June 3, 2009

new show review: southland

Not exactly a new show anymore, but I thought it was worth a quick review since it's coming back next season.

Just watched all the episodes on DVR almost consecutively, which I think helped the show for me. I'm not sure I would have stayed as engaged if I was waiting for the next episode from week to week. Overall though, I liked it more than I thought I would.

Filming is done in the style of ER where the camera acts as a person - as if you are watching from the vantage point of someone actually in the scene - in the back of the cop car, staring over the body, running after the suspect, moving around the room, etc. It makes for exciting, very quick transitions, but can also be a bit dizzying, especially when the same tactic is used to film a quiet night at home - you might see it through a window pane or a crooked doorway shot. Sort of makes you feel like a prowler.

Another odd directorial decision is "bleeping" the curse words. Although it's filmed with a single, moving camera, the show is not filmed as a documentary (like The Office), but the characters swear openly and are bleeped. I can't wrap my head around this. On one hand, I find it refreshing that the cops and criminals have potty mouths. I never bought such clean language on NYPD Blue and Law & Order. But if I'm supposed to be treating it like a "real" show, who's doing the bleeping? It's just weird.

Unlike many cop shows, Southland is largely character-driven. We're talking many characters. MANY. This might be my biggest problem with the show. I'll try to organize my thoughts into the various partnerships:

Detective Team 1: Det. Adams (Regina King) and Det. Clarke (Tom Everett Scott)
These two are the most recognizable actors in the cast. Regina King is practically carrying the show on her shoulders. Her storyline isn't particularly complex, but her performance is flawless and compelling. By the end, you really care about this character. On the other hand, Tom Everett Scott's character is a waste of space. I am a fan of his, so I'm sorry to say it. To be fair, I think it's the writing. Next to Adams, Clarke seems like a lame, heartless, doofus with a boring side story about his blogger wife competing with his aspiring writing career. Hopefully, the finale cliffhanger will either relieve us of the pain or turn this guy around.

Detective Team 2: Det. Bryant (Shawn Hatosy) and Det. Moretta (Kevin Alejandro)
You may recognize Hatosy from Outside Providence and other movies, and Alejandro from Ugly Betty (he played Santos). They're a good pair and handled the central case of the season. No complaints really except for Bryant's bulky side story with his wife played by Emily Bergl, who I normally really like (Men in Trees, Gilmore Girls). Their story was just repetitive and tiring, with no payoff in the end. I was hoping the dog would eat her.

Chief Detective & Mistress: Det. Salinger (Michael McGrady) and Mia Sanchez (Lisa Vidal)
McGrady does fine as the head detective, but his side story was all over the place. Cheating on his wife with a needy TV reporter, rebellious teenage daughter who catches them but doesn't care, DUI, Facebook stalking the daughter. It was too much. I know they're trying to set us up for the future - I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Mia - but I could have used a little less of him.

Cop Team 1: Officer Sherman (Ben Mackenzie) and Officer Cooper (Michael Cudlitz)
If Regina King is carrying the show on her shoulders, Michael Cudlitz might be giving her a piggyback ride. We got a taste of his story - divorced closet case with a sad childhood and a painkiller problem - but we didn't get hit over the head with it. We saw him develop as a mentor to Sherman (Mackenzie) using bully tactics that all proved to be part of his plan. We're left with a lot of questions about this character, which is what you want at this point. Mackenzie is making a valiant effort to overcome The OC curse. Probably my favorite team.

Cop Team 2: Officer Brown (Arija Bareikis) and Officer Dewey (C. Thomas Howell)
Completely unnecessary. Cut them out. Dewey's story was an uninteresting distraction from the others. I'm guessing he's out after the finale, but I don't think she's needed either, except possibly to improve the gender ratio.

As I said, I liked this show more than I thought I would. NBC put a lot of publicity into it as the heir apparent to ER, and it did get decent ratings. But the network took the legs out from under it by moving to Friday nights for only 13 episodes (the standard issue for NBC fall shows). I'll keep it on the DVR, and you should watch online this summer if you're in the mood for some LA gang violence.


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