The Morning Round-Up: ‘The River’ & ‘Southland’

It’s morning round-up time, with brief thoughts on last night’s “The River” and “Southland” coming up just as soon as I get the cops to shut my bar mitzvah down…

“Peaches” was the last of the 5 episodes of “The River” ABC sent me in advance of the premiere, and I would call it the best of the non-pilot episodes, if not the best episode period. It helped that the focus shifted away from all the Cole family drama and re-oriented itself into a show where Lily Lena was temporarily the main character and the search for her dad was paramount. I don’t know that Lena’s a richer character than Lincoln, but Eloise Mumford is giving a much, much better performance than Joe Anderson, and she did a great job of playing the wave of emotions that washed over her as she found her dad, then lost him forever in rapid succession.

Also helpful: 1)We actually got a scene where Jahel had a normal conversation about everyday life, instead of just serving as an exposition device who knows every local superstition despite not being native to this part of the world; and 2)Somebody actually died this week, even if it wasn’t a regular and even if Russ had technically already died before the episode began. I’m not saying the show has to kill a crewmember every single episode, but for the danger of the jungle to feel real, there have to be consequences every now and again, and last week we actually got a character who returned from the dead (in somewhat confusing fashion). The ratings haven’t been good, but there are only a few episodes to go before “Dancing with the Stars” returns, so I expect ABC to stick it out and then not renew the show. It never seemed like something conducive to a long lifespan, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen so far and will ride this to the end.

And continuing with the idea of a show where I’d rather someone be the lead who isn’t, “Southland” doesn’t technically have a lead, but the longer this season has gone on, the more I’ve come to view it as The Cooper & Tang Show. There’s been some good stuff involving Sammy and Ben, and I like Regina King (even as I’m tired of every single one of Lydia’s cases being a teaching moment about her impending motherhood), but the chemistry between Michael Cudlitz and Lucy Liu, and the way these two battle-scarred veterans work together and get through day after bizarre/depressing/horrifying day elevates those scenes to an entirely different level from the rest of the series. (And, frankly, from the old Cooper/Sherman partnership, which I enjoyed a lot but felt more repetitive than this has been.) They were terrific last week dealing with the camera crew and trying not to do anything stupid, and I thought Tang’s rapidly-escalating Worst Day Ever – and then Cooper’s horrified, drug-craving reaction(*) to whatever it was she was doing with the toy gun – played out perfectly, and was a much better example of how to let the personal storylines inform the policework than the more sledgehammer-y parallels Lydia deals with every week (and that Sammy and Ben dealt with last night with the two taco truck guys).

(*) D’Angelo Barksdale! Always good to see Larry Gilliard Jr., here playing Cooper’s sponsor (in a scene that tried to fake us out into thinking he was a dealer Cooper was trying to buy from), though I guess I missed the memo on when he started billing himself as Lawrence. 

What did everybody else think?