Southland: Season 2
There is no debate that one of the most popular and enduring types of dramatic show on television. From series such as ‘Naked City’, one of the first to explore the gritty side of police work to ‘Dragnet’ and ‘Adam 12’ detectives and street coppers have been extolled with the focus of the television camera. I seriously doubt a single season has gone by without at least one police procedural show adorning the weekly lineup. ‘NYPD Blue’ was one of the first modern series to delve into the emotional intensity inherent in the profession of serving and protecting the public. In 2009 NBC reentered the fray with one of the most intense and realistic shows to hit the scene in quite a long while, ‘Southland’. Then the proverbial good news/bad news hit. The bad news consisted of NBC’s decision to cancel the series at the end of the freshman season. For the growing number of fans the good news was exceptionally welcomed; TNT picked up season 2 and would commit to the rest of the run. ‘Southland returns the television audience to a familiar beat, Los Angles. Unlike the exceptionally broad beat assigned to the officers in ‘Adam-12’, the location of Southland Hollywood Division of LA. It is a tough mountain to climb for a police series to stand out from the pack. The show runner and creator, Ann Biderman, was certainly more that equal to the daunting task, she was writer for another ground breaking cop series, ‘NYPD Blue’ and provided screenplays for a pair of very well received and exceptionally tautly crafted crime films’ ‘Copycat’ and ‘ Primal Fear’. The skill set she began to hone with these movies provided the foundation for her work in ‘Southland’. there have been many shows that properly earned the designation of ‘gritty’ and since NYPD Blue an increasing number have defined their look on the shaky hand held camera techniques to infuse that ‘in the street’ realism that has become the trademark look of the genre. With ‘Southland’ Biderman has creatively built on that scaffold filling it up with stories and character development virtually unprecedented in a TV cop show. I admit, when I first started to watch I was jaded, certain I have seen every conceivable variation of the theme but ‘Southland’ proved there are new twists yet to experience.
There have been a few exceptions but most police shows focus either on the patrol officers working the street of the detectives charged with the investigation of more serious crimes. This series strikes a balance between the immediacy of the peace officer contending with the everyday crimes and altercations with the long game approach needed by the detectives. Initially this laid the groundwork for an incredible ensemble cast although trough the course of season 2 the emphasis shifted to one particular radio car unit. That unit consisted of Senior Training Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) and his second year trainee, Ben Sherman (Benjamin McKenzie). The narrowing of the focus did not destroy the original group dynamic as some fans have expressed. Instead it gave the audience a primary focus to form an emotional bond with. Adequate attention is still to the other officers to maintain diversity in the story lines but this technique provides an anchor for each episode. Mirroring this on the other side of the coin is the detective squad represented by Lydia Adams (Regina King) and her partner Russell Clarke (Tom Everett Scott) of the West Bureau division. At the start of this season Lydia is trying her best to cope with a replacement partner, Rene Cordero (Amaury Nolasco), while Russell recuperates from a serious gunshot wound. Much of the emotional dynamic shown through Lydia is her personal attachment to Russell and her denial over the distinct possibility he may not return to duty.
One thing that breathes realism into this series is the variation found in the officers. They range from officers truly dedicated to their job including Cooper, Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy) and Chickie Brown (Arija Bareikis). They are contrasted with officers that have been adversely affected by the stress of the job, Bill "Dewey" Dudek (C. Thomas Howell). Sammy has to contend with his bat guano crazy wife Tammi (Emily Bergl) when surviving the rigors of patrolling the street. Brown has the usual added burden of being a woman ion a testosterone driven profession. Dewey is eccentric to the point of usually being one step away from crossing the line. Biderman instills a distinct humanity to each character creating a cast of believable people populating this slice of a city.
Too many police procedural dramas seem to feel the need to turn into soap opera with guns and badges. This series does go into the personal lives and back stories of the central characters but the intension makes all the difference. Here they are included not to drive the stories but rather to offer a basis for motivation. The early cop shows depicted the officers as almost super human in their infallibility and dedication. ‘Much of the strength found in ‘Southland’ is derived from the depiction of human foibles common to us all. These are realistically drawn people warts and all. As the season goes on you obtain a deeper understanding of what drives these men and women. Like many professions they find it difficult to leave what they experience on the job there when they leave for home. What sets this series apart is its humanity. The seasons tend to be short, season two consists of only six episode but it is better to have a half dozen tightly constructed episodes than twenty two mediocre ones. This is definite a series that jumps in quality with every season so if you aren’t as fan now start watching, that condition is easily remedied.