PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Southland: Season Two Premiere

Ben's experience is partly immediate and partly refracted by fellow patrol officers and a few detectives whose storylines sometimes intersect and whose reactions range from exhaustion to rage to cynicism.


Airtime: Tuesdays, 10pm ET
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Michael Cudlitz, Regina King, Tom Everett Scott, Michael McGrady, Shawn Hatosy, Kevin Alejandro
Subtitle: Season Two Premiere
Network: TNT
Director: John Wells
Air date: 2010-03-09

It's hard being a cop in Los Angeles, no doubt. And, judging from its frequent action scenes, it's hard being a camera operator on Southland. The critically acclaimed series opens its second season on TNT with a few harrowing, jaw-jarring images. A cruiser plunges into a crowd, officers spilling onto the street where they are beset by angry citizens. A few moments later, a couple of men in cowboy hats leap from their car to blast away at a rival gangster, zip pans obscuring their faces and amplifying their assault. Cars race, sirens howl, crashes lead to fiery explosions.

Such handheld mayhem is typical of the show, still granting a rookie's eye view via Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie). His experience is partly immediate and partly refracted by fellow patrol officers and a few detectives whose storylines sometimes intersect and whose reactions range from exhaustion to rage to cynicism.

Being the new guy, Ben is so far inclined to react with a mix of surprise, determination, and idealism. The new season has him entering "Phase Three," wherein he's deemed responsible and seasoned enough, after six short months, to drive the prowl car. It also means, in Ben's case, that he's faced with a predictably difficult decision regarding his older, grievously closeted partner, Cooper (Michael Cudlitz), who's doing an especially bad job of hiding his painkiller habit. Worried over what to do, Ben stumbles into confrontations he'd rather avoid. As Cooper drives, he peers over at the would-be do-gooder: "The pills I take are for back pain and that passive aggressive bullshit of yours ain't gonna fly," Cooper growls. "You got something to say to me, just say it." The camera cuts to Ben's face, defeated, then out the window as the car turns, the signal tick-ticking on the soundtrack.

Ben's worry is framed by a scene that opened this season, wherein officers are treated to an internet reiteration of a painful previous moment -- when Chickie (Arija Bareikis) rode along as her furiously alcoholic partner Dewey (C. Thomas Howell) flipped their car. "Rogue L.A. Cop Goes Berserk," reads the video's caption, as the roll call sergeant instructs, "We live in a digital age. We are always being recorded." A brief glimpse of Chickie's eyes show she's barely repressing her upset, especially as she learns she's been assigned a notoriously bad replacement partner -- Slug Ferguson (Lenny Schmidt) -- as punishment. "You will be on TV," advises the sergeant.

This fact of life has shaped plots on other cop shows, including The Closer (fond of the corner "REC" light on images of crime scenes) and The Shield, where the cops' own supposedly secret malfeasances repeatedly emerged in recordings. Southland is now thematizing the various effects of video, used as evidence, weapon, and performance medium. The legacy of Rodney King is not the exposure of Ramparts-style racism, but the exposure of everything, always. Some of it produces lasting effects, especially on individual careers or lives, but mostly it's fleeting humiliation, now become daily business.

For Detective Rene Cordero (Amaury Nolasco), TV is something else. Replacing Russ (Tom Everett Scott), who remains in the hospital after being shot at the end of last season, Cordero asks to be partnered with Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King), whom he sees as a "star." He admires not only her great "instinct," her skill at understanding cases and spotting villains early, but also because she is a photogenic asset to the department, called on to appear at press conferences, even as supporting cast. This has to do with her being a black woman, and "fine," as Cordero phrases it. She gets that TV is a tool (for a missing person case, a "distraught family member always works best") and that her own appearance is for show (a point underlined when a presser in which the chief extols the department's success in "cutting off the head of one of the gangs today" is intercut with a street shootout, the killers in cowboy hats, no less).

Adams gets all this, as she gets most everything about this job, but she shows her annoyance judiciously. She rolls her eyes at Cordero's acting out, but chooses her battles, focusing on cases and out-performing everyone who underestimates her. In "Butch & Sundance," the episode airing 9 March, Adams susses out a gruesome triple murder pretty much immediately, though the guys take some time to come around to her thinking and get her doubting herself, briefly, in the process. As Ben and Cooper first come on the scene, guns up and eyes wide, the camera follows them through a series of clean white hallways, as they come on the bodies of a mother and two daughters. It's the sort of camerawork that aligns you with the horrified observers, peering around corners and glimpsing naked legs. "It's a real mess," Cooper sums up for Adams and Cordero, who proceed to instruct their forensics crew deftly.

It's fascinating to watch Adams work, to see her measure the men around her and pick her battles (it's not worth feeling outraged at every sexist or racist inflection, as they come up pretty much daily). She remains Southland's least standard and most compelling focus, her efforts to stay stoic in the very damaged Russ' hospital room of a piece with her minute-by-minute evaluations of Cordero. She's impressed that he ran track in college, as she did, though it's metaphorically telling -- of course -- that he's a sprinter and she ran "distance mostly."

Much like last season, this one already has Adams and Ben standing in for viewers. Their insights, or their reactions, mold yours. Adams' judgment of an especially heinous murderer is summed up when she leaves him flustered, protesting and handcuffed, calling back over her shoulder to a couple of uniforms, "I want my cuffs back." Ben's position is more plainly sensitive, more plainly a response to his crass TV-consuming peers. When a couple of acquaintances start questioning him about details of the triple-murder scene, wondering about the victims being raped and tortured, he rebuffs them. He has a different sense of what it means to be on TV.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.