TV Review: A (Final?) Salute to ‘Southland’

TV Review: (Final?) Salute 'Southland'

TNT hasn’t said definitively whether Wednesday’s season finale would officially be the last episode of “Southland,” but all indications and body language — including the fact several of its stars have signed on to new projects — suggests that it is.

If that was the last hour (and there will be spoilers ahead), there’s no question it leaves a bad aftertaste — so grim and unsettled as to offer virtually nothing in the way of closure.

Still, we come not to bury but to praise this Peabody-award-winning drama, as well as TNT for giving it renewed life after NBC and a little experiment called “The Jay Leno Show” nearly sent the series to the showers long before now.

Given the LAPD’s lengthy love affair with TV — going back to those Jack Webb staples “Dragnet” and “Adam-12” — it seemed impossible to bring much new to the table. Yet this John Wells/Warner Bros. drama has to stand as one of the finest copshows ever produced, as well as a series that captured Los Angeles as a backdrop, in all its rich diversity, as few programs (or for that matter, films) ever have.

Plenty of shows have employed shaky hand-held cameras to convey a sense of realism, or rough language (initially bleeped on NBC, but allowed — mostly — on TNT). But “Southland’s” strength came from its central characters — the stalwarts being Michael Cudlitz, Ben McKenzie, Regina King and Shawn Hatosy, as others came and went.

NBC labeled the show “too dark,” and as Wednesday’s episode drove home with what felt like a vengeance, watching it is often no picnic. At its best, though, “Southland” has mixed the texture of the Joseph Wambaugh adaptation “The New Centurions” (particularly in its initial years, with Cudlitz’s character mentoring McKenzie’s rookie cop) with the mix of gallows humor and drama that characterized “NYPD Blue,” which was perceived as the last word on groundbreaking police dramas when it premiered 20 years ago. (Seriously, where did the time go?)

As for the finale, given the likelihood going in that this was the end, the producers did their audience no favors — driving a rift between two professional partners, setting up the promise of an unexpected relationship, and (worst of all) leaving the show’s centerpiece at best hovering near death.

Some fans will no doubt howl for more, but networks aren’t charitable enterprises, and the ratings this season have been subpar by TNT’s standards. So if there’s a silver lining here, it’s the final “Southland” was emblematic of a series that, creatively speaking, appears to have gone out the way it operated — on its own terms, making no allowances for those who might call it “too dark,” too depressing or too inaccessible to deliver commercially.

In that sense, the show leaves behind one lingering message that has ultimately been its defining theme: Sure, s–t happens, but for the LAPD life goes on, even if we (or in this case, the show) might not be around to see it.

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  1. Brian says:

    This is one of the most realist cop dramas on TV. How could they cancel a series with so much life.

  2. ST says:

    I have seen a lot of my favorite shows slip into history, but I’ve never been motivated to ask the studio or networks to reconsider a cancellation until the first time that Southland was cancelled by NBC. Now, here I am again asking the very same network that showed wisdom in the past, to not make the same mistake that NBC did. Southland is one of the best TV shows ever. And they just pull the curtain in the middle of the third act? I don’t understand. Please, finish what is one of the best TV experiences that’s been put on the air.

  3. Susan Purdy says:

    I fail to see how you could cancel this stunning series. I never missed a show from the beginning…and to leave John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) like that?


  4. I loved your show it really made me think that not only the police arrest criminals but they put their lives in danger just to protect us,and Michael Cudlitz why did you have to get shot in that show you were the best the very best

  5. I loved your show it really made me think that not only the police arrest criminals but they put their lives in danger just to protect us,and Michael Cudlitz why did you have to die in that show you were the best the very best

  6. phik birnbaum says:

    Southland is the best police show since The Wire; how about one more season to wrap up the loose ends?

  7. Frank says:

    I have a feeling the networks don’t yet have a feel for the new world of TV, which is a monster of their own making – “seasons” that run for 8 – 10 weeks and begin at odd times of the year, and the fact that there is much more competition – from other networks AND other outlets.. I think they’re actually driving viewers away from the TV. I find the scheduling so idiotic and inane that I have taken to watching shows on my laptop. I may watch an episode over several days or all at once. Whichever, I certainly don’t pay attention to the monotonous commercials. That ship has sailed. The networks need to figure out their model before they start passing dubious judgement on what is quality and what isn’t.

