‘Southland’ Flips the Bird to USC (er, SULA)

The latest episode of TNT’s “Southland” issued a fairly bracing indictment of USC, with a plot about a pampered and protected football star suspected in the murder of a student.

Although the school was called SULA, it was clearly meant to be USC. Hell, DirecTV even referred to the victim as “a USC student” in its onscreen description.

Beyond the image of a university odiously building a cocoon around one of its star athletes, the episode featured some barbed dialogue from the detective played by Regina King about the rich private school, “this beautiful campus in the middle of the ghetto.” As a resident driving by, she said, it “might as well have been Buckingham Palace: You can look but you can’t go in.”

Given that USC is under investigation for possible NCAA rules violations surrounding its football program, one could easily dismiss the hour as a “Law & Order”-style “ripped from the headlines with a twist” affair and not such a big deal. But given the school’s significant alumni presence in Hollywood and active outreach, about all you can say is, “Ouch.”

Beyond that, it was another terrific episode, with more strong work from Ben McKenzie and Michael Cudlitz. “Southland” has also succeeded in making Los Angeles — in all its ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic variety — a major character in the show.

So well done. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a UCLA grad.

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