Southland: Pilot Episode (Biderman, Wells, 2009)

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I don’t write about television very much on this site, probably because specific programs need years to develop a voice, and in turn are far more difficult to consider in short format. But sometimes a show immediately grabs you with its distinct vision of the world, characters, and tone (Sports NightBoomtown, and The Wire come to mind). Having just watched NBC’s outstanding pilot Southland, I can affirm that this is one such case (see it for yourself here). Procedurals often offer the most potent and sane approach to the unthinkable horrors of everyday life, and Southland tries to examine the difficult complexities of urban existence through a juxtaposition of devastating moments of senseless violence and the professionals and civilians caught in the middle. The show considers a mosaic of peace officers – a stoic rookie (Ben McKenzie), worn beat cops (Michael Cudlitz), and detectives of all sorts (Regina King being the stand out), thankfully favoring them as a collective, individuals staring the same social contradictions in the face, yet choosing to go on with the job. These characters matter from the start and their decisions make an impact on everyone around them, letting the dramatic moments ring true. This is possible because the writing paints these people as conflicted, not indicative of simplistic cliche. Like all good pilots, the first episode opens countless inroads to intriguing story-lines, while reveling in the fascinating ambiguities surrounding each main character. With a show like Southland, it’s all about the atmosphere, and it creates a powerful menace that seems to linger around each corner. With Southland, for an hour each week, we might get a sense of what it’s like to be a police officer, putting yourself out there in an ocean of uncertainty because you have no other choice.  But it’ll be the varying layers underneath the genre facade that will make this show particularly viable and valuable.

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