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Southland: Season 1 - Pilot episode reviewed

Southland

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

GRITTY new police drama Southland has been described in some circles as the West Coast version of The Wire.

Created, co-written and directed by the minds behind such seminal US shows as NYPD Blue and ER (most notably, Ann Biderman and John Wells), the show follows a group of LAPD officers as they attempt to sort out the day to day turmoil of policing one of the world’s largest and most volatile cities.

It’s shot in the same raw, gritty, almost hand-held style that made NYPD Blue so memorable, and contains the same kind of intense, snappy dialogue. It’s also not for the faint-hearted, or those that like their programmes in any way sugar-coated.

The pilot episode alone (which finally aired on More4 on Thursday, July 1), followed multiple storylines. Principally, there was rookie officer Ben Sherman (Benjamin McKenzie), who endured a torrid first day with Veteran Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) – beginning with a random drive-by shooting of an innocent black child, and culminating in the shooting of a fellow officer and the thug responsible for doing it.

As all this unfolded, a colleague, Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King), also had to investigate the disappearance of a little girl who had vanished while playing ball.

The episode began with the aftermath of the shooting of the police officer and the thug responsible, thrusting viewers into the middle of a frantic, confused crime scene and allowing them to pick up the pieces. Sherman’s rookie looked dazed and confused. But it was only over the course of the episode, as the clock dialled back to 18 hours earlier, that the pieces began to fit together.

As with the shows it emulates, Southland wastes no time in set-ups. You learn as you go, much like McKenzie’s rookie. It’s an adult show with adult themes and real-life repercussions. Hence, from a downbeat entrypoint, the show also concluded on a sombre note.

En route, however, there’s a kind of exhilaration to be found in viewing something so raw and authentic unfold. It’s the closest you’ll ever want to get to the mean streets of LA.

And the dialogue, too, is rich and often witty. When Cooper’s smart-mouthed veteran pulled over a Ferrari driving teen, he was confronted with the cocky warning: “Do you know who my father is?” Only to retort: “Why, didn’t your mother tell you?”

Southland is brimming with such exchanges… making the characters who deliver the lines instantly likeable.

Hence, the next few episodes should be immensenly engrossing as we find out more about what makes them tick, while experiencing their trials and tribulations in such intense, but highly absorbing fashion.

Southland is must-see viewing, for which we must also be thankful for. It’s US history is chequered, to say the least, having been threatened with the axe on at least two occasions despite the overwhelming critical acclaim surrounding it. A third series has now been commissioned, which means it’s well worth riding along with for the time being.

Southland airs on More4 on Thursday nights at 10pm.