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
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.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
The fantasy drama returns without much fantasy, or drama
Awkward documentary draws few conclusions from a 20-year fight for women's rights
Intriguing espionage life-story of the British double-agent, and a brief encounter today
Did Anna Magdalena compose some of her husband's best-loved masterpieces?
Car showroom saga makes a sluggish start
Caitlin Moran mixes fact and fiction with the help of her little sister
Ventriloquist fails to 'find' her clown, reduced to 'tears of...'
Recreation of cynically divisive campaign draws on nauseating archive footage
Too many headline acts and too few supporting bands in this look at the Emerald Isle's rock history
Compelling documentary investigates FGM in the UK and Africa
Two comedy transfers from Radio 4 fare differently
From lace gloves and corsets to sex, drugs and abortion