SOUTHLAND: 4.03 “Community”
Last week, I mentioned that the cops and detectives of Southland see crazy things every day, but none of it ever seems contrived. Unlike every other police procedural on television, everything in Southland seems like it could really happen. I was thinking about this a lot this week because I happened to watch Castle on Monday because there was nothing else on. I don’t mean to hate on the show, but Castle is like any other police procedural out there; two mismatched partners use their smarts and a little bit of luck to investigate a crime that ties up in a neat bow by the end of the episode. The most obvious suspect usually isn’t the guilty one; instead, the guilty party has a convoluted, well hidden motive that our heroes usually only uncover in a House-like epiphany, like so:
Minor Character: Can you get me a glass of water?
Our Hero: Water….? <far off look in eyes>
Minor Character: Yeah, do you mind? Just out of the tap, it doesn’t need to be filtered.
Our Hero: Of course! The killer hid his gun in the pool filter? <dashes off>
Minor Character: Never mind, I’ll get it myself.
I know that most procedurals like Castle aren’t aiming for the same level of verisimilitude as Southland, but the contrived formula that they follow is just so boring to me, especially since it’s followed, to a greater or lesser degree, by almost any show related to cops, detectives, or crime on television right now. This is why Southland is so refreshing to me. This week, Lydia and Ruben investigated the murder of a corrupt mortgage lender who was ripping off people in her own neighborhood. They immediately assumed the killer was one of her victims, and they were right; she was murdered by the son of one of her victims. In any other procedural, the dogwalker would have done it because the victim stiffed her on a tip six years before. In any other procedural, the murderer wouldn’t have been a damaged, drunk, homeless war veteran who stumbled so pathetically away from Lydia and Ruben that they merely waited until he tripped on his own feet, then walked casually down the street to catch up with him. In Southland, we see cops going about their work days and seeing all sorts of weird, dangerous things that seemingly happen at random. We see detectives follow natural, logical leads that point to suspects who are flawed, sometimes sympathetic people rather than devious criminal masterminds. And all through this, we see how Sammy, Ben, John, Jessica, Lydia, and Ruben react to the stress and brutality of the world around them. Southland feels like a living, breathing show; the rest of the police procedurals might as well be mannequins.