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The Thin Blue Line: An Advance Review of NBC's "Southland"

Another day, another cop show.

Just a day after ABC launched its police drama The Unusuals, NBC is getting back into the cops-and-crooks game as well with a new police drama series, Southland, from writer/executive producer Ann Biderman (Public Enemies) and executive producer John Wells.

Tonally, these two series couldn't be more different. While ABC's The Unusuals fuses a lighter, frothier, and quirkier style onto the typically staid world of police procedurals, NBC's Southland takes a different tack, imbuing its series with a raw grittiness that seems to echo much of the world-weary attitude taken by the series' array of police officers, both detectives and uniformed street patrols, who protect and serve the city of Los Angeles.

One similarity that jumps out, however, is that Benjamin McKenzie's character, a rookie cop named Ben Sherman (not to be confused with the British fashion label of the same name, a favorite of mine), shares a similar backstory with The Unusuals' Casey Shraeger (Amber Tamblyn). Both come from backgrounds of wealth and privilege and both want this fact to remain a secret from their salt of the earth comrades in the police force. Here, Sherman is a Beverly Hills scion who has seemingly abandoned a lifestyle of excess and luxury to patrol the streets of Los Angeles with his no-nonsense partner John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz).

Why Sherman would choose to enter the police force remains a mystery: the one clue comes when he's forced to arrest a former classmate (played by McKenzie's former O.C. cast mate Taylor Handley) and we learn that Sherman's dad is a high-powered criminal defense attorney. Could he be looking to balance the scales of justice?

McKenzie and Cudlitz are well cast as diametrically opposite partners and the aloof silence of McKenzie's Sherman is at distinct odds with the caustic humor and rudely acerbic nature of Cudlitz's Cooper. It's nice to see McKenzie in a more adult role than The O.C.'s Ryan Atwood, though he's upstaged in a major way by Cudlitz in the pilot. The rest of the cast is populated with familiar faces, although not all of them get a chance to shine in the premiere episode.

Regina King's tough and street-smart Detective Lydia Adams investigates the abduction of a young girl and deals with the insistent questioning of her live-in mother; she's one of the more developed characters we meet in the first episode and King gives a nice, professional patina to the proceedings. Shawn Hatosy's Detective Sammy Bryant tries to juggle work demands--including a case of a drive-by gangland shooting of an unaffiliated teenager--with a bitter, demanding wife. Arija Bareikis' Officer Chickie Brown puts on the facade of being just one of the boys (even letting a fellow cop put her in a choke hold in a mall food court), but she shows a rare display of vulnerability following an incident--which I won't reveal here--involving a sexist cop, played by C. Thomas Howell, and McKenzie's Ben Sherman.

Unfortunately, Tom Everett Scott's Detective Russel Clark remains a bit of a cipher; he's only present in what seems to be one or two scenes in the pilot episode and I walked away without being able to recall anything about his character... or even his name, if I'm being honest. Rounding out the main cast are Michael McGrady as Det. Daniel Salinger and Kevin Alejandro as gang squad detective and family man Det. Nate Moretta.

Ultimately, while there are some interesting elements to Southland including a high-profile cast, one can't shake the feeling that we've seen this show before in a police lineup and the characters, at least initially, seem to be archetypes that have previously populated many a cop drama. With only six episodes to win over viewers this season, I don't think that Southland is quite the addictive addition to NBC's schedule that the network is hoping ER viewers, looking for their next gritty procedural fix, will flock to in droves. Still, those of you looking for a well-intentioned if slightly familiar drama, might want to check out Southland.

Southland premieres tomorrow evening at 10 pm ET/PT on NBC.


Calvin B. said…
I'm usually not a fan of cop dramas (except for The Wire!) but am kind of intrigued by this one, mostly because of the interesting cast. Of course, I think it's difficult to do a truly exceptional cop drama outside of cable. I might tune in but my expectations are pretty low.
Cass said…
i actually thought Cudlitz was upstaged---his rough-edged, seen-it-all cop was a little too cliche, particularly his delivery of the "front seat to the best show on earth" line. ugh.
Bernardx said…
That was one hell of a great monologue near the end of the pilot episode of Southland.

Greatest show on earth...

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