It’s not a flashy show; there are no Boyd Crowders or other memorable villains; and it doesn’t inspire next-morning GIFs, but TNT’s “Southland” has quietly become the best show on TV you’re not watching. Granted, the show reaches 3 million viewers a week — which is more than “Mad Men” and, in fact, even with its more publicized time slot competitors, “Justified” and “White Collar” — but the show’s audience is quiet, like another phenomenal (and now cancelled) TNT show, “Men of a Certain Age.” The show is not widely discussed on the Internet, and there are no running storyline to absorb the attention of critics, but anyone who watches “Southland” swears by it. I don’t think there’s anyone who has given the show an honest shot who doesn’t love.
“Southland” is nothing short of phenomenal. I don’t know what it’s actually like to work as a Los Angeles police officer, but I suspect that “Southland” captures that reality better than any other cop show on television. It’s a slice-of-life, a semi-documentary style glimpse into the day-to-day activities that focuses on the daily grind of several members of the force and the frustrating problems with fighting crime in L.A. It’s not a matter of wiping out crime; it’s a matter of whacking moles, keeping it in check, building relationships, and then suffering the heartbreak.
What it does best — mostly through Regina King’s plotlines — is to humanize not the victims of crimes, but the perpetrators. Murderers are given sympathetic motivations, and the detectives are often asked to uphold the law against their better wishes. Regina King is also the most under-appreciated actress on television. Lucy Liu is also absolutely brilliant this season, in what has to be the meatiest role of her career (Kill Bill, notwithstanding). That, for me, is the biggest downside of CBS’s Sherlock Holmes pilot — it likely means Liu will not be back. The show has also followed Ben McKenzie’s Officer Sherman from naive and earnest rookie cop to a more experienced officer contending with ethical shades of gray. The show’s stand-out, however, may be Michael Cudlitz, an actor who has been around for 20 years that no one really knows. His character, however, is like nothing else on television: A gay cop who’s sexuality is not an issue. The way they’ve handled it over the course of four seasons is nothing short of spectacular.
In short: “Southland” will almost certainly be renewed, according to Variety>. If you’re not watching it, find it. It’s not on Netflix (which may be one of the reasons it’s not as talked about as it should be), but you can download entire seasons for less than $10 on Amazon.