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Our review of Southland: The Complete First Season, published February 1st, 2010, is also available.
Police action hits hard in Southland!
"I was drinking three dozen beers a day."
Facts of the Case
Every day, there are a new series of problems to be dealt with on the streets of Los Angeles. We spend time following a few of the police officers responsible for dealing with those problems. Officer Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie, Junebug) is still learning the ropes and working his way through his year-long probation period under the tutelage of his pill-popping partner Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz, Surrogates). Detective Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy, The Cooler) is still working through a series of relationship problems with his eccentric wife Tammy (Emily Bergl, Desperate Housewives). Officer Chickie Brown (Arija Bareikis, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead) is still recovering from the problems caused by her ex-partner (C. Thomas Howell, Red Dawn). Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King, Ray) is working valiantly to make sure her wounded partner Detective Russell Clarke (Tom Everett Scott, Race to Witch Mountain) knows that she's still there for him.
All six season two episodes are spread across two discs:
Let us take a moment to examine the strange timeline of Southland:
April 2009: The abbreviated first season of Southland begins airing on NBC and receives generally positive reviews.
May 2009: NBC announces that they've renewed Southland for a second season.
Summer 2009: The creators of Southland go into production on a new season of the program, which is set to air in September.
September 2009: NBC moves the second-season premiere to October, saying that they need more time to promote the show.
October 2009: NBC cancels Southland before an episode even airs, citing that the program was "too dark and gritty" for broadcast on the network.
November 2009: TNT announces that it has purchased the rights to Southland and will air all of the second-season episodes that had been produced prior to the show's cancellation.
January 2010: TNT begins airing Southland, beginning with the first-season episodes and then moving into a batch of six second-season episodes.
February 2010: Southland: The Complete First Season is released on DVD.
April 2010: TNT renews Southland for a third season, though the budget and cast of the program were cut considerably.
January 2011: The third season of Southland starts airing.
March 2011: Southland is renewed for a fourth season.
June 2011: Southland: The Complete Second Season is released on DVD.
All of this to note that this particular Southland DVD release somehow feels like too little, too late. My feelings about the program haven't really changed since I reviewed the first-season collection some sixteen months ago, but this particular set suffers for two key reasons. First, it's being released well after the third season has already aired, giving those who were interested in catching up in time to watch that season on television no opportunity to do so. Second, because these six episodes were meant to lead to a considerably longer season on NBC, it doesn't feel like an actual season at all.
Instead, it feels like a random run of Southland episodes that seem to be starting to contemplate going somewhere they never actually go. While the similarly abbreviated first season offered some compelling storylines and felt like a complete arc, this season only starts to circle the first act of some ongoing storylines. Perhaps more curiously, pretty much all of the ongoing plot developments are in terms of the relationships between the officers, which is the one area the show really seems to struggle with. Many of the problems which were present in the first season are present in this one, but they don't seem to have evolved in any significant way. The new relationship struggles certainly don't do much to spice up the show; Adams' stalker-ish desire to make her partner know she cares is a story that we spend a lot of time on yet which never really goes anywhere.
Still, Southland shines when it hits the streets. It's the gritty, unfiltered slice-of-life naturalism that makes the program so compelling; the manner in which the unpredictable life of a police officer is accentuated in ways both engagingly mundane and genuinely harrowing. Some of the strongest material is present in the second season's first and last episodes: the premiere, we watch as a minor incident quickly transforms into a massive race riot. In the finale, we see the tension of the entire city amplify as the police attempt to hunt down a serial rapist known for sporting a police uniform.
Those two strands are arguably the most riveting this season has to offer, but part of the appeal of the show is that the viewer never really knows whether the next encounter will be a forgettable traffic stop or a violent showdown. The off-center pacing aids this, as the most important components of an episode don't always turn up during the first act. The performances remain strong, though the characters haven't really made a strong impression on me yet (admittedly, we're only thirteen episodes in at this point). Adams was the highlight of season one, but season two probably belongs to Sammy n' Tammy, whose peculiar marriage problems are a source of both cringe-inducing drama and endless amusement.
Southland arrives on DVD sporting a respectable transfer, which is something of a relief. Given that Warner Archive has put little effort into making their releases look good, I was pleased to see that Southland is basically on par with every other modern television release: solid detail, satisfactory depth, bright colors and accurate flesh tones. I don't know why this season is being tossed off as a Warner Archive release, but there it is. Audio is also respectable, as the emphasis is placed on immersive sound design and dialogue (there is no score save for the curiously middle eastern-ish opening and closing credits). Extras include select-scene commentary, an interactive location map and some deleted scenes.
It's hard to judge how well Southland is progressing based on this brief sketch of a second season, but the program still shows a lot of potential and gets quite a few things right. To be continued…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Select-Scene Commentary
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