was on NBC i knew it would suffer the same drawbacks as most network TV shows, unless ur house.

    Now, with that said, i caught the re-airing of the show, Southland, and i loved EVERy BIT OF IT. All the characters, all the scenes, some were slightly contrived, but heck, if u think about it all TV and screenwritings (or books) are simply contrived stories. Its all a level of convenience. The show is great, count me in as a committed watcher. TNT should've kept Raising the Bar too. it was a great show.

  • grollgirl Jan 14, 2010

    I loved the episode and I do think it will fare better on TNT, it should have been on cable from the start.