You don’t remember what I was talking about last week. I’ll just move on to — what? You say you do remember? Oh. Crap.
The crux of last week’s column was my belief that there’s no solid reason to be hard on Jay Leno, no matter how bad his show might be, because NBC wouldn’t do anything innovative with the timeslot anyhow. They’d probably fill the space with more dramas about lawyers, cops and doctors. This statement was mildly controversial, spurring a light flurry of responses along the lines of, “If it’s good television, it wouldn’t matter if it is about lawyers, cops and doctors,” and on this I will agree to disagree. With all the stories television can tell, I’m still perplexed by viewers’ seemingly insatiable desire to revolve around these three occupations. This, however, was not the problem with what I wrote.
No, that would be what I said regarding the canceled series Southland. We’ll get into the whys and wherefores in a moment, but the responses (which came fast, furious and often) tended to fit into three categories:
1. “You’re stupid & dumb & stupid.” – If you’ve posted a public column and haven’t been called this at least once, check if your PC or Mac is powered up, because you certainly haven’t been writing on the Internet. Calling someone an idiot on this thing is as common as muck.
2. “You’re a liar.” – When I approach this column and write, I base it on information I have gathered, period. Fabrication serves absolutely no purpose. When I say I’ve received information, you can be sure I’m telling the truth. In the final analysis, though, my defensive pose is fatally compromised. Sure, I’m saying with my heart on my sleeve that I’m giving you the truth as I’ve heard and seen it, but that’s all blah-blah and rubbish when faced with…
3. “You’re ignorant.” – Ouch. So what if I said that the word-of-mouth-meisters were selling Southland on the premise that one of the policeman characters was or might be gay? So what if I’m blindly rehashing what I was myself given by other sources? The cold, blunt truth of it is that I never saw an episode (and said so in the first article, a point I’ve made several times but, in actuality, excuses nothing) and so I never took the time to back anything up. I took the crosstalk and the salespitch and never bothered to see for myself. I don’t need to have a ten-pound Webster’s Dictionary land on my foot to know that’s the definition of ignorance: not finding out for one’s self. I repeat: ouch.
At the very least, that scars my credibility. At the very worst, it’s a display of disrespect to the Popdose readership because, in this day and age of television on the Internet, on iTunes and on your neighbor’s TiVo, I was lazy. I can plead my case ’til the cows come home, but no matter how I arrived at my flawed synopsis, it would have been easily rectified had I just done the homework. This is a mistake that won’t happen again, especially because getting a huge number of responses is only cool when the respondents aren’t calling you a dumb, stupid, ignorant liar.
There is still a problem, though. All the contrition in the world isn’t going to change the fact that if I came to this flawed conclusion about the show, others did too. This was reflected in the more thoughtful responses to last week’s column. There are, I’m sure, other people out there running on assumptions about Southland and its marketing, only they don’t have a soapbox. So I asked people to write in. There were some conditions, though. The first condition: I requested two paragraphs, both concise and persuasive, about the merits of this TV show. Not to sell me on Southland; these folks already pegged me as an ignorant bonehead anyway. No, aim at all the ignorant boneheads, including me, and let us know exactly why you’re charged up about this program.
The second condition was, I believe, more important than the first. You have to use your real name, not some screen name, alias or nom de plume. I didn’t want contact information, this ain’t about setting people up for junk mail or spam, but really if you’re passionate enough to write out the check, sign it. A few people came forward. A lot didn’t. Some refused to step out from behind their anonymity. Their reasons are their own, but if, God forbid, an NBC executive read this piece, anonymous comments would have all the gravitas of the latest LOL Cats postings. There’s a time for being KingSexyPants84 and a time to not be. My name is Dw. Dunphy, and I have no sexy pants myself.
To my word, the space was arranged for these responses with the assurance that they wouldn’t be edited. I started the clock, waiting for the RSVPs to come in; slowly, they arrived. For awhile I had to wonder where this was headed, especially when Sunday dawned with news that NBC had severed all ties with the program, allowing it to be optioned out to cable TV (probably the TNT network). It will have a shot on cable; I still believe that this is where the commitment and attention span for such shows now resides. My assumption is that, in spite of all the mishegoss, the network itself viewed it solely as another cop show. An assumption, but if they truly thought that had anything else, they might have tried to find another place for it, instead of setting it adrift. It is what it is.
