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Why should I watch Southland?
Cop shows are probably the most common genre in TV drama, so writers have their work cut out creating original, thought-provoking stories, well-drawn characters and settings that speak to audiences.
But this is just what Ann Biderman has done with Southland – now showing on More4 – probably the grittiest TV cop show since The Shield. If anyone knows how to create a cop show, it’s Biderman: her rap sheet includes being one of the writers on NYPD Blue, arguably the best show of the genre in the 90s.
Southland is set in the mean streets of Los Angeles – and some of these streets are very mean indeed. The show focuses on four main characters: Officer John Cooper (played by Michael Cudlitz), a seasoned cop with secrets; Officer Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie), who still has much to learn after recently completing his training rotation; Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King), whose seemingly never-ending caseload hits closer to home; and Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy), a former detective who decided to go back to being a uniform cop after experiencing the traumatic death of his partner.
Los Angeles might be called the City of Angels, but many of the citizens that the police deal with are far from angelic – and, as befits a modern cop show that prides itself on its raw, authentic look, neither are many of the officers.
And that’s what makes Southland so watchable: the flawed characters are constantly being tested by what they encounter on a daily basis, some of which makes them – and us, as viewers – question our belief in humanity’s fundamental goodness.
The show is also shot on location in the streets and neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, far from the often glitzy, glamorous TV representations of Beverly Hills and Hollywood, which helps Southland present a more realistic, natural picture of the city. The show’s producers (who include John Wells, the man responsible for ER and The West Wing) have also used past and present gang members as extras, which adds yet another level of authenticity.
Who to look out for
Michael Cudlitz – who you might remember as Bull from the classic WWII series Band of Brothers – is superb as a grizzled officer with a couple of surprising secrets.
Ben McKenzie – known to many TV viewers as rough diamond Ryan in The OC – brings his square-jawed good looks to the role of rookie Ben Sherman. He might look like clean-cut young man from a relatively privileged background, but Sherman has reserves of determination that he has to draw on as he completes his training and becomes a bona fide LA cop.
There’s change in the air for many of the main characters in series five. Cooper has a new partner to train, a veteran of the Afghanistan conflict, who is not on Cooper’s wavelength. And Lydia also has to adapt to combining life as a detective with her new role as a mother.
And all of these personal dramas take place against a daily backdrop of gangs, drugs, hookers and the constant threat of violence.
There’s never a dull moment in Southland.