Why TNT should give SouthLAnd a season 4

Readers of this blog will know how much I love SouthLAnd. A year or so ago, as TNT’s airing of the saved NBC season 2 episodes came to an end, I posted an article on why TNT needed to renew the show (here).

The time to call upon TNT to do the right thing has come around again.

TNT, you did an amazing thing rescuing the show from NBC and giving it a third season: please give SouthLAnd the season 4 it deserves, the season it has earned many times over through the extraordinary efforts and dedication of its entire cast and crew.

With Season 3 so far, SouthLAnd has exceeded what even its most loyal fans could have expected. Eight episodes into its ten episode arc, the show has handled with impossible ease its complex storylines, emotionally devastating arcs, biting humor, and desperate tragedy. All these elements are blended together in a light-on-its-feet but brutal style, shot with versatile RED One cameras and the incredible eye of DP Jimmy Muro, who has shown us a new Los Angeles, a city of bright glare, unforgiving streets, and the darkest shadows.

SouthLAnd is one of the WB’s finest ever shows, and this is due to the deep roll-call of high-caliber talent used in every aspect of the show. Creator Ann Biderman and showrunners John Wells and Chris Chulack (also a primary director) have done a fine job in selecting their creative line-up. There’s the extraordinary writing team of Jonathan Lisco, Cheo Hodari Coker, Will Rokos and Heather Zulhke. The brilliant regular directors Nelson McCormick, Felix Alcala, along with guest director Allison Anders, who did such a beautiful job with her episode “Sideways,” all of them ably assisted by the aforementioned Director of Photography Jimmy Muro, who himself directed Cheo Coker’s excellently written “Cop Or Not” episode.

Simply put, SouthLAnd has one of the greatest crews in television. And then there is the cast.

Initially, the show was understandably promoted around Ben McKenzie, fresh off his acclaimed role as troubled teen Ryan Atwood in The O.C. This was no disrespect to the other actors in the show, merely a useful way in the harsh economic reality of prime time TV to capitalize on McKenzie’s high profile. But as great an actor as McKenzie is (just watch his final scene in “Discretion”), this is an ensemble cast in the greatest sense of the word. In fact, as time has gone by, it has become clear that the entire roster of actors on the show are essentially the Yankees of one hour drama. Although TNT featured McKenzie in some of the season 3 promos with The O.C.‘s effective house band Death Cab For Cutie on the soundtrack, they have focused recent promos on the others in the show, primarily Michael Cudlitz, Regina King and Shawn Hatosy.

These three have torn apart the scenery this season, in the best possible way. While the sustained intensity of Hatosy’s raw, heartbreaking performance leads the pack in terms of likely Emmy or Golden Globe recognition, the incredible Regina King has proved herself to be the beating heart and powerful soul of the show, and Cudlitz has carved out one of the most iconic, complex and indelible cops in TV history.

With the budgetary restrictions of the move from NBC to TNT, SouthLAnd necessarily had to focus in on that smaller core cast. However, if you watch the show, you will see that every single person who shows up on screen has authenticity and compelling believability. It’s one of the show’s trademarks. It’s gritty and it’s real, and every moment counts.

The show’s more supporting roles are beautifully played (although every moment of this show plays like the A-story, and every player is treated like a lead actor). Michael McGrady delivers gravitas with routine ease as Hatosy’s boss. C. Thomas Howell is by turns hilarious and jaw-droppingly insane as perpetually troubled patrol officer Dewey. His beleaguered partner Chickie is played to perfection by Arija Bareikis. Jenny Gago has also been a great antagonist as Lydia’s new partner. There are many other fine actors and crew members, sadly too many to name here, but each and every one of them works incredibly hard to make this show as great as it is.

What all this translates to is a show that delivers devastating stories with absolute consistency week after week, while making you laugh, jump up from the edge of your seat, and, yes, cry. The cast and crew know exactly what they are doing: it’s no coincidence that the show’s most heartbreaking episode “Code 4,” the episode in which we lost the soulfully engaging Kevin Alejandro, was also its funniest. The blistering humor made the tragedy so much more difficult to handle. What we see with SouthLAnd is an extraordinary level of storytelling and directorial intelligence.

It’s rare to see this kind of perfect storm of network, cast, crew, locations and fans in television. We can only hope that TNT feels the same way, and gives SouthLAnd another full season with which to devastate and entertain us.

SouthLAnd: “Another f***ing happy day”

What a season this is turning out to be for SouthLAnd. Each episode is an aggressive evolution from the one before, while still retaining the show’s core truths, values and style. It’s at the top of its game right now. Not that it ever wasn’t — it’s notable how strongly this show started with Unknown Trouble — but this season it’s powerhousing its way through complex storylines and brutal, unflinching character work.

If there’s a theme emerging for season three, it’s this: pitting the characters against the massive disintegration of their values, emotions, psyches and even their lives, in some cases. As a writer, you learn quickly: drama is conflict, great drama is high-stakes conflict — which pretty much makes SouthLAnd the reigning king of Shakespearean tragedy on cable TV. Everything the characters hold dear is f**ked with brutally and relentlessly. It’s like Hamlet with a shotgun and a badge, only the ghosts are real and never go away.

The Winds started and ended with John coming apart in the desert as the Santa Anas grew wilder. A bare, unforgiving landscape for his breakdown. Nelson McCormick directed this  — he’s becoming SouthLAnd‘s go-to director for the “disintegration” episodes, having previously handled Ben’s shattering revelations in Discretion. With a beautifully layered script from Heather Zuhkle, McCormick did an excellent job of bringing us into John Cooper’s complex world.

The episode could have been subtitled “fatherhood.” Cooper found himself inadvertently becoming a father figure to an abandoned child, in a series of low-key, moving scenes. Later, he aggressively stepped into the role of a missing father to a kid who called the cops because his mom beat him. And finally, he gave his verdict at his own father’s early parole hearing. His father was in jail for rape and murder, and John was as uncompromising as we knew he would be, despite the massive personal cost. Michael Cudlitz gave a heavyweight, authoritative performance this week, shouldering the massive burden of Cooper’s many demons and making you care, painfully.

The rest of the show was taken up with Lydia and Josie pursuing a series of rape cases, and developed their conflicts and partnership in a natural, seemingly effortless way. The two fought over policy, philosophy, technique, and I have to say that as great as Jenny Gago is as Josie, Regina King is a legend. It’s that simple.

The Winds had its moments of comedy too, best of all being Dewey and Cooper arguing over whether one victim “hanged” or “hung” himself. Dewey lost it and turned to Sherman: “Google it, Boot.” Needless to say, Cooper was right.

Of course, we couldn’t forget what happened last week: Nate’s death haunted the edges of this episode, and when Dewey asked Cooper if he was going to the funeral, Cooper responded with, “yeah, another f***ing happy day.”

Which could be the subtitle to this entire series. The Los Angeles streets are tough, brutal, unforgiving, and SouthLAnd does a tremendous job paying tribute to those who serve there.