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March 05, 2011

"Southland" captures the grit of policing

I've been watching "Southland," the TNT drama about cops patrolling the mean streets of Los Angeles; it's one of the best depictions of policing I've seen, at least from my perspective as a prosecutor.

The Wall Street Journal calls it gritty, and that's a good description.

Canceled by NBC, picked up by TNT and released from the pressure of achieving broadcast network ratings (as well as freed from the constraints of standards and practices), the show has freely delved into how stressful and unglamorous the job actually can be, showing the emotional and physical toll crime takes not only on the victims, but on the cops who have to deal with the violence and its aftermath.

The Journal's on-the-nose description -- "gritty" -- is perfect; this is the antithesis of the antiseptic, often-idiotic "CSI" Las Vegas/Miami/New York/Hawaii-style procedurals. People get hurt; sometimes the bad guys get away with it; and that's life in the big city.

Southland 1.jpg

It features one of the best title sequences I've seen: The episodes begin with a sepia-tinted vintage photo of an old-school L.A. cop peering over the sights of his pistol (above), a series of what appear to be authentic crime scene photos from the past 80 years fading in and out, accompanied by a plaintive, simple instrumental track, then a brief peek at what's to come; action, then freeze frame, with a sardonic voiceover telling the viewer in essence that no cop knows what this shift will bring.

The acting and writing are top notch, and there's at least one actor who caused me to do a double-take. Remember C. Thomas Howell, the former '80s heartthrob? That pretty boy is long gone. He's back as an alcoholic, manic, socially inappropriate, grizzled LAPD officer, lean, grey haired, haggard, with a lined and furrowed face that looks like jerky marinated in whiskey and cigarettes.

It's a remarkable transformation. The rest of the cast is quite good, especially Michael Cudlitz (Bull Randleman of "Band of Brothers") and Regina King.

The season finale is Tuesday night, and with TNT on the fence whether or not to renew it, make sure to catch the almost-certain "Southland" marathon, before the coroner hangs a tag on its toe and wheels it away forever.

Posted by Mike Lief at March 5, 2011 06:02 PM