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NBC’s Southland is Another Crime Procedural, With Potential April 5, 2009

Posted by Amy Yen in TV.
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southland_benmckenzieWhen first we saw Ben McKenzie, he was playing the fish-out-of-water with particular abomb in the sun & sparkle of shiny Newport Beach. In this week’s premiere of NBC’s Southland, he’s in one of crime procedural’s great archetypal roles, the rookie beat cop, in over his head. Except, as we find out later in this surprisingly solid late-season pilot, there’s a twist—pretty boy Ben Sherman has what is probably the best possible, & worst possible, first day a rookie cop nobody takes seriously can have. In that same way, Southland has been promoted as a typical crime procedural, of no particular note except its producer, John Wells, & its wishful thinking timeslot, Thursdays at 10pm EST on NBC, home for the last 15 years to Wells’ previous series, the epic powerhouse known as E.R. If the pilot is any indication, however, it might, despite its familiar feel, be noteworthy nonetheless.

Southland has the benefit of a familiar cast, who are impressively engaging in the pilot episode. Ben’s partner, Cooper, solidly casted veteran Hey! It’s That Guy resident cop Michael Cudlitz, is jaded, rough around the edges, loud & a combination of impatient & bemused by Ben’s naivete. Although Cudlitz has seemingly been playing cops for what seems like decades now, this role is great for him, & he swaggers as he drags poor Ben around the city. Detective Bryant is likable as he works the gang squad, while Detective Adams is smartly played by Regina King, who is an actress I have a pre-set dislike for, because of dual roles in horrtomes1ible sequels Miss Congeniality 2 & Legally Blonde 2. Hopefully we’ll see more of Detective Clarke, Adams’ partner, played by the severely underrated Tom Everett Scott, of That Thing You Do fame & more recently, star of TNT’s short-lived but excellent Saved.

What Southland’s swift one-hour pilot does well is not wait around for the viewer to get acclimated. There’s nothing comfortable about jumping directly into a child abduction or senseless gang shooting in the streets of Los Angeles (particularly for me, a new LA resident). Southland has the excellent attribute of feeling more like a documentary than a drama; minus a few unneeded interludes with a detective’s angry wife & another’s mother, the hour is spent on the streets, not fixated on the personal lives of the cast. And if Wells & co. are smart, they would keep it that way…it’s a much greater challenge to show how these characters are effected if you don’t follow them home, but I think the subtle approach is much more interesting.

Southland shouldn’t dwell on the characters’ lives too much anyway, since it’s already said what it’s supposed to be about: the job. “You’re a cop because you don’t know how not to be a cop,” says Cooper. Ben Sherman didn’t know it then, but he’s already there.

Southland premieres this Thursday, April 7 at 10pm EST on NBC. Or check out the entire first episode early HERE.

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