sat 01/11/2014

Southland, Series Four, More4 | TV reviews, news & interviews

Southland, Series Four, More4

Lucy Liu joins America's finest cop show for another serving of bullets and blood, humour and horror

Southland's undoubted star: Regina King as detective Lydia Adams

Each episode of Southland – the best American cop show since The Shield – begins frenetically and never lets up – except for a freeze-frame in the first minute which the rest of the show spools back to explain. In this first part of the fourth season, one of LA’s finest is out of his black-and-white and chasing a suspect within seconds as his partner careers down the back alleys of South Los Angeles.

These signature car chases are one of the reasons that adrenalin junkies love it so. The suspect leaps a chain-link fence: the officer known as Hollywood (a rich kid with a pretty face and a big heart) follows him. Freeze-frame: “Their worst nightmare,” intones the portentous soundtrack (the only time one is used), “is just our Wednesday.”

The whiff of authenticity includes conversations almost drowned out by the roar of traffic

For once the ominous tone is justified. Every episode contains buckets of bullets and blood but the climactic shoot-out in the cop-shop is truly awesome. Two men actually admit to pissing themselves. However, it’s not all doom and gloom: the series, clearly inspired by Joseph Wambaugh’s Hollywood crime novels, mixes humour with the horror: a ridiculous suicide by panty-hose, a runaway attacker hit by a truck so suddenly you feel the impact. The line between the two is often more than fine: a scene in which a boy with attitude refuses to get out of the car he has been driving carelessly becomes increasingly tense when a black SUV swerves to a stop in front of the boy and two cops – only for it to dissolve into laughter as his big momma gives her son a tongue-lashing for texting behind the wheel.

The whiff of authenticity includes conversations almost drowned out by the roar of traffic – you can smell the exhaust fumes – and the joy the men take in their lethal hardware. Handheld cameras ensure you follow the characters willy-nilly as you look over their shoulders from the back-seats of the souped-up patrol cars or ogle them in the locker-room.

So much for the action – no shot lasts more than five seconds. All great drama relies on character. There is not a finer ensemble of actors on TV: Lucy Liu, a hard-nosed munchkin more concerned with lunch than saving lives (pictured above right), and Lou Diamond Phillips, a seen-it-all-done-it-all hardass, have joined the cast this time round which has always featured Shawn Hatosy as Sammy Bryant (now with an infant son) and – the undoubted star of the show – Regina King as a detective (Lydia Adams) who cares too much about the chaos engulfing her city. The good news is that John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz, pictured below left), the gay cop addicted to prescription painkillers – who has a thing for Hollywood (Benjamin McKenzie) – has had his back fixed.

It is the skill of these actors and others that ensure Southland is not just another quick fix of shooty-shooty-bang-bang. They hint at the fear behind the bravado, the longing for romance in an unromantic world. John Donne wrote: “Each man’s death diminishes me.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a junkie washed up on a beach – who had longed to see the ocean just once in her life – or a gangster who shoots himself in the neck in a school lavatory – his last words a gurgled profanity – their horrid ends hint at what lies in store, one way or another, for all of us.

The good news is that the gay cop addicted to prescription painkillers has had his back fixed

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