Season Premiere — Southland, “Let It Snow”

Hey everyone! It’s 2011 and I’m back! Honestly, I’m not really ready for television to be back this early in the year, I would have preferred to enjoy my break. But such is life.

Anyway, let’s kick-start the new year with a review of one of my favorite series that I haven’t really ever discussed. Southland only had six episodes last season thanks to the weird decision making of NBC, which means it was already over by the time I started TVS. In fact, because it was on TNT and I was in my senior year of college, I had missed a few episodes of that half dozen-run, but never fear, I caught up with them a few days ago in preparation for this new season of 10 episodes. However, Tuesdays are a busy day and I’m not sure I will be able to write about the series on a weekly basis. But I did want to check in on it for the premiere because there has been much discussion about the budget cuts, possible cast changes, etc.

After watching “Let It Snow,” however, I’m not really sure I could point out any major difference in the Southland formula, which is kind of weird. Apparently, some of the cast members won’t be able to be in every episode and of course it makes sense that most of them would appear in the premiere episode to remind the viewers who is who and what their roles are, but not only is everyone but Michael McGrady’s Sal around here, but there is actually a new lead character introduced in Jenny Gago’s Detective Ochoa. That makes a lot of sense. Oh wait, no it doesn’t.

The series’ brass apparently likes to see how many new partners Regina King’s Lydia Adams can have before the audience throws their hands up in the air because every since Tom Everett Scott’s Russell was shot at the end of season one, Lydia has had three partners in seven episodes. It made some since in season two with Russell pinned up in a hospital bed and because the two partners were played by Amaury Nolasco and Clifton Collins. But to introduce another new partner for Lydia and have it be a somewhat boring and hackneyed character doesn’t really work, particularly because King and Scott have such great chemistry inside their partnership. Obviously, the intention of this rotating partners gag is to show Lydia how important Russell is in her life and the two of them still get scenes together, but I’m just hoping for a bit of stability for Lydia, no matter who in the hell her partner is.

Elsewhere, the budget slashes aren’t really apparent. Kevin Alejandro and Shawn Hatosy are still here as the primary gang and narco detectives and we still get a little bit with the wife of Hatosy’s character, who, frankly, is still kind of insufferable. Like I said before, McGrady’s Sal isn’t here for this episode and it seems as if the budget cuts might have been made with Patrick Fischler and Lex Medlin’s tertiary detective characters, who more or less sat in the background and said smart-ass things during the first two seasons. Though those characters added some much needed personality to the in-office scenes with Alejandro and Hatosy, they won’t be overly missed if my assumption about them is correct.

Moreover, it’s not as if the series stopped shooting on location. There are no sets here, it is still obvious that Southland is going to keep its gritty, “streets of Los Angeles” feel. The centerpiece of the episode involves Ben McKenzie and Michael Cudlitz’s patrolmen characters getting involved in a major city-block shoot-out and it’s well-executed, realistic and frankly, one of the best things the series has done. There is little indication throughout the shootout that there is any sort of budgetary restrictions to what is happening. Southland never had a whole lot of explosions or major setpieces that required CGI or something, so I don’t know if there is going to be much difference to the general viewer in terms of what happened with the budget. This is a good thing.

Unfortunately, the issues that have always been present with Southland were not really solved (or accentuated) by the budgetary changes. From the very beginning, McKenzie and Cudlitz have been the best part of the series and there was some hope that the budget slashes would mean a more direct focus on the two of them on their patrol rounds. That has not happened at all and in a lot of ways, the two of them are a part of “Let It Snow”‘s C story while King, Alejandro and Hatosy have a lot more to do in the A and B threads. Regina King is fantastic on this series and I really like Alejandro and Hatosy as well, but I would really enjoy it if the series dedicated at least one whole episode to McKenzie and Cudlitz just driving around the Valley and seeing what happens. A number of episodes include that kind of framework, but it would be great to have an entire episode like that.

In any event, “Let It Snow” is a really solid reintroduction to the five main characters of Southland and even if I wish two of them would get more time than the other three, there is little else to complain about with this series. The budget changes haven’t affected the series’ ability to tell well-crafted procedural stories that have a way of getting under your skin. And most importantly, the series hasn’t lost its desire to focus on the impact this job has on the lives of its characters, so even though I can’t necessarily stand someone like the wife of Hatosy’s character, I can at least appreciate the series is fully dedicated to telling a somewhat interesting story of what happens when a cop tries to have a kid.


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