Monday, 24 October 2011

Southland: a cop show that's really quite arresting (DO YOU SEE?)


In a way, it's nothing we haven't seen before. But Southland, a grim but lively, blood-soaked US cop drama currently playing out its third season on More4, takes the definition of "gritty" and runs with it before inevitably getting shot then dying from its injury.

The body count is high, scenes are frequently shouty, and there's a fair amount of frisking up against metal railings in the name of law enforcement, but it's the dark humour and relationships between the main characters that sets it apart from your usual cop show.

Rather than a "lead" pair of detectives, there are three or four pairs of cops all driving around LA - so there's lots of over-the-shoulder shots from the back seat of the police car as we watch them take all the death and crime and misery in their stride.

At one point some of them even come together for a lunch break on a picnic table that looks like it's under a motorway, where trainee cop Ben - that's him in the picture above, played by ex-OC actor Benjamin McKenzie - is ridiculed for having been picked up by a police-mad older woman who apparently is working her way through the force, before it's promptly back to saving LA from itself -  a job that's never done.

The cast of Southland posing on some steps.
Could they be about to sing and dance? No.
This being LA, there's lots about the gruesome results of gang culture and how situations escalate, and, in one episode, how it resulted in a drive by shooting where a four-year-old child is killed.

There's also the fortunately less-fatal situations of a man found gagged and tied to a bed in a motel, and a group of Mexican singers found in an overloaded car.

But the dead bodies - all of them - are shown in realistic detail, and it's likely the props department spent most of its budget on fake blood.

The almost documentary-style of filming - on-street wobbly handheld cameras ahoy - takes the show out onto the streets of the real LA not often really seen.

It gives the show an extra air of authenticity, but in reality it probably keeps costs down - this third season, made for US cable channel TNT had a much smaller budget than the NBC-produced first and second seasons.

"What's the kid's name," asks trainee Ben, at the scene of the four-year-old's murder.

"Why the hell do you want that in your head for," replies his colleague John.

"Believe me, God did us a favour," chips in another cop, Dewey, fresh out of rehab. "This neighbourhood? Two gangster parents? We'd be right back here in eight years arresting that little *something*'s ass. They've saved us a trip."

At which point, Detective Lydia Adams, offended at the comments, tries to fight him, before the pair are restrained amid much US cop-style a-cussin' and a-bitchin'.

Like we say,  anyone can do gruesome murder and be liberal with the ketchup, but it's the shouty, darkly funny interplay between the characters that makes Southland one to watch.

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