Why You Should Be Watching 'Southland'

Gritty cop show's fate unclear as season finale leaves viewers wanting more

Ben McKenzie and Shawn Hatosy as Ben Sherman and Sammy Bryant in 'Southland'
Doug Hyun
Ben McKenzie and Shawn Hatosy in 'Southland'
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Season Five of Southland ended with a bang on April 17, leaving unanswered questions about the fates of the hard-edged LAPD officers that tried-and-true viewers have come to revere. But the biggest question remains whether or not the gritty cop show will be picked up for another season.

What started off as "that guy from The O.C.'s new show" in 2009 has turned into one of the best dramas on television. Featuring a stellar ensemble cast that includes Michael Cudlitz, Regina King, Tom Everett Scott, C. Thomas Howell and, yes, The O.C.'s Ben McKenzie, the series relies on hand-held camera work, rough-cut editing, abrasive dialogue and intense scenarios to create a sense of urgency and realism, mixing elements of NYPD Blue, The Wire and, most notably, The Shield. More character-driven drama than police procedural, the show takes a raw look at the underbelly of crime in Los Angeles and the officers who patrol the city. Unlike the formulaic storytelling of the pervasive Law & Orders and CSIs, this program will keep you on your toes, especially when delving into the characters' personal lives and psychological battles.

In the first season, the crux of the storyline revolves around playboy rookie cop Ben Sherman (McKenzie) and his tough-but-fair training partner John Cooper (Cudlitz). But there's also homicide detective Lydia Adams (King) and gang unit officer Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy), and a revolving cast of characters – including guest stars Lucy Liu, Lou Diamond Phillips and Chad Michael Murray – who keep the show feeling fresh. Like peeling back layers of an onion, you learn something new about the characters each episode.  And just like real life, they're constantly growing, changing and evolving – or, in some cases, devolving.

Originally aired on NBC, Southland premiered to solid reviews and decent ratings for a 10 p.m. show on the then lagging network, but fell victim to the short-lived reign of The Jay Leno Show during the peacock's failed attempt to launch a nightly prime-time variety show. With Season Two in the can but no appropriate time-slot to run it, NBC prematurely canceled Southland – and that's when TNT swooped in and bought the rights. There, it's found a nice, cozy place to call home.

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With each of the five seasons clocking in at 10 episodes or less (Season Two is a paltry six), you could easily knock out entire seasons in a single evening. The show hits the ground running in Season One, moving into hyper-drive by Season Three, when it became a full-fledged entity on TNT and was allowed to push more boundaries than it could have on network TV. But, we have to admit, it may not be suitable for everyone's palate – foul language, graphic violence and mild nudity and sexual content are par for the course.

The rock-em-sock-em cliffhangers of the Season Five finale could in fact be the series' end, but there's no official word yet from the network either way. Still, we're holding out hope that the low-rated but critically acclaimed and beloved series can eek out another round.

So tell us: Is Southland the best cop show on TV? Does it need another season (or more) to tie up its loose ends?