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DVD Review: Southland – The Complete First Season (Uncensored)

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The Premise

Southland takes a look at the lives and families of the LAPD, from the cops patrolling the streets to the detectives who work in the offices in one of the most crime-ridden areas in the United States.

The Main Characters

Officer Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie): A rookie cop who is fresh out of the Academy and is trying to overcome the stigma from being from Beverly Hills in order to become a respected member of the force.

Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz): Ben’s training officer, a hardened veteran who had a rough childhood and gives Ben a hard time whenever he can. He also masks an addiction to painkillers due to an old injury related to the job.

Officer Billy Dewey (C. Thomas Howell): A cop who was forced into retirement, but comes back because of money issues and a love for the job. Loose on morals and a recovering alcoholic who isn’t recovering as well as he should.

Officer Chickie Brown (Arija Bareikis): Billy’s partner who is trying to help him, but just keeps getting burned by him and has to keep watch at all points.

Detective Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy): A detective with the LAPD who is trying to help a girl who wants to be a police officer. His wife Tammi (Emily Bergl) continually gives him crap for where they live and they are constantly at odds.

Detective Nate Moretta (Kevin Alejandro): Sammy’s partner with the most moral integrity out of anyone on the force, but has a few skeletons in his closet as well.

Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King): The top detective on the force, who lives with her sick mother and still pines for her ex-husband.

Detective Daniel Salinger (Michael McGrady): The supervisor of the unit of detectives that Sammy and Nate are a part of, who is constantly at odds with his 15-year-old daughter and his inappropriate relationship with a female reporter.

Detective Russell Clarke (Tom Everett Scott): The more empathetic detective who handles the human interaction. He is also an aspiring writer, which comes into conflict with his blogger wife Dina (Emily Swallow).

The Review

NBC and I have a love/hate relationship; while they tend to keep renewing comedies I love (The Office, 30 Rock), when it comes to one-hour dramas  they are very liberal with their axe. Surface, Journeyman, and Kings, three excellent shows, were all canceled within a season and created some bitterness among viewers, myself included. Southland met a similar fate.

Premiering April 9, 2009, the show was well-received by critics and NBC even announced they would order a second season. In October, their tune changed and the show was abruptly canceled. Thankfully, TNT stepped in and picked up the show, and Southland has been given a new life, with its second season beginning on January 12 with the seven episodes in this season as well as the six produced episodes that would have been a part of the second season on NBC. Depending on how the ratings are, the show could be picked up again.

After watching Southland: The Complete First Season (Uncensored) (visit the official site), I am really pulling for this show to last. Simply put, there is no other show like it, especially in the genre. Southland is gritty, realistic, and expands on the cop life. Instead of just showing the detectives or the cops doing their jobs, you also get a glimpse of them as people as well as their home lives. These aren’t supermen; they are real people who have flaws and they shine throughout these episodes.

As an ensemble show, it shifts a lot from the cops to the detectives and sometimes characters that were in the previous episode will not be in the episode after that. It’s about two different groups and they rarely mingle. The ensemble cast does an amazing job; they bring each character to life in realistic ways. You don’t feel like you’re watching a show, it feels more like a documentary… and it is absolutely riveting. Everyone, from Ben McKenzie (who, if there’s any justice, will outlive his O.C. stigma) to the often underused C. Thomas Howell, gives performances that are consistently top notch and way above other shows on TV. Even the music is better, from its theme song (which is haunting, by the way) to the music used in show; it’s like watching a show that actually has its stuff together which is vary rare nowadays in the Jay Leno world.

Southland is shot in a very gritty way, using handheld cameras and “hidden” cameras to make it feel like you are really there. There is nothing even remotely glossy about this show, and it is uncompromising and brutal. There is also a heaping amount of swearing in the show, which ended up being bleeped on NBC when it was aired, and on the DVD you don’t get that. You get the show in its true form and it is one hundred times better for it.

NBC’s loss is truly TNT’s gain: Southland is a cop show that redefines its genre, putting it far above procedural shows like C.S.I. and even outclassing the legendary Law & Order franchise that had once been the benchmark. Once you watch Southland, the others will simply not feel the same. If the show had debuted on TNT in the first place, or a network like HBO, it would have been able to stretch its creative wings even further and lived up to its full potential. Hopefully, people will catch up with it on TNT and it will get a new life. Southland is a must watch show, a truly captivating drama that could have given some legitimacy back to network TV, had network TV wanted it.

Southland airs Tuesdays at 10/9 Central on TNT. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

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