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Television Collision: Will TNT Go South on Southland Too?

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer


ImageI have written about this show before, but I am not ashamed to do it again, because some shows simply deserve more attention than others. Good shows in particular. And Southland is a good show. Or should I say it used to be a good show and became a great one. I could only come to this conclusion, because TNT decided to pick up NBC’s mess and let us see the last six episodes of Southland, for which I am very grateful. Even though yet again the future of the show looks bleak.

Let me quote from my original piece about Southland:

“For one moment let’s remember here the kind of show Southland was. A cop show, kinda dark, kinda murky, kinda gritty, but not cable TV dark, murky and gritty. It didn’t bite off anything it couldn’t chew and treaded familiar ground somewhere between The Shield and NYPD Blue. Southland was a character driven show and the characters were just starting to become interesting, when Season 1 ended. How you can even call six episodes a “season” is beyond me anyway. That’s ridiculous even by Summer TV standards, but apparently that is the term people are going with for this mini-series-like stunt. 

Southland had a great ensemble cast, with established talent (Michael Cudlitz, the guy you have seen but can never name) and new talent trying to find their voice (Ben McKenzie of The O.C. fame). It was a show that needed to grow into itself, to settle in and then break out. Much like a teenager growing into an adult, sometimes the show tried too hard to be cool and came off silly, but when the writers stopped trying to impress, they pulled off some great dialog and lingering moments.”

 

This was my assessment after having seen the first four of the thirteen episodes produced to date. By episode seven (which was the last one airing on NBC), the show had proven me wrong. It was a lot darker and grittier than I gave it credit for, boldly having one of the central characters shot for no reason and showing crime scenes so upsetting – not because of guts and blood, but because of the blunt numbness and unglorified realism of them – that I actually now understand why NBC didn’t want to put Southland on at 9 p.m. But they should have found room for it anyway, because it’s better than all other cop shows on the air these days.

ImageWhat used to bother me about Southland – the abundance of (semi-) regular characters that pop up in unpredictable patterns, the jumping around between street cops and detectives, the sometimes painfully unhip “cop talk” – mostly developed into what makes the show great. Southland portrays the L.A. police force as a whole, so of course we have to see the street cop dealing with the arguing couple or a traffic violation and the detectives trying to solve a murder and the undercover narcotics squad hiding out in a car on surveillance. We even have to see the Captain pushing around paper on his desk and then, when the “policing passion” grips him again, budding his nose into investigations where it doesn’t belong and only screwing things up. We only ever get glimpses into these characters’ lives, but piece by piece we puzzle it together and we never stop getting to know them. This makes a show interesting, writers take note.
(Incidentally, one small puzzle piece can also spontaneously make you like a character you have previously hated or were bored with, such as happened with Sammy in Episode 5 of “Season 2”, i.e. Episode 12.)

I also quite like the production design, the sound design, the camera work and the editing. Sure, every cop show needs some chase scenes (on foot and in cars), but it helps tremendously to avoid the cliché of such a chase if there isn’t some fast-paced, pseudo-climactic music in the background. No chase scene could be more suspenseful than one where all you hear are the rapid footsteps of the cop and the bad guy running, their strained breathing and nothing else. And it turns out the chase scene is even more engaging when you don’t have your camera on a dolly track, but when your camera man actually has to run after the cop and the bad guy. Sure, those of us who puked after ten minutes of Cloverfield may not be a fan of this method, but practice makes perfect. We got used to the rapid cuts of music television, we’ll get used to a shaky camera as well and soon a static picture will just spell boring to us.

Southland always cuts away at exactly the right moment as well. Who needs to actually see and hear a car drive away after all the passengers have gotten in? No one, that’s right. We get it, they sit, they close the doors, they buckle up and before the motor has even stopped hauling from being started, Southland has cut away to a different scene, no time wasted. I like how the editing of the show thus saves me from having to see things I have seen way too many times. I am sure if I strung all of the sequences of cars driving away I have seen together, I would arrive at roughly 73 ½ hours of my life that were wasted by careless TV and movie makers who didn’t consider the “does this tell the viewer anything new” angle of storytelling.
 
ImageWhat makes Southland a less sterile show than what we are used to – even from other crime shows such as CSI, Bones, SVU or Castle – is the fact that it is almost exclusively shot on location and not on some sound stage in a building without windows under artificial lighting. Unfortunately this is precisely the reason why Episode 13 may be the last we ever see of Southland. Shooting on location with such a huge ensemble cast and countless extras for each episode makes Southland a very costly show to produce. Now, TNT could profit from the fact that NBC produced the first 13 episodes, but then again NBC stood to make a lot more money from the show as well, simply because more people watch NBC than TNT (at least in theory, since NBC pretty much sucks and blows these days).

Faced with the difficult decision whether or not to invest millions and millions of dollars into a show that despite the huge controversy surrounding its first cancellation never really pulled in the big numbers in terms of viewership for TNT, I am realistic enough to expect TNT to do the “financially practical” thing and go South on Southland like NBC did before them. It’s a crying shame. I haven’t been this excited over a cop show since The Wire and that’s saying something. (No, Southland could never, ever top The Wire, but it could be its fairly successful little cousin.)
So yet again I mourn the loss of Southland. Good grief, this show has given me a lot of grief in its short run! I hope all the fan campaigns are successful and there will be a third season (am I wrong for taking heart in the fact that the last episode was called “Season Finale” and not “Series Finale”?), but should they fail I still advise all of you to hit up Hulu for some Southland.

 

 

 

Recommended Collisions with your Television

(combine at will, all times EST, only new programming listed)

 

Tuesday, April 13th
 
 9 p.m.  Lost (ABC)
   NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS)
 9:30 p.m.  Glee (Fox)
 10 p.m.  V (ABC)
   Parenthood (NBC)
   
Wednesday, April 14th  
 8 p.m.  Human Target (Fox)
   The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS)
 8:30 p.m.  The Middle (ABC)
   Accidentally On Purpose (CBS)
 9 p.m.  Modern Family (ABC)
   Criminal Minds (CBS)
 9:30 p.m.  Cougar Town (ABC)
 10 p.m.
 Ugly Betty (ABC)
   CSI:NY (CBS)
   
Thursday, April 15th  
 8 p.m.
 FlashForward (ABC)
   Bones (Fox)
 9 p.m.  CSI (CBS)
   Fringe (Fox)
 10 p.m.  Project Runway (Lifetime)
   
Friday, April 16th
 
 10 p.m.
 Miami Medical (CBS)
   Spartacus: Blood and Sand (Starz)
   
Saturday, April 17th
 
   
Sunday, April 18th
 
 8 p.m.  The Simpsons (Fox)
 9 p.m.
 Desperate Housewives (ABC)
 10 p.m.
 Brothers & Sisters (ABC)
   
Monday, April 19th
 
 8 p.m.
 House (Fox)
   How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
 9 p.m.
 Trauma (NBC)
   24 (Fox)
 10 p.m.  Damages (FX)
   Castle (ABC)
   CSI:Miami (CBS)

 

 

 

 

Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.

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