Southland: The Complete Second, Third and Fourth Seasons

Southland: The Complete Second, Third and Fourth Seasons
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After Southland got lost in the mid-season replacement shuffle in 2009, filling in an end of season gap before summer reality shows and other cheaply produced programming took over the summer schedule, it had enough critical acclaim to warrant a 13-episode order for a second season. Once NBC had established its fall line-up, however, they realized that this already marginalized series—one that was a little too dark to market alongside staple shows—was the most expendable, delaying the second season premiere several weeks and then eventually cancelling the show without allowing it to air. TNT, which had established a demographic for grittier, character-driven procedurals with The Closer and Rescue Me snapped up the rights to the six episodes that had been filmed, airing them with their line-up to a mostly positive reception but a less than remarkable number of viewers. This led to substantial budget cuts and a cast reduction, which, in a way, worked for the series, since the arc between Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King) and her partner Russell Clarke (Tom Everett Scott), who was seriously injured and almost paralyzed at the end of season one, had mostly run its course. Similarly, at home familial woes Detective Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy) and Officer Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie), were mostly padding the narrative. This left the third and fourth seasons to focus on the usual grittier, unflattering aspect of policing in Los Angeles, occasionally making morally ambiguous decisions on the job, or making poor judgement calls in tense situations, to drive the narrative forward. The structure, wherein a series of crimes are investigated throughout each episode as a secondary, thematic tie to the overall character developments, remained the same, with stories about Lydia's poor relationship decisions—as juxtaposed with her professional ease and ambition—and John Cooper's (Michael Cudlitz) battle with painkiller addiction driving much of the dramatic arc. Sherman's character gives the audience its entry point throughout these three seasons, being new on the force and having some resultant ideals crushed by less than honest partners and an abundance of injustices that he encounters on the streets. Each character represents a different stage and approach to the policing system, rounding out the many perspectives on what is presented as an aggressively unpredictable and irrational career landscape, dealing with drug addicts, murderers and petty criminals. Southland's focus on characters over procedural elements is what managed to make it ideal for TNT and problematic for NBC, having more of a cable feel, uninterested in placating or pleasing its viewers. Instead, it offers a candid look at unflattering human realities as handled by those trying to maintain order in a crowded locale prone to chaos. The handling of moral ambiguity as something driven by more than mere stupidity or inherent badness is quite commendable, as is the portrayal of addicts—whether they be drug, fitness or shopping addicts—as people either avoiding reality or compensating for shortcomings. This focus on characters and the human element makes the box set format ideal, allowing viewers to watch the episodes back-to-back, appreciating the narrative progression. And while this is the ideal format, the inclusion of only some brief flashback discussions and location discussions as special features is a bit disappointing, even though the three season set and delayed release suggests a limited audience and budget. (Warner)