  8. chuckiechan says:

    I’m sorry to see it go. The ghetto scenes are “reenacted reality”. LA is that way. Most ghetto dwellers are trying to get by, raise their kids, and get out.

    It think it was cancelled because it shows too much of where California and eventually the nation are going if we don’t get a grip on drugs in one form or another.

  9. Barbara says:

    Southland is canceled and reality TV lives on. Shows the mentality of this world. If you have to use your brain to follow a story line, the show gets canceled.

  10. paula conant says:

    oh please they CANT cancel it! especially with an ending like that! bring back john cooper!!!

  11. Elaine says:

    I need Southland-therapy and that’s just because of the last two episodes. It’s the only cop show that my cop friends watch because it is so well done. Hope we get to see where these wonderful characters go.

  12. Sandee says:

    Save Southland! Everyone please write to TNT.

  13. Corie says:

    Save Southland!! Great show..unpredictable storyline, great acting!

  14. shaleena says:

    I was just saying last week how good southland has gotten so good and now it might get canceled! ? Please don’t do that. Give it another season. Its so good!

  15. Elizabeth Kiss-Bahrey says:

    I have watched this show since Day 1 & was thrilled when TNT picked it up. Southland was by far my favorite tv show since Gilligans Isalnd in the early 70’s. I am so bummed out, I was in aww Wed. night trying to figure out WTH just happened

  16. M Woolfall says:

    I have followed this show since day one but TNT butchered the season finale this past week (4/17/13) with 5 minute commercial breaks every 6-7 minutes. A disaster in my mind of stretching 30 minutes at most into an hour.

  17. One of the best shows on tv ever. Writing, acting, directing, have all been excellent. I have chased this show all around the tv set, never knowing where it would end up next. Now I can see it via Netflix all I want. Too dark? Life is no fairy tale. I will miss this show, but will continue to watch it in reruns. Thanks be, we still have Homeland, The Americans and The Good Wife as that is about all of excellence on tv.

  18. Derrick says:

    Too dark? Uh, whatever! Southland is one of the best programs on television, excluding dramas on HBO or Showtime. Gritty, real life scenarios always make for better dramas.

  19. Frank Caruso says:

    TNT has shows not as gritty as AMC or FX and maybe the producers would like to shift to them. Don’t they say the third time is a charm! This show has the feel of a reality show with real drama. A technique very hard to accomplish in today’s world.

  20. Sharon says:

    PLEASE RENEW. This is a quality show with great characters. I was disappointed that TNT didn’t promote it more this season. So much was left unresolved. Please bring closure to these characters.

  21. Willy says:

    If NBC thought that this show was too dark, I wonder how they would view The Following? To me, Southland is the best show on TV with the best acting and it was “real”. With all the crap on TV, too bad Southland will be cancelled.

  22. Solan says:

    Thanks Brian. Well written & spot on.

  23. Bill says:

    Southland has great acting, good writing and an authenticity. So of course, it’s probably going to get canceled. Although, I do agree that it has taken even a darker turn this season. For example, what happened to Cooper over the last couple of episodes was hard to watch. He’s kidnapped, beaten, witnesses his partner being brutally murdered, has his heart broken by his wife when she tells him she no longer wants to have a baby…with him and then to top it all off, there was the final scene where gets shot twice – probably fatally – by another cop because he wouldn’t drop the gun in his hand. More than likely, he wanted to be killed.

    Southland is definitely not the kind of show that helps you to have a positive outlook on life. So while a part of me would be sad to see this excellent series depart TV Land, I would try to find something a little less depressing to watch (not The Americans – that show makes Southland look like Marry Poppins) in its place.

  24. Great review of the series. I agree it’s the best, most gritty, best acted/written, cop show around for the last five years or more. Hate to see this as the last as Id like closure on some things (spoilers avoided here). But then again it leaves us free to wonder where they would have gone. At least TNT gave us a bit more than the first network.

  25. Rich says:

    I totally agree. This program was, as far as I’m concerned, the best cop show since NYPD Blue.
    I hope it isn’t cancelled but, given TV’s history with good programs, I have serious doubts.

