Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Southland" -- a new kind of "Southland Tales"? You have to know the SoCal vernacular

NBC seems to be working with older formulas with its new series “Southland” about a “bad cop” and “good” rookie cop. The show takes the place of “ER” in the primetime lineup (and is produced by the same team of John Wells and Chris Chulack), and, although a lot of viewers seem to like it so far, it’s not clear how much traction it will get. The location and setting – the LAPD – and it makes the whole term “Southland” seem quaint. Yet, that’s what Californians call it. (The Blue Cross plan there is called “Blue Cross South”). Not so long ago there was the escapist terror fantasy “Southland Tales” where Justin Timberlake looked, well, so plucked. This show is in much more staid territory.

NBC’s website for the show today gives you the “lover’s lane” panoramic view of distant downtown. That’s what I’ve seen a few times from planes as they land at 2 in the morning, or once (back on an interview trip in 1978) from a friend’s swimming pool in the Hills. It’s smoggy, it smells sweet, and it’s glorious.

The “good cop” Ben Sherman is played by Benjamin McKenzie. Well, remember he was the boy from the wrong side of the tracks in “The O.C.” (Seth Cohen didn't quite unscramble him in the end, as I recall.) Well, the Southland is just a bit north of Disneyland and the Crystal Cathedral (I’ve visited both), and it gives this boy a kind of redemption. The show is as conservative as “Dragnet” from the 50s. It’s warm in Los Angeles, always. The older cop is played by Michael Cudlitz

The plots are episodic, and give the show the appearance of a docudrama. But, that’s the point, isn’t it? The show is supposed to impart what it feels like to be a 22-year-old rookie cop and live the unifocal life (almost like that of a medical intern). In the pilot, bad cop tells good rookie cop, “you put on your uniform every day for the spectacle.” Not exactly. Texan McKenzie (in the company of Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as to his origins) is now 30, but looks baby faced as a cop, making his moves with suitable aggression when he screams at suspects to freeze. The second episode has some curious situations: a weird mother lets her child be found by a pedestrian, then later says she goes to MCC, an mentions its gay affiliation almost in passing. That led to a curious gay link on imdb today (to a site called “After Elton”).

The show does pay a lot of attention to the technical details of police work – the arrest techniques, the medical rescues, and the graphic details of emergency care, intubation and everything else -- which is to be expected in a film from the ER team, isn’t it?

Picture: as close as I could come to seeing an old jail cell in old Lorton prison (VA). The comic's motto is "stay out of the penitentiary".

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