So listen up, TNT, or any other network interested in Southland — the following participants would appreciate your attention. The desire to see the show return is there, and the numbers indicate an audience your advertising partners could get along with. They’ve submitted to my spare conditions, and I’ll take whatever insults they want to want to direct at me in my own column. I cede the floor to the fans of Southland.
Lori Parsons: I can’t say I have anything compelling to say about the show, really. I’m not one of those who sees a show and immediately gets all, “Oh my God, this is the best show ever!”. The first season had its flaws. They tried to branch out to too many characters way too soon but they seemed to get that and had retooled the show over the hiatus and was going to come back with a narrower focus, which I was very much looking forward to. Regina King’s “Lydia”, Michael Cudlitz’s “Cooper” and Ben McKenzie’s “Sherman” were the characters that immediately drew me in. I liked the partnership of “Sammy” and “Nate” (Shawn Hatosy and Kevin Alejandro, respectively), and “Chickie” (Arija Bareikis) as well. Some of the other characters I could have done without. Tom Everett Scott for one. I like the actor but just didn’t care for, or about, the character.
Alright, so this isn’t sounding much like a defense but let’s just say it had promise and I was more than willing to see the show get into its stride and figure out what worked and what didn’t. I’ve always liked cop shows but not all catch my attention. I’m not that into the procedurals, of which there are many these days, which is probably partly why this one caught my attention. It was getting back to a realism that I feel is missing in other shows, the beat cops and what they encounter, the personal struggles. Nothing they were dealing with seemed to overly dramatic. Even the rich kid donning a uniform, as cliché as that could be, didn’t seem too over the top. No, not anything original but sometimes it’s just the right mix of actors, writers, and cinematography. The look, the feel….it just hit the right note for me, overreaching scope notwithstanding.
Sure, it’s another cop show among many in a long line of cop shows but such are commonly successful and are so for a reason. People like to see the good guys going out and catching bad guys and everything in between. They like to see people in such occupations dealing with the same personal problems as “we” are. People like to see that these “good guys” are not without flaws. It may be a tired concept on the surface but as long as they keep them human and there are new people give it a try, there’s always a chance that it will strike a fresh feel, depending on what else is scattered across the landscape. Other “cop shows” I watch/have watched: Adam 12, Starsky and Hutch, Streets of San Francisco, 21 Jump Street (Johnny Depp. Need I say more?). I loved NYPD Blue, and currently watch The Closer, The Mentalist (ok, this one’s mainly for Simon Baker… I’m still not above watching a show just for eye candy,) just caught White Collar and liked it a lot. No rhyme or reason to what keeps my interest really, just some shows “have it” for me and some don’t, for different reasons. Sometimes I’m in the mood for lighter fare and sometimes I want something more realistic. Southland falls into the latter.
Maryellen Weinberg: Why is Southland different from other cop shows and why should you watch: because Southland is not just a cookie cutter of what’s already on. For starters, it’s filmed on the streets of Los Angeles, not in a studio. That brings a realism that often isn’t seen on other shows. For instance, any cops that they show in the background are real police officers, not just ‘extras’. They had a retired LAPD officer who was also an ex-SWAT member as an adviser on-set for filming. It’s as close to real as you can get without watching Cops.
The stories aren’t predictable. Unlike other police shows where you can often guess who the killer or perp is by the first commercial break, that’s not the case on Southland. It keeps you hanging until the end. They have some cases that are wrapped up by the end of episode and others that continue from one episode to another, which is also unique. But the thing is, because of how real the show feels, you want to know what’s happening with the characters when they’re off-duty as well and how it affects their on-duty work, and you get some of that as well. You learn they’re people with flaws and baggage just like the rest of us.
Give Southland a chance when it comes back on (and it will!) I think you’ll be glad you did.
Barbara Riecker: First and foremost, it has a pedigree to die for, from the creator, to the writers, directors and an ensemble cast that knows how to take direction and delivers. Each episode is fairly self-contained. Locations are real, giving each scene credibility. It is L.A. specific, and totally shows us the underbelly of the city, regardless of the socio-economics of the victims and perps being portrayed.
