Southland — Killer TV No 20

Southland Series 5 - Episode 1.Hats and Bats

2009-2013, NBC/TNT

‘I’m hormonal and I’ve got a gun. Don’t mess with me.’ – Detective Lydia Adams

Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy, Regina King, Benjamin McKenzie, Tom Everett Scott, Lou Diamond Phillips, Lucy Liu

Identikit: A raw look at the lives of the people who police Los Angeles – their rivalries, the risks they take and the toll the job takes on them.

logosWow, what a show. Character drama about the men and women of the LAPD who don’t just solve nasty crimes and deal with social problems on the street, but which also shows that there’s no easy or quiet way to do their job. The grainy vintage police shots used during the show’s opening credits give a flavour of the realistic aim of this captivating portrayal of the officers – some decent, some not – facing muggers, killers and rapists on the streets and in the alleys. Violence mixed with black humour gives a verité feel to a series that recalls the raw novels of former LA cop Joseph Wambaugh. The cast all look the part as the officers and detectives, a nice change from airbrushed mannequins that populate so many mainstream shows. Rookie Ben Sherman (Benjamin McKenzie) is an oddity in that he comes from a wealthy family and joined the LAPD in response to his experiencing as a child his mother being attacked by a drug dealer friend of his father’s. He is trained by the street-savvy veteran John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz), whose homosexuality is hidden from colleagues and is treated obliquely in the drama. Cooper questions whether Sherman has the making of a cop. And there’s detective Lydia Adams (Regina King), a black officer who grew up in the ‘hood and balances police work with living with her mother, and is one of the show’s strongest characters – in one great scene in series one she fights off gang-bangers invading her home in an attempt to kill a girl witness Lydia has taken in. The relationships are intricate and the protagonists flawed and believable. The acting is also passionate at times, such as the moment when Lydia realises at the hospital that her partner Russell (Tom Everett Scott) may not be on duty with her again after he recovers from a shooting – she bursts into tears in the corridor, a scene done in one take. The series, created by former NYPD Blue writer Ann Biderman, moved from NBC to cable network TNT, where, thankfully, it was censored less. A fifth season of what had become one of the finest, most gritty cop shows around aired in 2013. Sadly, that was the last season as viewing dropped to 1.8 million for its fifth series finale on TNT. Southland never had much of a showing in the UK, going out on More4, and was an underrated gem of a series in the US, but for those who caught it, the series was a compelling, unforgettable piece of high-impact drama.

Classic episode: In episode 7, Derailed, Chickie finally turns in her alcoholic partner, Dewey – who, despite his faults, she likes – because she realises he is becoming a dangerous liability. Dewey responds by speeding away in his patrol car with Chickie inside, eventually crashing. A great episode exposing the dilemmas the patrol cops face in their high-pressure work, along with Lydia’s shootout at her home.

Watercooler fact: Southland‘s gritty feel was enhanced by the use of actual and former gang members in the roles of LA gangsters

Southland series 5, More4, with Michael Cudlitz, Regina King, Benjamin McKenzie PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★★ 

More4: starts Thursday, 13 February, 11pm 

Story: John Cooper clashes with Gary Steele, a rookie officer he is training who has served with the army in Afghanistan, while Lydia Adams tries to balance the demands of new motherhood with her detective work…

IN AMERICA they love compiling lists of ‘shows that were cancelled too soon’ – and Southland is one of them. The fifth series arrives in the UK tonight, eagerly awaited by a tiny cell of fans who know the show was cancelled in the US last year.

A sign of how undervalued this gem of a cop drama has been is that it is on More4 in the UK, and More4 is putting it on at 11pm!

It’s criminal. Someone should get busted for this. But really it is hard to pin the neglect on anyone in particular. Southland has been a superb, pacey drama set on the streets of LA alongside the beat cops and homicide detectives of the LAPD. It started on NBC in the the States, but TNT took it over and was probably more comfortable producing a realistic, bad-language-fuelled, hard-hitting cop drama.

John Cooper and Lydia Adams

It has great characters, such as John Cooper, the veteran and demanding patrolman who is secretly gay

(though this isn’t treated as an issue in the stories); detective Lydia Adams, a woman from the rough part of town who knows the neighbourhood and is a brilliantly effective cop; and Ben Sherman, Cooper’s former rookie partner and now a high-flyer.

OK, the show has its preachy moments, usually delivered by Cooper to some suffering rookie he is mentoring. But Southland has offered a grounded view of the cops doing a really tough job, including the corrupt and alcoholic among them.

It has also captured the nerve-jangling moments of officers rushing into danger – hand-held footage features a lot – when turning a corner can mean a bullet coming your way or coming face-to-face with the rotting corpse of a suicide.

Heartbreaking stories amid the humour

As season five begins, we see Lydia struggling with life as a single mom, and Cooper giving his new partner, Gary Steele, a rough ride, despite Steele’s experience as a soldier in Afghanistan. Sammy Bryant is on edge having separated from his ditzy wife, Tammi.

Steele and Sherman have a horrific and bloody fight to deal with between two naked men in a bath

house, while Lydia and her partner Ruben try to coax a young latino male rape victim into cooperating with their investigation.

Some of the stories are heartbreaking (such as the murder of an old lady who has lived with her sister for 60 years), and then there are moments of levity. But Southland, created by Emmy-winning writer Ann Biderman, has always succeeded as a compelling and raw portrait of people doing a dangerous job and the toll that takes on them.

Sadly, rumours of TNT making a Southland two-hour TV movie to tie up the loose ends of season five’s shocking cliffhanger ending seem to have gone nowhere. Is there no justice? Apparently not, but at least we still have series 5 to enjoy.

Cast: Michael Cudlitz Officer John Cooper, Shawn Hatosy Detective Sammy Bryant, Regina King Detective Lydia Adams, Ben McKenzie Officer Ben Sherman, C. Thomas Howell Officer Dewey Dudek, Jamie McShane Sergeant Terry Hill, Dorian Missick Detective Ruben Robinson

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