Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tnt's ?Southland' ?a Show Worth Seeking Out

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tnt's ?Southland' ?a Show Worth Seeking Out

Article excerpt


In a TV season boasting at least half a dozen underappreciated comedies ("The Middle," "Raising Hope" and "Enlightened" among them), it is far rarer to see a quality drama fall through the cracks. But if ever a series deserved the kind of intense viewer attention normally reserved for a Sunday night on HBO, it would be "Southland," which began its fifth season in February on TNT.

You don't see cop shows like this on TV anymore. Stark. Naturalistic. Unafraid to let small moments count just as much as the big ones, sometimes even more.

When "Southland" premiered in 2009 on NBC, it was (and remains) an outlier in a television landscape preoccupied with forensics, elite crime-fighting units and a tunnel-vision narrative recognizable only in Hollywood terms, where there exists a seemingly endless supply of technology, databases and the capacity for deductive reasoning.

"Southland" showed considerable promise its first season on NBC, but it didn't have ratings. It made the unusual jump to basic cable, where the budgets are inevitably tighter. But on TNT, with a smaller ensemble, a more focused show emerged -- one that embraced its reduced scale with clarity and certainty.

To understand its appeal is to recognize what it is not. For all the grim, explicit, cheesy imagery of a typical CBS procedural, "Southland" strips all that away to focus on police work at its most basic. (NBC's "Chicago Fire," a solid show already, would be smart to emulate this approach.) As smart as it is mordantly funny, it exists somewhere on the spectrum between "Hill Street Blues" and "The Wire," boosted by a shaky, hand-held-camera aesthetic borrowed from the long-running reality show "Cops."

What "Southland" understands is that you don't need elaborate plots. Life is complicated and often absurd, especially in law enforcement -- something I'm reminded of every time I see the terrific opening credits, filled with grainy black-and-white archival police photos and that swelling, mournful melody. …

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