SOUTHLAND — Why it’s the best TV show in the last 10 years that no one gives a shit about.
Seeing Ben McKenzie as Jim Gordon in the deluge of Gotham marketing got me thinking about SouthLAnd. For me, it’s one of the best TV shows in the past ten years that no one gives a shit about.
A critic fav. Abandoned by NBC. Rescued by TNT. Viewed regularly by 1.8 million souls. After forty-three episodes the bad news arrived:
“TNT has made the difficult decision not to renew SouthLAnd for another season,” TNT said in a statement. “We are enormously proud of SouthLAnd, which stands as one of the best police dramas ever made.”
“…one of the best police dramas ever made.” Most definitely.
What about The Wire, The Killing, True Detective, orHomicide: Life on the Streets, or the rest of shit ton of cops shows held up as examples of TV’s recent high end creativity? Sure. Some of them work.
However, if you’re a fan of those shows, a setting at your table needs to be elbowed aside for viewing SouthLAnd. It’s handheld, choppy, violent, stunning, funny, dark, and never boring. It’s the closest you’ll get to a “front row seat to the greatest show on Earth.”
A few examples of similarities or things SouthLAnd does better than those other shows:
Location, Location, Location
Like The Wire’s Baltimore neighborhoods or True Detective’s bayous some shows benefit from their locations. When integrated well, a show’s location moves beyond mere trappings and enters the world of cinematic art.
Yeah, yeah, L.A. is the most filmed city in the world, but the production did a great job taking advantage of her vastness and making her fresh yet familiar.
It went on to mash-up numerous locations and neighborhoods, Century City, coast areas, the Jungle, Sunset Junction, Alvarado Street, Baldwin Hills, the Watts Towers, Grand Central Market, Cliftons, the Farmers Market, the Frolic Room, Filipinotown, etc.
In SouthLAnd, real distances are ignored; fact and fiction are blended; tourist traps and off the beaten paths are blurred. It creates a dizzying, jigsawed landscape that juxtaposes the beauty, ugliness, vastness, multi-culture expanse, and downright uniqueness of sunshine and nightmares that is the city of fallen angels. It’s a big part of what makes these characters and their stories so intense, capturing the unexpectedness a patrolman experiences when approaching a new crime scene.
True Detective had Matthew McConaughey’s and Wood Harrelson’s acting tour de forces.
The Wire had Idris Elba and Michael K. Williams.
Homicide had Andre Braugher. Heck, and the rest of the cast.
Like a ’69 GTO Judge zeroing in on your tailgate at 2am on the 101, SouthLAnd is character driven as they come. The show’s creator, Ann Biderman, delivered a compelling roll call. The multi-faceted characters are the through lines not long story arches. It is raw character based storytelling. And it sure has heck keeps the show’s energy level high.
If you had a problem with True Detective’s weak writing for women, check out Detective Lydia Adams played by Regina King. Great at her job with a good grip on how “Inoccent until proven guilty” works. But watch out when she finds you guilty. She has a tendency to feel too much, which can be seen in the “Sally In the Ally” episode among others. However, hers is never misplaced. Never filtered through rage. It’s a great combo of strength and professionalism. Lydia’s compassion only gets complicated when dealing with her cop partners or a romantic interest outside of the job. That is, because she see herself as always a cop, if she ever lets herself have a romantic interest.
Detective Sammy Bryant played by Shawn Hatosy. He’s the sad sack of the series.
Sammy has the most shocking moment in the series when his partner is bushwhacked by some cholo with a club. Then Sammy goes on to botch the ID.
And it only gets better — His wife cheats on him just as discovers she’s pregnant. Later she charges him with assault. Finally he gets teamed with Patrolman Ben Sherman, who is on a spiral to becoming a crooked cop. Sammy is the wrong addition to Sherman’s spiral.
Hatosy gives Sammy a desperation that is always on the verge of lashing out. I constantly wished he woould get some peace. Never happens. As the series wraps, Sherman and Sammy are rolling on the pavement exchanging haymakers.
For Patrolman Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) seems like his rage is always getting the best of him from his daddy and mommy issues to how he deals with the streets.
LA Confidential’s Sergeant Ed Exley and The Shield’s Vic Mackey come to mind as I watched Sherman’s evolution. From the get go there’s a sense that the badge is a personal weapon.
He started off idealistic, but loses site of the lines in the gray of beat work. He’s a dirty cop in the making and it was nice to see this instead of a straight up crooked cop. As he traveled the path, you watch Officer Sherman grow comfortable with the belief that as long as he’s servicing justice the rules are malleable.
Also, by watching SouthLAnd you’ll understand why Ben McKenzie won the Jim Gordon role. Can’t wait to see where he takes that Gotham cop.
The stand out of them all is Officer John Cooper played by Michael Cudlitz.
Cooper might have his own issues but he nails Sherman’s future early as someone who can’t keep his shit straight and will end up dragging others down.
For Patrolman Cooper his compassion died a long time ago. Probably on the day his father raped and murdered Cooper’s girlfriend. This guy is ready to do some harm. Probably to himself.
If you are looking for a damaged cop performance that surpasses McConaughey’s in True Detective, Cudtiz’s gives it.
With the last two episodes of SouthLAnd, Cooper gets some of the best moments I’ve ever seen on TV. They are gut wrenching.
What dimished Breaking Bad for me was how the writers were bent on keeping Jesse Pinkman around. He should have been gone after season three. I got to the point of predicting all of Pinkman’s reactions and actions. The repetitiveness was groan inducing.
SouthLAnd never suffered from character boredom like Pinkman’s. Its characters were deep wells and never boring. An excellent example of character driven storytelling.
Fuck True Detective with its uninspired, banal murder mystery, lackluster killer, and sappy ending.
Fuck Breaking Bad’s ponderous ending. It kept squeezing the same old orange for too long. It took forever to get to a payoff and the journey, except for some great water cooler moments, was a snore.
Dexter’s total clusterfuck of a final season! Dude, who has a major character die offscreen!?!
Ending a TV show can be a real bitch.
However, SouthLAnd has the best wrap of a TV show that sorta didn’t know it was going to end.
With the last two episodes, CHAOS and RECKONING, and a nod to Joseph Wambaugh’s “The Onion Field” you get a totally satisfying and emotionally painful wrap-up of all the series. The last two episodes deliver such a gut punch that they still linger in my head and heart.
I don’t want to spoil it.
Trust me, if you really think TV is in a new Golden Age here is one of most solid markers of that. SouthLAnd was not only a cop show done right, it was a TV show in new Golden Age of TV done right.
So I call out to folks to put your Orange is the New Black, True Detective, Mad Men, freaking Game of Thrones all on pause and watch the forty-three episodes of SouthLAnd. You won’t be disappointed doing this favor for yourself.