Two new cop shows debut this week, neither one all that remarkable, but of the two, NBC's "Southland" evinces more nuance. It's also darker than ABC's "The Unusuals," which stumbles back and forth between silly and serious moments.
Another ensemble drama that uses a naive newcomer to introduce viewers to the world, "Southland" (10 p.m. tomorrow, WPXI) introduces rookie Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie, "The O.C."), who serves the same function John Carter (Noah Wyle) did in the "ER" pilot 15 years ago. Both "ER" and "Southland" are executive produced by John Wells, a 1979 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University.
In tomorrow's "Southland" premiere, Ben is on his first day riding with no-nonsense veteran cop John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz, "A River Runs Through It"), encountering assorted challenges, many of which have been given away by NBC's promos for the series.
- Starring: Benjamin McKenzie
- When: 10 p.m. tomorrow, NBC
- Starring: Amber Tamblyn
- When: 10 tonight, ABC
Cudlitz is particularly effective in his fatherly approach toward the rookie in a scene near the end of the premiere. The character is written to strike just the right balance between crusty honesty and spare empathetic concern.
Other officers patrolling the streets of "Southland" include Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King, who also makes a favorable impression in the pilot) and Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy), who's having marital difficulties. Still more characters appear but are not fleshed out much in this first episode.
"Southland," titled after the nickname for the environs in and surrounding Los Angeles, benefits from some interesting camera work, particularly the way director Christopher Chulack shoots continuous point-of-view shots that move from the inside of a police car to the outside, even as the vehicle begins moving. The show also makes liberal use of profanity -- seemingly true-to-life in heated police-criminal situations -- which is often bleeped.
Of the two new cop shows this week, "Southland" is the more serious and realistic. It also demonstrates the potential for greater depth in its exploration of characters and their stories. Attentive viewers will catch an unexpected revelation about one character at the end of the premiere episode that's handled with a deft touch. If "Southland" can maintain this level of artistry, it may grow into a keeper.
After "The Shield," it's difficult for cop shows to take much of a different tact. "The Unusuals" makes an attempt by highlighting on-the-job absurdities, but too often it comes off as forced and unrealistic.
Like "Southland," "The Unusuals" (10 tonight, WTAE) uses a young, new-to-the-squad character as the audiences' entry into the program. New York Detective Casey Schraeger (Amber Tamblyn, "Joan of Arcadia") gets transferred from a vice to homicide squad where she's teamed with Detective James Walsh (Jeremey Renner) to investigate the killing of his former partner.
Walsh frequently messes with the mind of Detective Ed Alvarez (Kai Lennox), who continuously refers to himself in the third person. If "The Unusuals" was "M• A• S• H," which it seems to want to be, Alvarez would be the Frank Burns character.
Throughout "The Unusuals," a dispatcher is heard in the background making comic announcements ("Be on the lookout for a Puerto Rican male wearing a cape and no pants") in an effort to portray the weirder parts of the job. It's almost as if "The Unusuals" is trying to build a series around just the oddball cases from "NYPD Blue."
In tonight's premiere, cautious Detective Leo Banks (Harold Perrineau, "Lost") and partner Detective Eric Delahoy (Adam Goldberg) investigate a serial cat killer, eventually getting him to confess by locking him in a police vehicle with a bunch of cats -- while in the parking lot of a pet adoption agency.
But for all the silly stories, "The Unusuals" boomerangs back to more serious moments, such as when Sgt. Harvey Brown (Terry Kinney, "Oz") reveals to Schraeger that he needs to get his squad house in order and expects her to spy on her co-workers.
"The Unusuals" offers an odd combo platter of tones that don't allow the show to jell in its premiere episode.