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 four starring Michael Cudlitz and Lucy Liu PREVIEW

Rookie cop Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) in Southland. Pics: C4

Rating: ★★★★

More4: starts Thursday, 15 November, 10pm

Story: Ben, Sammy and Dewey chase an armed man into a school. Later Ben finds himself working with cynical street cop Danny Ferguson whose poor attitude affects their work.

Sometimes a criminal enterterprise is uncovered in a backwater, quietly getting away with murder and shooting up the neighbourhood without drawing much attention.

Southland is such an enterprise, a raw cop series about the LAPD that should be notorious as one of the best crime shows on TV, but it’s been overlooked because it hangs out on the forgotten sprawl of More4. A bit like Justified, which is unjustifiably overlooked on 5USA.

Officers Copper (Michael Cudlitz) and Tang (Lucy Liu)

Well, hang onto your sofas because another heartstopping chase through the mean alleys and streets of Los Angeles is kicking off, as Southland gets unholstered for season four.

Southland – brutal and sometimes very funny
It’s a full-throttle, brutal and occasionally very funny tour in the company of the uniforms and detectives on the frontline in LA. But this is no lame police procedural, it’s a characterful study of the personalities coping with a sometimes very dirty job.

There’s plenty of station-house banter – some of it not very PC – there is some hanging around the donut vendor drinking coffee, there are car chases, and a lot of face-offs with violent, mean and often stupid gangs and criminals.

We rejoin the show as Officer John Cooper returns to duty after back surgergy, being teamed up with a new partner, Officer Jessica Tang – Lucy Liu on secondment from Elementary. It’s a good performance from her, showing a tough exterior we’ve rarely seen.

Lou Diamond Phillips – with attitude
Lydia is plagued by a former schoolfriend who grew up to be an addict and police informer, who now can’t help placing herself in danger. And Lou Diamond Phillips has joined the beat as bad-attitude cop Danny Ferguson, who stands by while street kids poke the body of a gunman with a stick.

Ben is seriously riled that Danny hasn’t secured the scene, but then, as Danny points out, the guy who shot this victim also died of his wounds. So, case solved.

The antagonism between the men builds into a locker room bust-up, with Danny telling the less streetwise Ben, ‘The job is to shovel this city’s shit so the good people don’t know it’s there.’

Inspired by Joseph Wambaugh
Be warned, the violence can be shuddering – men hit by trucks, beatings, shootings. All this juxtaposed with black humour. It’s reminiscent of the novels of Joseph Wambaugh, the former LAPD cop who wrote brilliantly about the job in books such as The Choirboys.

Southland was created by Ann Biderman, who started her career writing for NYPD Blue. In the States, it moved from NBC to cable network TNT, where it was less heavily censored.

It’s a bold, aggressive show, perhaps the closest thing to The Shield that we’ve seen in a while, and has a lot more fire in it than anything produced in the UK.

After a man bursts into the police station firing a shotgun, a cop asks, ‘Who’s the shooter?’ And the reply comes with a shrug, ‘Some guy.’

Says it all.

Cast: Michael Cudlitz John Cooper, Shawn Hatosy Sammy Bryant, Benjamin McKenzie Ben Sherman, Regina King Lydia Adams, C Thomas Howell Bill ‘Dewey’ Dudek, Roxana Brusso Alicia Fernandez, Jamie McShane Sgt Hill, Lucy Liu Jessica Tang, Dorian Missick Ruben Robinson, Lou Diamond Phillips Danny Ferguson, Carl Lumbly Joel Rucker

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Elementary starring Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu PREVIEW

Joan Watson and Sherlock Holmes
Helluva backdrop for the new Holmes – Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller. Pics: BSkyB

Rating: ★★★★ 

Sky Living: starts Tuesday, 23 October, 9pm

Story: An unhappy episode in London and a stint in drug rehabilitation pitches consulting detective Sherlock Holmes into a spell of recuperation in New York. At the insistence of his father, Sherlock is forced to take on a ‘sober companion’, Dr Joan Watson, who is to monitor his recovery.

After the kerfuffle over this US update supposedly ripping-off the BBC’s Sherlock – complete with the latter’s creator Steven Moffat ‘annoyed’ by the cheek of it – here at last is Holmes in modern New York. Let battle commence.

