With the second season of Southland returning from the media grave this week I wanted to take a look at the first season - which originally aired on NBC before they foolishly cancelled it. Fortunately the show now has a new home over on TNT and while I wasn't completely aware of the show and it's trials previously I do have good things to report about the show now I've taken the opportunity to catch up.
Now believe it or not (because I do have a slight reputation for marathon TV watching) but it has been quite a while since I've sat and watched a single show for more than two or three episodes on the trot. Southland's first season represents the end of that drought, I watched the pilot episode yesterday and then the rest of the first season (six episodes) today. In case it's not clear from that, the show is gripping and pretty great.
In fact, watching Southland was a lot like buying an awesome new pair of shoes; you're somewhat concerned that they won't fit as well as your old pair - maybe they'll pinch and rub your feet in an unexpected and painful manner before their broken in. Then, when you try them on you find out that they're not only a perfect fit, but also they're oddly familiar - feeling a lot like your favourite old pair did.
OK, daft shoe analogy aside Southland does echo a couple of shows in it's style and depth - specifically Homicide: Life on the Street and The Shield. That alone should immediately tell any regular readers [are there any? Hello? Is this thing on?] just how much I enjoyed Southland and how good I feel it is. Stylistically there's a lot to compare with The Shield, not only are the locations somewhat familiar (both shows are set in LA) but also the camera work has that same "real" documentary feel which brings you closer to the action. Of course Southland departs from The Shield considerably in one aspect; the main character isn't an exceptionally corrupt cop, and that's enough to make the show very distinct. But it feels so close to The Shield in many other aspects that at times I find myself wondering where Dutch, Claudette, Julien, Danny and Billings are. In short Southland feels a lot like The Shield without the Strike Team storyline. You have detectives and plain clothes officers doing their jobs - dealing with the reality of life as a cop in all its grim truth.
This is where the show also starts to feel like an updated version of Homicide (the show which influenced The Shield) as you've got an ensemble style cast rotating around the main story lines and dealing with - dare I say it - gritty crimes that aren't afraid to be grim and sudden. In fact this is one of the reasons that NBC cancelled the show, they were exceptionally short sighted and failed to look back at history. Iconic shows in the style of Southland exist, they're often cited in critic top 10s and have excellent DVD sales due to a high rewatchability. Fortunately TNT has seen the potential in the show and snapped it up, but they have mentioned some changes, so we'll have to hope the second season isn't homogenized into a clone of CSI (from what I've seen, it doesn't look like it has been - phew).
So I've written about the feel of the show, but what is the actual concept?
The show is a fast paced Police Drama (note, not a procedural) that follows the working and home lives of several police officers working in the LAPD. You have officers John Cooper and his rookie partner Ben Sherman, and the wonderful Chickie Brown; then there are Detectives Russell, Lydia, "Sal", Sammy and Nate. The show follows each partnership not just in the line of duty but in their home life as well - Sammy in particular has a great deal of difficulty with his wife - a woman who seems to have little to no redeeming features at all, but he must see something in her.
It's a show which literally plunges you in at the deep end, expecting you to be able to keep a track of each character/face and follow something which is quite literally 'in progress'. It's not as dense as The Wire can be to follow, the cast isn't that sprawling, but the breakneck speed of the scenes can make it hard to track some of the less familiar faces at first.
The stand out performances from the first seven episodes come from Michael Cudlitz (Band of Brothers), Regina King (227, 24) and Arija Bareikis (Oz, Crossing Jordan) who's fantastic as the hard nosed SWAT-wannabe Chickie Brown. They're the faces I identified with fastest, though it must be said that Shawn Hatosy's performance as Detective Bryant - the man with the completely bizarre and childlike wife - is one which grew on me, his tolerance for her is rather admirable.
So Southland is a show which should appeal to those of you who enjoy police dramas (as opposed to police procedurals) and those of you who enjoy tense action sequences involving alley chases, gun fire and even good old fashioned fisticuffs. There's a lot to enjoy here and it's possible that given time Southland can grow into one of the big shows to watch.
Unfortunately I'm located in the UK so I won't be able to catch up with the second season any time soon. But from the screener footage I've seen it looks like the second season hasn't lost the style and feel which made the first season so enjoyable.
You'll Enjoy Southland if you enjoy shows like:
The Shield, Homicide, Life, The Wire