Count me among the many critics who will cite Southland as one of the best shows on television and the best cop drama since The Wire. I’ve just finished watching the first two episodes of the third season, premiering tonight on TNT, and all I can say is, “Wow.” Seriously, it does not get any better than Southland. It. Does. Not.
NBC really blew it when they let this one go and kudos to TNT, which has established itself as a legitimate rival to the big four, for snatching the show up last winter and renewing it for a third season despite its struggle in the ratings. Time and again Southland grips your heart and then delivers a knockout blow that has you catching your breath by the hour’s end.
Season three picks up with the same storytelling rhythm that it had in its previous two. We follow the LAPD as they investigate street crimes and try to make the city a safer place to live. The principal actors include Regina King as Detective Lydia Adams, a homicide detective who is settling into having a new partner this year. That partner is the outspoken and tough Detective Ochoa (Jenny Gago). I can’t speak highly enough about King’s performance throughout the series. I wish the Emmy committees would get their heads out of their asses and recognize the quality work that King has done.
Ben McKenzie continues to grow as an actor as Officer Ben Sherman. The young patrolman remains a good cop, loyal to the blue, but he struggles with his loyalty to his partner, Officer John Cooper. The excellent Michael Cudlitz plays Cooper, a veteran patrolman hiding an addiction to pain killers, as well as a debilitating back condition that would surely place him behind a desk for the rest of his career if his superiors ever found out. Cudlitz and McKenzie have developed a strong partnership and watching them together is a thrill.
Shawn Hatosy (last seen on Dexter) continues to excel as Detective Sammy Bryant, part of the LAPD’s gang task force. As the season commences, Sammy receives two life changing surprises from his flaky wife, Tammi (Emily Bergl). Sammy is partnered up with Nate Moretta, portrayed by Kevin Alejandro. The two actors take center stage in the second episode, which involves a series of gang shootings that have the entire force working overtime to find the gunmen.
Other standouts from this stellar cast include Michael McGrady as the head of the gang division, and C. Thomas Howell in the recurring role of a recovering alcoholic returning to the force after four months of rehab.
What I’ve loved from day one about Southland is its commitment to characters and keeping the storytelling focused on one or two characters. In large ensemble shows there is a tendency to try and feature each actor at some point in an episode. However Southland has always consisted of using two or three characters at a time, just enough to accommodate each week’s storyline. Thus, you may not see McKenzie or Hatosy some weeks, should their characters not be involved with the case being worked. Series creator Ann Biderman and executive producers John Wells and Christopher Chulack have stuck to their guns in the unconventional manner in which they have run this series. Bravo!
I don’t know what the rest of the season holds for the characters on Southland, but I can’t wait to find out. If you are a TV cop junkie and you haven’t checked out this extraordinary series, yet, I ask, “What are you waiting for?” If you’ve been a fan and you anxiously await tonight’s season three premieer, I say, “You will not be disappointed.”