Show 101: Southland

SHOW: Southland

PREMIERES: Season 3 begins Tuesday, January 4 at 10:00 pm on TNT

THE PREMISE: This is not your daddy’s L.A. police drama. Or Jack Webb’s, for that matter. Southland takes you into the gritty world of a group of beat cops, homicide detectives, and undercover detectives. Their cases range from South L.A. to the loftier precincts of SoCal as they deal with gangbangers and foot soldiers from Mexican drug cartels, and also occasionally cross paths with assorted members of the L.A. elite: Hollywood types, politicians, and sports stars. The heart of the show is the partnership between rich boy rookie cop Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) and the surly veteran, Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz)—who hasn’t revealed that he’s gay or that he’s addicted to painkillers. Another key character is Lydia Adams (Regina King), a homicide detective who combines a heart of gold with keen insights as she investigates her cases.

WHY YOU MIGHT LOVE IT: McKenzie and Cudlitz are great together, and their relationship has evolved beyond the more standard young cop/vet cop set-up. All of the characters in this ensemble drama have complex personal and professional lives, and everyone gets enough screen time to show off their depth. That’s certainly to the credit of series creators John Wells, Ann Biderman, and Chris Chulack, who seem determined to transcend stereotypes. The action is fast-paced (the well-edited chases on foot feel especially visceral). And kudos to the location scouts, who manage to deliver enough recognizable landmarks to ground the show in SoCal but extensively use more hidden locales to give the show its freshness and authenticity. Plus, the opening sequence—with a rogues’ gallery including Richard (The Night Stalker) Ramirez and vintage L.A. crime photos—is haunting.

WHY YOU MIGHT HATE IT: It's hard to imagine why, but here goes: The world hardly needs any more cop shows, even really good ones. The characters’ personal stories are not always as compelling as the action out in the street. The basic conflicts—veteran/rookie, downtown bureaucrats/cops in the field, rogue cop/good cop are all pretty standard. Haters of The O.C., as well as any guys whose girlfriends once had crushes on Ben McKenzie, may not be able to get past their biases and accept that he’s actually really good in this role.

GET CAUGHT UP: After its abbreviated, Leno-interrupted run on NBC sent the series over to TNT, this will be the first season of Southland that was produced specifically for cable. Ben is facing issues with his estranged father and is increasingly aware that Cooper is keeping secrets. Lydia will have to work with a new partner (Jenny Gago from Lost), and her former partner Russell Clarke (Tom Everett Scott) will struggle to adjust to a desk job after being shot last year. Meanwhile, Detective Sal Salinger (Michael McGrady) must deal with the fallout from his wife’s discovery of his affair with a hot television reporter. You can also expect more strife in the marriage between Detective Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy) and his wife Tammi, an aspiring photographer, whose bad judgment and erratic behavior are becoming bigger issues all of the time.

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