As to the show’s premise, it promised not to be a procedural and it isn’t. It promised to go into the personal lives of the officers and detectives and it did. It may have spread itself too thin in Season One, but it’s understandable given they only had seven episodes in which to lay their whole foundation. It also promised to focus on fewer story lines in Season Two, and to maintain its gritty nature. We were deprived of seeing this for ourselves by NBC, who got the show it commissioned, but couldn’t keep their own promises to Wells et. al.
Michelle Stolowicki: Why are the Southland fans enraged over the show being canceled since there are so many cop shows available? It’s because Southland is not just another cop show. Truth be said, I was initially so turned off by the way NBC promoted Southland that I did not watch the premiere. I caught the end of the second episode and was surprisingly delighted which left me eager for more. Southland has this air of realism to it and at times the viewer feels like he/she is watching a fictionalized version of the show Cops.
The producers achieved this realism by filming the majority of the show on the streets of LA with some shots captured by hand-held cameras, using actual cops and gang members where applicable, having a twenty-six year veteran of the LAPD as a technical adviser, and using real street language which included foul language. In addition, the actors underwent “cop” training by going to a shooting range, participating in ride-alongs with real LAPD cops, and driving training. Combine this with excellent writing, awesome actors, and a great crew, the viewer gets a real glimpse into the lives of the LAPD. Nothing is sugar-coated, the viewer sees all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Southland isn’t just another cop show, it is the cop show to watch.
My thanks to Lori, Maryellen, Barbara and Michelle for participating in this.
And now, a tangent: For a moment, I think it’s a good idea to reflect on what’s coming down the pike. The battle rages on about net neutrality, which is basically a way of maintaining the open channels of the Internet as we know it, maintaining it as a space for creative minds and technologies to keep expanding what’s there — but it’s only a matter of time before some kind of radical alteration happens. Several telecom companies would rather that open field not be there, in order to make sure toll gates are created on the Internet, to make sure companies and providers get paid first and any big ideas go through a gateway (in loose translation, own the Google minds so they don’t become the Google competition.) From there, it’s a slow trickle-down, from the creators to the users, the goal being locking down the technology and locking in the user, and that means positively identifying said user. Think about it. The Internet is probably the only venue left that legally allows anonymity and alternate identities. It’s, for best or worst, a golden age of communication, but one that has not truly been monetized yet — not on its face, anyway. It won’t change because of fair or unfair use, or of some high school Twitter junta that goes after a classmate with virtual impunity. It won’t be because someone commits a crime but leaves no digital DNA behind. It will just be because companies market to people, not aliases, and the more these companies can identify them, the greater the chances of selling to them. Remember driver’s licenses before photographs and barcodes?
In short, the faceless sea of Internet communication can’t survive forever because it goes against some of the most cherished tenets of capitalism, and in this cash-strapped age, the prospect of licensing for individual ‘Net users, like the licensing of individual car drivers, becomes both tantalizing and not out of the realm of possibility. You’ll be told it’s for the societal good, or more likely for your own good, but it isn’t, really. It’s just a way of making sure you’re paying in. This is also why it means something to attach your actual name to your sentiments. Like I said earlier, if you’re passionate enough to write out that check, sign it, especially now when it’s your free choice to rise above the masked subset. It’s not in the interests of Corporate America for you to have that option forever, and while that sounds awfully paranoid, it’s also feasible.
Preach, preach, blah-blah. What have I learned from all this? If I’m going to exercise my free choice to rise above that “faceless subset,” I better make sure I have my stuff solidly backed up, checked and double-checked and footnoted if necessary. If column A does not match column B, something has to give. Something has to go. My goodness, my task was merely to sit on the couch and watch the show. Surely a couple jugs of coffee and a bag of chips could have gotten me a passing grade. And when I attach my name to my work, I want it to entertain, to attempt to inform, to give the reader something to think about — whether it’s a serious topic or a trivial one. Mostly, I want to be proud to have my name down there like a badge, and because I opted to tread the easy course, rather than making sure my facts were dead solid perfect, I can’t say I’m all that proud of last week’s entry. There was never any malice meant, but what you feel and what you know can be very, very different. Double check, triple check, know it for certain. This was a particularly hot fire I needed to pass through, if only to burn off the dross so that what emerges on the other side is better for it. And do you know why that matters?
Because my name is Dw. Dunphy. I will be here next week. (Get a nosh of that veal, it’s to die for.)