Southland [NBC, Thursday, 10/9C] introduces an excellent ensemble cast in a series about the cops who have to deal with the chaos that is the L.A. district, Southland. The premiere, Unknown Trouble, follows several arcs, but more weight is given to rookie officer/rich kid Ben Sherman [Ben McKenzie] and his veteran partner, John Cooper [Michael Cudlitz], whom you’ll recognize, though this might be the first time you’ve had a chance to put the face and name together] – who starts their day by telling Sherman that if he does things the way he was taught at the academy, he’ll be toast.
Over the course of a rough day, Unknown Trouble follows the disappearance of a ten-year old girl, investigated by detectives Lydia Adams [Regina King] and Russell Clarke [Tom Everett Scott]; the drive-by shooting of an unaffiliated black boy, investigated by gang detectives Nate Moretta [Kevin Alejandro] and Sammy Bryant [Shawn Hatosy], and the titular unknown trouble, which draws Sherman and Cooper – who have already had to deal with a DB [you’ll know when you see it]. Also factoring into the events of the day include Detective Daniel “Sal” Salinger, who oversees the gang detectives, and officer Chickie Brown [Arija Bareikis], who wants to be the first woman accepted into SWAT.
Like NYPD Blue, Southland features explicit violence and a lot of bleeped language. It also deals in what can be presumed to be a more authentic take on the lives of the officers and detectives whom it follows. Unlike NYPD Blue, Southland doesn’t hit you over the head with long, jittery handheld shots – though there doesn’t seem to be an overload of steadicam work, either. Unknown Trouble also seems to be setting up a look for the series – there’s a yellowish tint to everything that implies heat, smog and age.
Also unlike NYPD Blue, Southland doesn’t just look at the lives of the police and their families; it also takes us into the lives of the criminals and victims and their families. It’s an ambitious effort and the premiere goes a long way to establishing the breadth of its scope. There may be some question of the balance between all the various arcs, but given that the series is just getting started, there’s time to figure that out. As long as the characters remain intriguing, it should be interesting to see how things pan out.
Final Grade: B