  26. Patti says:

    I love this SouthLAnd. I don’t want to see it go…especially after last night’s season finale. First let me say that this season, IMHO, didn’t truly get going until after the midway mark. The acting has ALWAYS been there but I believe the writing and editing was wanting in the early part of the season big time. I agree that Sammy’s “finale” was indeed “closure” and just let me say that I loved the fact that he told Ben to take a hike. Well, what else would he do? LOL But the whole thing with Cooper just left a very bad taste in my mouth…I’m still trying to figure out exactly why. Is it as simple as he just completely lost it and everything rose to the surface for him? Hold on to the gun this time and he knows he’s going to get shot by the responding officers? Ugh. Bottom line is major kudos to the awesome cast of this show. The crew gets kudos as well…and thanks to the writers for coming around, LOL. Actors gotta pay their bills as well, so despite what Regina King and “Ben Sherman” are doing with pilots…I’ll continue to hope TNT realizes one more season could work.

  27. TheBuick says:

    Excellent article! If Southland is canceled, I will miss it terribly. Dark, well, life isn’t all bright lights, bells, fairies and humorous is it?? This is an awesome show with “Outstanding” acting. These folks can walk away with their heads held high knowing it was a job “well done”!

  28. Chad Morton says:

    Well said. Great show. If this is the end, it will be missed.

  29. blanca says:

    “…grim and unsettled as to offer virtually nothing in the way of closure.” I disagree. At the end, we see Shawn Hatosy’s character finally have custody of his son while ending a very dysfunctional partnership. In his final speech to his son he seemed quite at peace. We see Lydia is pleased with a job well done and possibly embarking on a romantic relationship with her ex-partner. Ruben is last seen being recognized for his efforts in capturing the man who abducted Cooper and Lucero. Cooper is hovering on a precipice. His outcome is left to our imaginations. If he dies, well, there is no closure more final than that. If not, perhaps he thinks on what his TO said to him about making a deal with God about getting better. Who knows? But whatever it is, the ending isn’t all gloom and doom. In fact, it’s quite hopeful.

    • Jason C. says:

      I totally agree. I watched the epsiode as though it was the series finale, especially after reading that Regina King and Ben McKenzie were signed on to other projects. I think Sammie talking to his son definitely added to the closure aspect. He basically comes to the realization that he can’t help everyone, and he really doesn’t have to; he just needs to survive the job. He values his responsibility to his son more than the job at that point. Lydia starting a relationship with her old partner has been coming for a while, no real shocker there, but does lend to closure on Lydia’s story arc. And as for Cooper, while heart breaking and tragic, it did provide closure and finally some peace for that character. All season Cooper struggled, both privately and professionally. He was possibly looking to walk away from the force, even prior to the kidnapping and death of Lucero. He blamed himself for his partners death, he was coddled at work and pitied, he was questioned by his old training partner and friend for giving up his weapon, and was ultimately rejected by his ex-wife. He had nothing else to live for at that point, so suicide by cop seemed like a fitting end for this lost soul. All that being said, I still welcome a 6th and final season.

      • Nancy says:

        [H]OUSE did the same thing in it’s finale. It left everything up to your imagination. I think if SOUTHLAND is canceled, fans can imagine what happens next. Coop lives or dies, etc. You might like that better than what the writer would write for a finale. I know I liked the way [H]OUSE ended.

  30. kyle7 says:

    I think that the characters and show had a lot of promise, but the wheels starting coming off after the network switch and it’s been hard to justify anything as authentic the last 2 years. I know that I was disappointed by what was done, or more accurately, not done with the set 10 episodes. The story choices seemed to be poor given what they had to work with. Plenty was just uninteresting when some outstanding actors could have delivered with really powerful material.

    I think it’s time to call it a day, so I hope this is it and it goes out before it would have to become something completely unbelievable just to continue.

  31. Alex Scott says:

    I thinks this is the best show on TV, by far the most realistic cops show I’ve seen. The acting is superb. I think it will be a crime to cancel it.

    • Evie says:

      I absolutely agree. The most realistic, and totally believable, interpretation of what life in the LAPD would be. Great story telling in every sense, portrayed by fabulous actors. Dark? What the hell do people think goes on in that life. What are they going to replace it with, more reality crap no doubt. As with most television shows, I am afraid it is all downhill from here on. Shame, real shame.

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