More police hit the screen

With ER having bowed its way off the air, NBC has introduced Southland, a gritty Los Angeles cop drama, to take its place. Obviously going from the emergency room to the streets of LA is a big change which might not appeal to long-term ER fans.

Fortunately, Southland’s pilot episode displayed plenty of promise, though it may need a few weeks to smooth everything out.
The series follows a rookie cop, Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) who may or may not have been forced into being matched up with veteran John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz).

Cooper spends the episode running his mouth and displaying his street knowledge while putting Sherman down for not “having what it takes.” Just off the pilot, it is not entirely clear whether Cooper is corrupt. There are certainly signs, but he never does anything beyond just pushing the mold.

Sherman keeps quiet for most of the episode, coming alive here and there when riled up by Cooper and when taking action during a bust. An OC veteran, McKenzie is yet again seen gazing off into space to ponder issues, only this time he’s a cop.

Though it may be recycled, McKenzie does a fantastic job filling the role. He proves that he is capable of playing a character that is both a capable cop and a younger man with a lot to learn.

Sherman’s attitude perfectly offsets the Cooper’s obnoxious ways. Cooper will undoubtedly become a character that will be loved or hated with little ground in between. All of that will depend on whether he does bend to the side of the corrupt. No matter which way he goes, it seems there will always be a sense that he has some good in him. Sherman may end up becoming his saving grace.

The few subplots in the pilot also showed off some solid performances by a quality cast that features Regina King, Shawn Hatosy and Tom Everett Scott. They help bolster some of the issues Southland will be tackling in its run, including distrust of the police, racial tension and the morality of criminals’ actions.

Southland could easily fall into conventional traps. Already it sets itself up to be a typical “bad cop/good cop” duo. In order to avoid that, Sherman’s character needs to grow gradually and stay low-key instead of being overly confident and suave. The plot must stay as fresh as it can, considering the countless other cop dramas on prime time television.

Aside from good acting, one of the standout things Southland has going for it is its realistic tone. It is not a glamorized, glossy look at the life of a Los Angeles cop. Instead, Southland has a dry, gritty feel. Depending on the next few episodes, Southland could turn into worth watching with characters that are easy to connect to. For now, it is still in the early stages with plenty of promise. Southland airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.