Jonny Lee Miller is, of course, the consulting detective in this new version from CBS, the twist being that he is recovering from his drug addiction in New York at the insistence of his father, who also lands him with a ‘sober companion’, Dr Joan Watson, to keep him on the straight and narrow.

Sherlock’s ‘helper monkey’
Watson being a woman may have the purists round Baker Street spluttering in their tea, but Lucy Liu has many good moments with Miller in the opening episode. She is, of course, bemused by his deducing all her secrets – that she dislikes her job because she has two alarm clocks and hates getting up for it, that she is a surgeon who killed a patient, etc – and he calls her his ‘addict sitter’ and ‘helper monkey’.

But Watson sticks up for herself, and by the end she’s making deductions about Holmes – for instance, sniffing out that he went off the rails in London because of a broken romance.

Aidan Quinn as Toby Gregson
They are swiftly pulled into investigating the murder of a woman at her home. Holmes can just walk into the murder scene because Aidan Quinn is the senior detective involved, and he’s encountered Sherlock while on secondment in London.

The New York forensics guy wants who the cocky Brit is that’s making all the brilliant deductions about the murder scene, but naturally Holmes is quickly accepted as a brilliant case closer. He works out that her body has been put in a hidden panic room, and that the perpetrator was not an intruder but someone who knew her.

Elementary v the BBC’s Sherlock
It’s an intriguing, but not particularly believable case (how many Sherlock escapades are?), but the fun of it is rightly centred on the tension and bonding between Holmes and Watson. This works well, thanks to the lead actors.

So how does Sky Living‘s new import compare to Sherlock? Steven Moffat has nothing to fear. Elementary is entertaining and shot superbly round New York, but it doesn’t have the relish and verve of the Beeb’s drama.

Most portrayed character on screen in the world
Jonny Lee Miller’s Holmes is politer and nicer than Benedict Cumberbatch’s near autistic version. And the atmosphere of almost supernatural foreboding is missing, though that may come in later mysteries.

With Sherlock Holmes being easily the world’s most portrayed fictional character on screen, there is certainly room for this sharp and witty newcomer.

Cast: Jonny Lee Miller Sherlock Holmes, Lucy Liu Dr Joan Watson, Aidan Quinn Toby Gregson, Jon Michael Hill Marcus Bell

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Vegas and The Following coming to Sky Atlantic; Elementary will be on Living

Sky has just announced a triple whammy of forthcoming crime/thriller shows from the States.

Vegas stars Dennis Quaid (Vantage Point) and Michael Chiklis (The Shield) in a Boardwalk Empire-type trip back to old days in Vegas. Quaid is former Las Vegas sheriff Ralph Lamb, tasked with bringing order to the new gambling mecca that wise guys like Vincent Savino (Chiklis) want to carve up. It’s a Mad Men era crime caper from Goodfellas writer Nicholas Pileggi.

Meanwhile, Sky Atlantic is also lining up for early 2013 a Kevin Bacon (Mystic River) thriller called The Following. James Purefoy (Rome) will also star as notorious serial killer Joe Carroll, who escapes from death row to begin a new killing spree. Bacon is former FBI man Ryan Hardy, who – with overtones of Red Dragon/Manhunter – is a psychologically scarred agent who once caught Carroll and knows him better than anyone else. Natalie Zea – of Justified fame – will play Carroll’s wife.

Finally, Elementary, the CBS contemporary New York spin on the BBC’s Sherlock, will arrive on Living this autumn. Johnny Lee Miller (Trainspotting) is Holmes alongside Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels) as Joan Watson.

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Elementary trailer – Sherlock in modern-day New York

Here’s a trailer for Elementary, CBS’s own modern update of Sherlock Holmes, following the Beeb’s brilliant success in Sherlock. Jonny Lee Miller is the sleuth and Lucy Liu plays Watson. See what you think. To me it doesn’t seem to have the edge that Steven Moffat’s Sherlock, and JLM plays the part a bit too jokily. Radio Times also has a piece about Moffat saying that the US version is too far removed from the original stories. See what you make of it – comments below!

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