[04/01/09 - 12:03 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Southland" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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The network's description: "From the executive producer of "ER" and "The West Wing" -- On his first day on the beat, rookie cop Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie, "The O.C.") finds himself questioning if he's cut out for the job. Adding to the pressure, Sherman is assigned to no-nonsense, cut to the chase training officer, veteran John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz, "Band of Brothers"). Meanwhile, a young girl is kidnapped from her front yard and Detectives Lydia Adams (Regina King, "Jerry McGuire") and Russell Clarke (Tom Everett Scott, "That Thing You Do!") investigate the disappearance while comforting her distraught parents. Michael McGrady ("The Thin Line"), Kevin Alejandro ("Ugly Betty"), Shawn Hatosy ("Alpha Dog") and Arija Bareikis ("Crossing Jordan") also star."

What did they leave out? There's a fair amount of bleeped out swearing - although strangely the word "asshole" is and isn't censored on different occasions.

The plot in a nutshell: The first day on patrol for Officer Ben Sherman (Benjamin McKenzie) frames our window into the world of the LAPD. Assigned to the gruff John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz), Ben is given a tour of "the greatest freak show on Earth" - from traffic violations to strange smells to the always tricky "unknown trouble," the calls range from the silly to the downright scary. Pegged as a rich kid looking to pad his resume - "You've got 90210 written all over your face," he quips - Cooper puts him through the wringer, constantly informing him to quit if he doesn't like it. Across town we meet Lydia Adams (Regina King, never better) and Russell Clarke (Tom Everett Scott, surprisingly low key), detectives working on a child abduction case while fellow detectives Nate Moretta (Kevin Alejandro) and Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy) look into a gang shooting involving a young boy. All three threads ultimately tie together in a "Crash" meets "Short Cuts" kind of way however for the most part each pairing follows their own story: Bryant and Moretta struggle with getting witnesses to come forward, Adams and Clarke look into the motives of an overly helpful neighbor; and Sherman finally gets a chance to show Cooper the type of cop he can be. In the end, it's just another day in the life of the LAPD as our heroes return to their homes, to the families they are out to protect and the demons they try to hide.

What works: With its quasi-documentary style, understated soapiness and a genuine focus on the job at hand, "Southland" is a well-oiled procedural machine right out of the gate. Opting for mostly practical sets and locations, there's an openness to the series that's downright refreshing - especially in a genre that's currently dominated by lab coats, CGI and profiling. Not since the Peacock's short-lived "Boomtown" has a show so fully embraced the city of Los Angeles. McKenzie and Cudlitz prove to be more than capable leads - the former's monosyllabicness once again works to his advantage, keeping Sherman's cards close to his vest, while the latter infuses Cooper with an almost sociopathic love of the job that beguiles a need to connect with someone else. King's Adams is likewise a standout as we watch her character think rather than have her tell us what she's thinking. The rest - including a pair of fellow beat cops played by C. Thomas Howell as an unapologetic sexist and Arija Bareikis as an aspiring SWAT member - fill out a enjoyably diverse ensemble.

What doesn't: Conversely, style points aside, there's nothing here you haven't seen before - the green rookie getting hazed by the vet, only to come through in the end; the loudmouth superior that always thinks he knows best, only to have it come back and bite him in the ass; the guy whose personal life is falling apart but is still great at his job; even the "coming home" closing montage set to the latest syrupy ballad, this is all fairly predictable, boilerplate stuff. Nevertheless as is often the case - for lack of a better word - with procedurals, it's not always the twists and turns themselves that set it apart, but rather the characters' journey through them that make us want to tune in. All in all...

The bottom line: ...it's a nice addition to my viewing schedule.

  [april 2009]  


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