"Southland," the little cop drama that could, returns for a third season on TNT this week (10 p.m. Tuesday), and, my, what a strange trip it has been. To recap: NBC developed and premiered "Southland" in spring 2009, renewed the show for its fall 2009 schedule, then canceled "Southland" a few weeks before it was due to premiere. TNT picked up and aired the episodes produced for its aborted second season on NBC and then ordered this 10-episode third season.
"Southland" has not changed appreciably since its earliest episodes on NBC. It still includes bleeped profanity, and director Chris Chulack often puts his camera in the backseat of a cop car to give viewers a police officer's eye view of the action. Most of the show's original cast members continue to appear, although some may now be featured in a fewer number of episodes. The upshot: Despite all the turmoil that sprang from NBC's poor handling of the show, "Southland" has not missed a beat.
The new season picks up pretty much where the truncated second season ended. Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz, who gives one of the best slow-burn expressions in prime time) continues to suffer debilitating back problems and his usual sources for painkillers are not coming through. This problem seems destined to come to a head. His partner, rookie Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie), wants to help Cooper but Cooper is stubborn and proud.
|» When: 10 p.m. Tuesday|
|» Channel: TNT|
|» Info: tnt.tv|
Tuesday's premiere, written by executive producers John Wells and Ann Biderman, doesn't spend a lot of time on the private lives of these Los Angeles cops, instead focusing on three cases: Two murders and a shoot-out that demonstrates a new use for bulletproof vests.
Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King), the show's optimistic emotional center, does get a nice moment with her former partner (Tom Everett Scott), who remains on desk duty after being shot. She complains to him about her new partner, Josie Ochoa (Jenny Gago).
"She thinks Starbucks is too expensive but she gets her nails done every other day," Adams says in a moment that feels quite real and less catty than it may sound. But "Southland" doesn't take the easy route and make Ochoa incompetent. She's strong-willed, opinionated and a risk-taker but she also displays good instincts in investigation.
The future of "Southland" beyond this current batch of episodes remains unclear. Ratings were not particularly strong last year but perhaps now that the show's status is more stable viewers will be more willing to tune in. It's not the best cop show ever but it's certainly an above-average effort for fans that appreciate quality TV drama.