Southland – a fresh take on Police Drama
This isn’t The Shield, Law and Order or CSI, this is a dramatic take on the everyday lives of a handful of LAPD Cops and the atrocities they face in a gang nation. Southland offers nothing new in terms of police drama but that shouldn’t be a reason to avoid watching it as I found it to be a very well shot, well acted bit of television. Like most of these cop inspired movies you have your green rookie, your grizzled vet and your empathetic detective. The thing that I liked the most however is the type of methodology used in shooting the different adventures of this trio since it gives off a realistic look a la COPS while maintaining a very sharp made-for-television look.
In this initial episode it is Officer Salinger’s (Ben McKenzie) first day on the job, he is partnered with veteran Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) who channels in Denzel Washington in Training Day for the level of “you ready for this?” that he places on the rookie. Being fresh out of the academy Salinger meets other Cops who are either jerks, wise guys, or simply detached, Salinger himself is quiet, his only real dialogue coming at the end of the episode where he has a conversation with a 13 yr old while sitting in a hospital. The focus of the episode reminded me of Robert Duvall’s ride with the hot headed Sean Penn in Colors, except that unlike Penn, Salinger is cool, calm and collected. He does have a weak stomach though and along with the drug arrests, murder investigations and chases, his first day had him experiencing a Crack-head whose corps was slowly being eaten by a pair of dogs. This causes him to run out of the house to vomit while veteran John Cooper looks on at him unimpressed.
Later on in the episode Salinger is forced to fatally shoot a Mexican gangster after seeing him open fire on a fellow officer (helluva first day huh). His accuracy in shooting and his speedy jump to action makes you want to know more about his past – a request that never gets met in this pilot. When the smoke settles and the detectives enter the scene, Cooper pulls his rookie to his side and drills him with an excellent monologue on accepting death as a part of the job. He spins the death as a positive in law enforcement in terms of permanently taking a bad guy off the streets (the same Mexican shot an innocent black boy in the beginning of the episode). The monologue had an eerie feel to it as it revealed how the Officer actually enjoyed a chance at killing versus arresting gangsters but it was enough to calm the shaken Salinger who was beside himself with sorrow for taking a life.
The third person in the main focus of the show is Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King), a single African American woman who appears to be level-headed, good at her job and empathetic to the people she investigates. When you first meet Lydia you can’t help but to like her, there is a peace about her that can be attributed to Regina King alone. She seems like a rock that can be easily underestimated by her good looks and calm voice. Lydia investigates a 10 yr old who has gone missing and the case makes a turn for Law and Order: SVU when she finally finds out what is behind it. The final frame of the Lydia story sums up my synopsis of her if you cannot feel it in her character as she quietly cries in her kitchen after finding the corpse of the little girl in a man’s closet.
There were some minor side stories along the way also like that of Officer Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy) and his obviously psychotic new wife. If there is any character that can have you hate her within 2 seconds it would be Tammi Bryant (Emily Bergl), chain calling her husband, sharing Cheetos with her dog and being a complete buzzkill to the show in general. I hope that we don’t have to deal with the couple drama of these two very much because it seemed an extremely unnecessary addition to a show that already had a lot going on.
Southland is shown on TNT at 10:00 pm EST on Tuesdays so check it out for yourself if you are a fan of police dramas. Granted the whole misunderstood army of Cops versus the handful of gangsters holing up good people in the hood angle has been played a billion times over, we should not use that argument to dodge movies or shows. What Southland seems to offer for your enjoyment is solid acting, great story-telling and likeable characters to follow and keep up with throughout. I found this first episode to be quite spicy and tasty enough to want seconds when next Tuesday rolls around.