“Southland” is back, and happily, unconstrained by recent headlines showing a marked decline in homicides in the Southern California area.
There’s always room for another first-rate copshow, and the one that NBC discarded — back when the network was heading into its “The Jay Leno Show” experiment, when 10 p.m. dramas were considered so 2008 — is just that. There are some new characters this season, but the first two episodes remain crisp, efficient and entertaining, featuring a welcome mix of humor and drama, as well as the show’s modest device of beginning with a scene near the end, then flashing back to the hours preceding it.
The heart of the show remains the team of L.A. cops played by Michael Cudlitz and Ben McKenzie, which I’ve previously compared to “The New Centurions,” the Joseph Wambaugh adaptation that featured George C. Scott as a gnarled veteran teaching the ropes to a young Stacy Keach. This season, Cudlitz’s character continues to wrestle with back pain and a pill addiction, while McKenzie’s rookie is becoming more assured — and finding new extracurricular activities, including what amounts to an LAPD groupie.
Throughout, there’s a simple thread to the show — namely, that the nature of the job requires cops suffer and sacrifice, and the best of them can’t shed their humanity despite seeing things that will invariably test it.
Produced by John Wells, “Southland” might not have ever been a major hit for NBC (indeed, the numbers were borderline by TNT’s standards), but given its quality, cutting this series loose after just six episodes reflects some of the collateral damage of the Leno experiment. And with “Men of a Certain Age” currently playing as well, the Turner network — known mostly for meat-and-potatoes dramas — has clearly classed up its game.