Southland – Pilot Review

This is the city, Los Angeles, California. They work here, they carry a badge. TNT’s new adopted series, Southland, is nothing like the world inhabited by Joe Friday and Bill Gannon on the old cop show Dragnet. Southland is gritty, edgy, and loaded with so much going on it’s hard to know who’s who, the crime being investigated, or to even become interested in what’s going on.

I’m a big fan of cop shows, so Southland drew my interest immediately. A new police series not based in New York, featuring cops on the beat, dealing with L.A.-based crimes. I was intrigued. Sadly, the series did not meet any of my expectations.

With so many characters, crimes, and storylines in such a short time frame, it’s hard to really empathize, relate, or even become interested in who these people are. I understand that it’s an ensemble show that takes a look at many police divisions within L.A., but it lacks an anchor that helps draw me in.

The Law & Order franchise, despite its revolving door of cast members, understands that we need characters to follow each week (even if creator Dick Wolf thinks otherwise). Whether it’s Benson and Stabler on Special Victims Unit or Goren and Eames on Criminal Intent, we become invested and interested in the series because of the cops and their personalities. Just look at the outrage on the internet over Goren and Eames leaving Criminal Intent this next season.

It’s important to have memorable characters that are unique and draw people in. Southland provides a lot of stereotypical cops that have little dimension. Yes, I know that this is the pilot and they can’t give us everything in an hour, but I need something to latch onto that will make me want to tune in again.

Series creator Ann Biderman doesn’t deliver characters that feel real; at least to me they came across as police character stereotypes. Southland has a baby faced rookie cop; a seasoned cop with some sort of drug problem (pills); the asshole misogynist cop who thinks women cops are weak and unqualified (who loves his own off-color jokes); the detective with the marriage problem; the female cop with a dream; and other cop characters that fit nicely into distinct and familiar categories.

And, honestly, I was very surprised at how the women in the series are written and portrayed. The show was created by a woman, so her treatment of female characters as weak and neurotic was a bit odd.

This is one of the issues with a TV series or movie that tries to do too much; after a while it turns cliché. The film, He’s Just Not That Into You, is a perfect example of how too many storylines and characters can make for a boring viewing experience.

When I think about cop shows, I immediately expect a level of intrigue and excitement. Southland’s pilot lacks any suspense or tension. I never felt invested in what was going on at any point. I never felt like any of the cops were in any danger, that they would have trouble solving a case, or even have issues with their suspects or witnesses. Even the problems that did arise were inconsequential. All of this was unfortunate since police dramas and mysteries almost always suck me in and keep me on the edge of my seat until the final moment. This had less suspense than an episode of COPS.

Maybe I’m way off about this. Maybe I’m totally wrong. But I expected something much more well-crafted and nuanced in the TNT tradition of The Closer and Leverage. It just felt as if something was missing.

The pilot episode will air commercial-free on January 12, 2010 at 10pm (ET/PT), and will be an extended version of the episode.

Heard of Southland before? Well, it was canceled by NBC and its timeslot taken away last fall by The Jay Leno Show. With all the drama going on over at NBC over the impending cancellation of Leno’s new show and Conan’s potential move to FOX (rumored), it will be interesting to see what happens next at NBC.

In the case of Southland, TNT valiantly stepped in and took the series under its wing and brings it new life on cable.

But was it worth it? I do encourage you to watch the pilot of Southland and if you agree with my critique or think I’m dead wrong, leave a comment and let me know.

3 thoughts on “Southland – Pilot Review”

  1. I believe you have some incorrect information in your article. All seven episodes from Season 1 will air in order in the next 6 weeks with the finale “Derailed” airing on Feb 23. Season 2 will start the following Tuesday, March 2.

    You may have felt that there were too many characters in the pilot, but in the next few episodes, there is a lot less fragmentation. I think Season 2 is also supposed to feature Regina King, Ben McKenzie, and Michael Cudlitz a little more than the first season.

    The characters may seem to be stereotypical, and to some degree they are. But as the season goes along, we learn more and more about them that makes them less stereotypical and more interesting.

    Also, SouthLAnd is not like Leverage or the Closer in that the purpose of the show is not to have a story that gets solved or neatly wrapped up in an hour (which is not realistic), but to look at how being a cop affects their lives, both professionally and personally.

    In other words, the show focuses more on the cops than the crime-solving. There will be stories to follow, but those stories are going to be about the cops themselves – will Cooper run into problems with his addiction; will Lydia be able to find a new partner that she’s happy with, will Ben have any mental repercussion from killing someone?

    So if you have to have a storyline or 2 about a crime that wraps up in an hour each week in order to like a show; SouthLAnd just may not be your cup of tea. To each their own.

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