"Southland," The Best Cop Show On TV, Ended Its Run Last Night in Bleak, Heartbreaking Fashion
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The Best Cop Show On TV Ended Its Run Last Night in Bleak, Heartbreaking Fashion

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | April 18, 2013 | Comments ()


It's not official yet that "Southland" will not return for a sixth season, but given the paltry ratings and the fact that several cast members have signed on to other pilots in anticipation of their show's cancellation, it looks like last night's episode will be the last of the series.

It was dark. It was brutal. And it was real.

Through five seasons, few shows have captured simple human drama the way that "Southland" has. Low-rated on NBC and eventually picked up by TNT, "Southland" never seemed to be that interested in doing the sort of things that increase ratings or draw in new viewers. There is no procedural component to "Southland," and even the serialized nature of the show was secondary to what the drama was attempting to do, which was to capture the spirit of what it's like to be a cop. The big takeaway from five seasons of "Southland," in fact, is that the job of a police officer is not, ultimately, to prevent crime, but to move it around, displace it, or time shift it. Nothing ever changes: They investigate murders; they catch some bad guys, and some times they don't; they write tickets; they follow leads; and they put up with bullsh*t from a citizenry that not only takes law enforcement for granted, but pay them little respect.

It was five seasons of Sissyphus pushing that goddamn rock up the mountain, but for those of us who watched it, we gained an incredible appreciation for the work of beat cops and detectives. They get up every day, and they shovel sh*t, and they do it, not for money or the power because God knows there's little of that in an honest cop's life, but because every great once in a while, they make a difference, not in the crime rate, but in a single person's life. Unfortunately, for every win, there seems to be half a dozen losses.

That's what "Southland" was about, though: It was about capturing a slice of these people's lives, about understanding what it is that motivates them to wake up each morning and do the same thing over and over again with the same results. Some people call that insanity; I call it bravery, courage, and determination. I call it being alive.

But as is bound to happen when you watch the same four or five people deal with that grind over the course of five years, you become attached to them. In this, the likely final season, some of the stories became more personal. Regina King's character had to deal with being a homicide detective and a single mom to an infant, and what it means to be able to compartmentalize the horrors the job and separate that from motherhood. The reality is, you can't separate those horrors, and sometimes, things fall through the cracks. Or you have to carry your baby on a front pack to investigate a murder.

Michael Cudlitz -- who played Officer John Cooper -- was the real star of this season, however, and he turned in a Cranston-like performance as a tough but quiet cop who kept his homosexuality out of his job, not because he needed to, but because that's what he believed was appropriate. He also managed to survive a number of tragedies and emotional traumas, but in the end, it wasn't the job that broke him. It was something as small as the incessant noise of a humming generator that was his undoing. After surviving the life of a beat cop for years, the thugs and the gangsters and the shootings, and after losing his partner and nearly being dumped into a shallow grave himself it was something so small, and so human that was the breaking point that cost John Cooper his life.

It's the perfect illustration of what "Southland" did best: It didn't tell the big, ratings-grabbing stories. It told the human ones. Hopefully, one day the millions of people who passed "Southland" up the first time around will discover it on Netflix or Amazon and discover what really was the best cop show on television since "The Wire" and the most human one since "Friday Night Lights." The show, likes the cops it depicts, deserved so much more respect than it ever received.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Sarita

    Well-written piece on the best cop drama. Most series decline in quality over time; Southland has gotten better with each season, this one being the best. Excellent acting, especially from Michael Cudlitz. I really hope TNT renews Southland. If not, any chance of Netflix picking it up? I definitely recommend watching from season 1 through season 5 to see how far these characters have come since those early episodes.

  • Ron Bo

    I don't think it was clear Cooper died, it was left as a cliffhanger. But if it's the final episode, it makes a good finale for a great, great series. I'd guess it was an expensive show to produce, with pretty much 100% of it shot on location.

    This show proved you can do a gritty, dark show while still sticking to basically broadcast standards for content (yes, it was cable, but in terms of profanity, subject matter, etc it could have aired on a broadcast network). .

