NBC “Southland” Premiere Misses Mark (April 2009)

28 11 2011

Laura Marshall
April 14, 2009
Barnes, AJRL 475
Assignment #2 : TV Review


Michael Crichton probably rolled over in his grave when NBC aired “Southland” in the old “ER” timeslot Thursday night.

Promotional image for NBC's SOUTHLAND

The latest effort by the peacock network falls short of the standard set by such crime-based dramas as “NYPD Blue” and “Law and Order.”

Created by Ann Biderman ,“Southland” is set in Los Angeles, where “only 9,800 police officers patrol the city,” which is “an area of 500 square miles and four million people.”
The first episode, titled “Unknown Trouble,” was directed by Nelson McCormick and Chris Chulack — who also serves as executive producer alongside John Wells, formerly of “ER” and “The West Wing” staff.

With the current lineup thick with reality shows and quirky sitcoms, it appears as though NBC was hoping to gain back some of their dramatic credibility with “Southland.”
Biderman fails to reproduce the gritty magic that befell FX in the form of “The Shield,” though it is clear by the language (some of which has to be bleeped– after all, it is basic cable!), excessive male chauvinism and sexual innuendos… She tried.
No character as complex and engaging as Vic Mackey, nor actor as believable as Michael Chiklas can be found in the “Southland” cast.

Shaun Hatosy plays Detective Sammy Bryant, assigned to a bus-stop shooting, who seems the best suited for his job. To compensate for the rampant marital issues and repeat personal calls, he tries to make witnesses feel comfortable and coworkers feel equal. It is refreshing to see Hatosy play a lead, as opposed to his doofy sidekick role in films like “Alpha Dog” and “A Guy Thing.” Unfortunately “Southland” may not be the vehicle Hatosy was looking for to display his skills.

Regina King plays Detective Lydia Adams, who responds to the reported abduction of little Kayla Davies. Though her individual screen time is brief, it is clear that King lacks the intuitive stance held by other primetime detectives.
King is unsuccessful in her bid to shake her background of comedies like “Down to Earth” and “Legally Blonde 2,” as viewers cannot take her bewildered and naïve character seriously. If this woman could hang in there long enough to make detective, shouldn’t she know to be suspicious of the overly helpful bystander or the mysterious trail of ants at her crime scene?

Michael Cudlitz plays Officer John Cooper, the veteran partner of Officer Ben Sherman (played by Benjamin McKenzie).
I got a sinking feeling from the dynamic portrayed between Cooper and Sherman that this series will follow Sherman’s development as a cop… development that may lead him to be just like crude, cranky Cooper. Cudlitz, who’s most notable work is 2001’s “Band of Brothers,” has been on television since 1990.
Odds are Cudlitz will have as much work after “Southland” as he did before, so long as casting directors don’t hold the almost three-minute monologue (in which he dryly tells Sherman that “a day like today, with some interesting capers and a few good arrests, that’s good. Every once in a while you get to take a bad guy off the streets for good, and that my friend is God’s work.”) against him.

McKenzie is no stranger to nighttime dramas, as he spent four seasons as Ryan Atwood on Fox’s “The OC.” Unfortunately for Mr. McKenzie, the nicest thing I can say about his performance is that he wears the uniform well. If I were him, I would consider asking my agent: “Why do I never have to talk much in my roles?”

The first two minutes of “Southland” are silent. EMTs are seen loading the twitching body of an LA gangbanger into an ambulence, while helicopters hover overhead, and neighbors, stunned, gather along the sidewalk.
Gradually, the sounds of said chaos grows, while Officer Sherman crouches, breathes in heavily, and then snaps his attention upward.

At first I thought we are going to be shown the aftermath of this situation, instead we are taken back to the beginning of the day. This format sort of took something away from the experience of the show, because you already kind of knew how it ended — and what fun is that?

Seven minutes into the episode, the first crime occurs.
Three tattooed Latinos in tank tops open fire on a black teenager who has just stepped off a city bus. Immediately following the last gunshot, the scene switches to one of a young, blond girl. She looks to be about 12 years old, and is bouncing a ball in her driveway. As her ball falls, again the focus changes.
Now, at routine traffic stop, Officer Sherman is hassled by the driver. A few minutes later, another case is introduced, that of a dead homeowner who has been partially eaten by his pet dogs. There were a total of four situations presented, two of which were followed and closed. In the last segment of the show, the band of what I can only assume are Latin Kings from the beginning of the episode are broken up and arrested. Detective Adams’ case, of missing Kayla Davies, is resolved as well, with the discovery of her body in a neighbor’s house.

At the end of the very chaotic episode, Detective Adams goes home to her mother; Detective Bryant to his wife; Officer Cooper is last seen at a bar, where he drinks his Corona like a UAlbany freshmen during last call at Chubby’s; and Sherman goes to the hospital, where he has a short encounter with the sister of a shooting victim. During their exchange, it is established that Sherman is in for the long haul.
As Cooper told him earlier: “You’re a cop because you don’t know how not to be one. If you don’t feel that way, you’re not. You decide,” and Sherman does. He is.

Yahoo! TV reviewer Angel Cohn listed “Southland” at number 10 on the list of shows “That Deserve to Return Next Fall (But Might Not)” on Monday, April 6. Cohn wrote that although it had not yet premiered, “Southland“ may be “doomed,” because “there’s not really a lot of space for this show that needs to be in the 10 PM hour,” in next fall’s schedule.
On Friday, TV Guide wrote “Southland” up as having the “Best Show-Definer” for Thursday night, and that even though it has “the female-cop-as-hooker thing,” they’re loving it.
Well… I’m not, and I don’t think many of the reported 9.7million viewers will be tuning in again for next week’s episode, titled “Mozambique.”
David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun summarized in his feelings (and mine) best in his “Z on TV” column, “Ten years ago I would have raved about Southland… I wondered whether I had changed, or the genre had burned itself out and this was just another example of the dying embers.”




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