Today I’m kicking off a new category of Digital Salad called Salad Reviews.
I’ll be starting with the TV Series Southland which ran on the US Channels NBC, and later TNT, between 2009-2013. The show never hit the big audiences NBC expected it to, but I recently picked it up on DVD and wanted to share my thoughts.
I’d never really come across the show before I picked it up on DVD. It never hit screens in the UK anywhere near the likes of other US crime drama mega-successes such as CSI. I didn’t really know that much about the topic of the series either – gang crime in LA. I was pretty much a newbie to the whole thing, so I was open minded going in.
The first thing to really mention is that we’re not exact short on crime dramas on TV right now. Any new crime drama has to offer something different to stand out – something that sets it apart from the big boys already there.
CSI, of course, has the forensics as it’s unique niche. Law & Order has the gritty reality of the mix between cops on the ground and judges up high in the court houses.
Southland offers something unique to me. It has almost Band Of Brothers quality to it. The crime isn’t the focus, the day to day lives of police officers and detectives is what Southland is all about.
There’s a gritty reality to it. Something like 70% of police officers will see their marriages end with divorce directly because of the job. Countless have addiction problems because of the stresses of the job. Not to excuse those problems, but its a good indicator that the lives of the crime fighters make just as good drama as those that they lock up.
I really like that angle for the series, its not only something unique but something that we so often forget. The men and women in uniform are just that under the gear – ordinary men and women with feelings and dramas of their own.
So the concept is pretty sound, but what about the execution?
To sum it up:
– Series 1 is awesome
– Series 2 is good
– Series 3 is ok
[I think you see where this is going now]
– Series 4 is meh but ends on a satisfying note
– Series 5 shouldn’t have existed
If you want to get a feel for the heart of what Southland is, watch Series number 1. If you liked that it might well be worth just leaving it there.
As far as the long term goes, the execution and character development fell off a cliff very fast after Series 2. By the end of Series 4 the characters and us have been on a breakneck journey that ends on the right note. Lord knows what they were thinking when they took it further into Series 5.
Series 5 is like the last Series of Scrubs. We know it exists but you forget about it, it’s the awkward last tug of the chain by the cable company to try to milk every last penny out of the franchise before it dies for good. It’s the Series that you buy in the box set and then throw away.
The show has a definite favourite in Rookie Ben Sherman, under the wing of veteran patrol officer John Cooper. Cooper’s got skellingtons and so has Sherman – they’re so different that at first they don’t gel but then they start to get on and sort through their problems together and become a first class team. It’s a good relationship, but I can’t help feeling that Sherman was treated as the show’s golden boy a little too much; while Cooper was looked down on for his problems a bit too much.
I really liked the other main patrol cops; especially Dewey who remains a strong character throughout all seasons – although he can grate a little at times. Officer Tang was an interesting addition in Series 4, but she never really had time to fit in or feel right.
On the detective side of things I think Lydia Adams was the clear favourite of the writers, and she had massive potential that they used really well in Series 1 – but overused so much afterwards that she didn’t really work so well as a character any more. She loses her genuine qualities in the push to develop her character too fast.
SPOILER. Adams’s whole single-parent mother story line in later seasons particularly really didn’t fit right with the character as she started in Series 1. It just wasn’t a situation Series 1 Adams would have found herself in; and Series 1 Adams was pretty badass.
That said, my favourite detectives were probably the gang team for the believable workplace banter they had going (although Sammy’s wife is infamously irritating – anybody who has watched the show will know exactly what I mean). Sadly they disappear gradually, and by the end of Series 3 aren’t really included any more for various reasons.
I liked Southland, although you have to really like the show to watch it further than a series or two.
The characters are generally good and well acted; and the stories are original and well thought through. It’s originality is the big thing that really drew me to it and kept me watching in what is a very stale niche of TV.
At its heart the show is genuine, using real gangsters to portray in-show gangsters is a good example. Its a show where they don’t always get the bad guy and might not even ever know who it is; which is so often the case in reality in a place like LA; and you see exactly what damage that does to the mind of a police officer in Southland.
Definitely worth a watch, 4 out of 5.
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