Tripwire continues its list of its Top 30 Crime and Police shows, selected by its editor-in-chief and senior editor. Counting down to its first choice at the end, here’s its 21st entry, NBC’s Southland…
Creator: Ann Biderman
Stars: Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy, Ben McKenzie, Regina King, C Thomas Howell, Arija Bareikis, Tom Everett Scott, Jamie McShane
NBC’s Southland, created by NYPD Blue scripter Ann Biderman, was very much a police show in the latter’s mould. Rookie officer Ben Sherman (Mackenzie) is paired up with grizzled veteran Officer John Cooper (Cudlitz). Sherman comes from a well-heeled Beverly Hills background while Cooper was schooled on the very streets he patrols. Remarkably 1980s brat packer C Thomas Howell stars as devil-may-care officer Dudek while in the plain clothes unit there’s Detectives Lydia Adams (King), Sammy Bryant (Hatosy) and Clarke (Everett Scott).
It is interesting to compare and contrast this series with more sledgehammer product like The Shield. The police here are flawed but not amoral, petty or corrupt compared to the characters in that show. Of course both leads have their mandatory issues – Sherman’s relationship with his father, Ben Sherman Sr, played by the virtuoso John Heard, is manifestly dysfunctional, despite their comfortable lives. Cooper has his own baggage too as the allure of drink and prescription drugs proves to be too much for him to resist.
King as the senior detective brings a humanity and empathy that makes her character the most sympathetic here. Howell excels as party animal Dudek, redeeming himself after all of those unwatchable 1980s comedy films he starred in.
The show also introduced other future stars like Bokeem Woodbine as Officer Jones. McKenzie went on to Fox’s Gotham and King starred in one season of HBO’s acclaimed Watchmen show.
Southland could have been another somewhat soapy US police drama but thanks to the consistency of the writing, the freshness of the storylines, the avoidance of cliché and the well-defined performances from the likes of McKenzie, King and Howell, it more than deserves its place on the list.
Southland is on now on Amazon in the UK and in The US too