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Ridealong: An Advance Review of Season Two of TNT's "Southland"

While NBC tonight presents its latest drama Parenthood (you can read my advance review here), TNT is set to go head-to-head with the Peacock by launching Season Two of Southland tonight in the same timeslot.

Given that NBC axed Southland last year after committing to a second season of the series, it will be very interesting to see how the Ann Biderman-created cop drama does on cable and up against the Peacock's latest series offering... and I am sure that NBC's executives will also be looking at the numbers to see whether they made the right or wrong decision to cut Southland from its schedule.

Personally, I think NBC made its decision based on fear and reacting to the fact that Southland struggled after launching with boffo numbers... and the fact that the series, executive produced by John Wells, was a sprawling cop drama where the good guys don't always win and some of them would appear to be just as messed up inside as the criminals they're chasing. I give TNT credit for seeing just the strengths of Southland and taking the series to cable, where it doesn't seem quite as alone as it did among a sea of of spinoff procedurals.

Season Two of Southland begins tonight and finds the series' mix of detectives and uniformed officers grappling with a slew of changes. There's a time jump between last season's finale and this season's opener and the series doesn't draw too much of a breath before revealing just what happened to Russell (Tom Everett Scott) at the end of last season, a reveal that leads Lydia (Regina King, once again transcendent) in the lurch and with a new hotshot partner, Rene Cordero (Amaury Nolasco), who claims to be well-connected upstairs.

Likewise, the tenuous partnership between Ben (Benjamin McKenzie, himself the silent moral center of the series) and drug-addicted John (Michael Cudlitz) is once more put to the test by Ben's worries that his partner is overusing prescription medication to compensate for his back problems. And Ben is further tested when he visits a gruesome crime scene in the March 9th episode ("Butch and Sundance") and can't shut off the images he's seen... nor explain just what he's feeling to his sister or her civilian friends.

McKenzie and King's storylines are the two strongest thus far in the season and offer some emotional meatiness to the visceral atmosphere that the series excels at. However, I'm less than engaged with an overarching drug storyline that enmeshes Kevin Alejandro's Nate Moretta and Shawn Hatosy's Sammy Bryant. It cuts a little too close to The Wire territory, but isn't handled with the same intelligence, poise, and awareness. (It's a comparison that's made all the more palpable by the inclusion of Avon Barksdale himself, Wood Harris, playing a drug kingpin masquerading as a legitimate businessman here.)

Still, having seen the first two installments of Southland's six-episode second season, I can say that I'm along for the ride, if only to see just what happens to such memorable characters as Ben Sherman, John Cooper, and Lydia Adams... and Arija Bareikis' Chickie Brown, who finds herself in a hell of a tight spot after the events of last season.

Her new partner? A lazy cop nicknamed The Slug. In a city as dangerous as Los Angeles, you're only as good as your backup and Chickie--just like her fellow officers--might just find herself in some boiling water in these first two episodes.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Season Two of Southland begins tonight at 10 pm ET/PT on TNT.

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