Is there a more pillaged genre than the cop drama?
I’d wager my modest savings (half a curly-wurly and a full collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles commemorative coins), that there is not. Either side of the pond, channels and networks are swamped with carbon copy Police guff, offering up the same trite, clichéd, grizzled tales.
There was public outrage and lynching’s post cancellation of ITV bull-shit fest, ‘The Bill’ – which only emphasises how starved of decent Police drama us Brits have been. Not only was it crap telly, ‘The Bill’ and similar shows were offensive to the regular bobby. With ‘creative’ liberties taken in order to shit out an easily digestible half hour of brainless television. This was not the Police – not at all.
Rarely, are we party to true brilliance on television, even more so when tales of the daily exploits of the Police are involved. The last evidence of this was HBO’s ‘The Wire’. Not only was this unrivalled in terms of its storytelling, character development and honesty, David Simon’s creation happened to be arguably the best television show ever committed to film -that or ‘The Sopranos’.
To stand tall amongst the dross takes a great deal of ingenuity and bravery. Thankfully, in the wake of shows like ‘The Wire’, a vibrant and more urgent approach has been adopted to television, and no more so than in the fantastic ‘Southland’.
‘Southland’ follows the capers of South LA beat police. Each hour long episode intertwines several narratives leading to a climatic finale, much like any drama, but it is the style in which this is delivered to the viewer that sets ‘Southland’ apart from the baying crowd.
The show is shot in a now familiar documentary style and the broken, bloodied streets of South L.A are comprised of a vibrant palette of colours. The production is slick and impatient, forcing the viewer in to the searing heat of the conflicts that are so readily and frequently pelted in the face of the officers.
It is uncomfortable at times, incredibly gory and also tremendously moving. The relationships are believable, with due diligence paid to the monotonous nature of modern Policing and the relationships that are built over long night shifts and brutal early turns. You are in that patrol car with the characters and therefore it is difficult to not empathise and become emotionally attached to them as a result.
This is cemented by a fine array of character actors making up the cast with no outright ‘stars’ to distract, but more a collection recognisable faces from this show or that film you have seen. This works in favour of the show, building upon the everyman nature of the characters.
Michael Cudlitz is the pick of a very talented bunch as veteran senior beat officer ‘John Cooper’ – a ruthlessly by the book officer who nurses a painkiller addiction and complicated private life. It may sound cliché on paper but on screen this is electric, important television and the characters are clearly defined and expertly drawn out.
As television continues to push boundaries and bleed into film, ‘Southland’ leads the charge. It is criminally under viewed but critically lauded. This is cult television at its strongest.
‘Southland’s’ footprint can also be seen in this week’s fine cinema release, ‘End of Watch’ (to be reviewed Monday), that also utilises similar cinematography and is stooped in an immediate and frantic style. It is unsurprising that David Ayer, the director adopted this style to the film, ‘the job’ needs to be documented that way for the sheer danger and unpredictability to be translated truthfully to the screen. Take note BBC.
Four seasons in and the show has survived massive budget cuts and countless threats of cancellation, similar to the heritage of ‘The Wire’. Yet, in the face of this adversity, ‘Southland’ has improved immeasurably, continuing to shock and move on a weekly basis. This is now important television and can be mentioned in the same whiskey soaked breath as ‘Hill Street Blues’ or NYPD Blue’. If you have the smallest interest in TV drama or Police, do get involved.
‘Southland’ can be seen on More Four or picked up on DVD/Blu-ray.