    The most remarkable thing about this show is, I think, the casting:great actors all around, not a weak one in the bunch. It reminded me of The Shield in that respect, another show with an amazing cast.

  • okayflint

    two shots to the chest... but yeah, they left it ambiguous when it probably shouldn't have been.

  • PrincessPiglet

    I have been hooked on this show from the start. Began watching because of Regina King. She is fantastic on it, and I wish I could see more female characters like her on tv. Sammy eventually became my favorite character - he takes everything so much to heart, and the loss of his partner was one of the most gut-wrenching things I've seen. The slow downward progression of Ben Sherman throughout these 5 seasons has been pretty phenomenal to watch as well. He started out as kind of the focus of the show, and you had sympathy for him, and by the end, I was begging for the little punk to eat a bullet. I have said to people that when I watch a Southland episode, I usually feel like I have to "recover" from it. They really are intense. I desperately hope it comes back, but if not, it went out on a high note.

  • sailboat

    Look sharp, act sharp, be sharp.

    This show did all three without stepping on its meat.

  • cgthegeek

    Well shit... I literally just dvr'd this series last night. i don't normally watch shows about cops but i wanted to support regina king. guess i'll be catching it on netflix.

  • emmelemm

    I didn't watch all of the seasons/episodes, just tuned in and out in places, but I have to say hot damn, this was a hell of a show.

  • dizzylucy

    The penultimate episode of this season was possibly the most heart wrenching hour of TV I've seen in ages.

    It makes me so sad that so few people watched this show. I caught it on NBC and was thrilled when it got saved by TNT, but it never has gotten the recognition it deserves. I always hoped Regina King would at least get an Emmy nomination, and this year will really be hoping for Cudlitz, but I'm sure they'll be ignored as always. I never felt anyone in the cast was an actor acting, it always felt like the characters were real and we were along for the ride.

  • phofascinating

    I'm so glad you've been spreading the word about Southland. It really is incredible and it's in my top 5 favorite shows. I'm giddy every night it's on and I mourn every season's end. My mom was the only other person I knew who watched it, and she had to stop last season because it was just too intense for her. I really wish it got the love of something like Breaking Bad because I really believe it had that level of tension and acting. Every episode this season was like a punch to the gut. And the finale, while legitimately heartbreaking, was just perfect. I knew Cooper's future wasn't bright, but I was sobbing like a baby watching him bleed out in that alley. Good lord I miss it already.

  • nope

    nothing says he's dead or the show is cancelled. This is all just speculation.

  • Slash

    RE "Michael Cudlitz — who played Officer John Cooper — was the real star of this season, however, and he turned in a Cranston-like performance as a tough but quiet cop who kept his homosexuality out of his job, not because he needed to, but because that’s what he believed was appropriate."

    This. He really is awesome. He got a really great, dramatic storyline, so that helps, but yeah, Cudlitz is great, in a great cast.

  • Slash

    I'm kinda bummed by what happened to Cooper. I mean, I didn't cry myself to sleep or anything, but I hoped his ending would be somewhat happy. I wish they had found another way to deal with his storyline. (shrugs) Whatever, it's their show.

  • I confess, I started watching because of a fondness for Ben McKenzie left over from The O.C. I stayed because it was so, so good. The story lines most of the characters traveled broke my heart, but it was worth it. And, as much as I hate to admit it, last night's finale was really perfect. There was never going to be a happy ending for these folks.

  • the_wakeful

    I remember watching this when it was on NBC. I mourned when I couldn't watch it anymore (no cable or netflix back then). Might be time to obtain all 5 glorious seasons at once and lock myself in my room.

  • DeltaJuliet


    I don't know why no one was watching this show. The word of mouth that I spread around alone was substantial. Anyone I know who does watch it is passionate about it. It has great characters and storylines, and is very compelling to watch. The only "drawback" was that sometimes it was TOO intense (I usually watch sitting on the edge of the couch). If it doesn't come back, I'll miss it terribly.

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