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Series / Southland

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"You're a cop because you don't know how to not be one."

"A day like today? With some interesting capers, and a few good arrests? That's good. But every once in a while, you get to take a bad guy off the streets for good. And that, my friend, is God's work."
John Cooper, "Unknown Trouble"

Police Procedural. Rookie cop and experienced veteran opposite multiethnic detective team. Jitter Cam and Battlestar Galactica-style drama abound.

It's pretty much LAPD Galactica.

Whereas other cop shows on TV tend to be almost like a stylish video game, Southland prides itself on being dark and gritty. Several police officers have claimed that it's the most realistic cop show on TV.

Created by Ann Biderman (Ray Donovan), the series aired for one season (2009) on NBC and four more (2010–03) on TNT.


  • Amicable Exes: John and Laurie. If he hadn't come out as gay they would probably still be together, and they still clearly care for each other.
  • Anti-Hero: Southland manages to cover every type:
    • Cooper is a snarky asshole, but he's still a good person at heart.
    • Sammy is well-meaning but often lashes out in anger and can be very petty.
    • Ben becomes this in seasons 4 and 5, as he becomes more willing to break the rules. Season 5 ends with him being full on a Dirty Cop.
    • Dewey is a good cop but often comes off as a serious Jerkass.
  • Anyone Can Die: Seemingly played straight at the end of season 1, but averted in that Russell survives his neighbor shooting him. Completely played straight with Nate in season 3 and Lucero in season 5.
  • Art Shift: When Tang and Cooper are being filmed by a documentary crew in "Integrity Check," the shots are far more vivid and colorful as opposed to the dull sepia tone that we normally see.
  • Asshole Victim: Not too rarely, the people the detectives and patrolmen come across are this. The case leads can decide to be lenient on the perpetrators, but they're still beholden to the law, so vigilantes are usually punished for their crimes.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted with Officer Tang. After taking down a lunatic drug addict at the end of one episode, she starts the next with a seriously bruised face.
  • Break the Cutie: Sammy's life story at this point. Seasons 1 and 2 show his wife to be a lunatic. In Season 3, she's a cheating skank. He becomes involved in the lives of two kids, Janila and Li'l Casper. Janila ends up in Witness Protection after multiple attempts on her life, and Li'l Casper murders someone. And finally, he loses Nate, the one good and constant thing in his life! He copes by bonding with Nate's widow and children, until they become like a surrogate family to him. Then she leaves to avoid awkwardness a few episodes later. Guy just can't catch a break. It doesn't get any better going forward.
  • British Brevity: Or the American equivalent at least, the first two seasons had 6 and 7 episodes respectively, season 3 had 10 and season 4 is scheduled to also have 10. This an oddity on TNT as most of their procedurals have anywhere from 15 to 20 episodes.
  • The Bus Came Back: Russ comes back in Season 5.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: This is the framing device for the episode "Wednesday".
  • Career-Ending Injury: Cooper fears he will be taken off the streets if the seriousness of his back injury becomes known; he instead turns to drug abuse to control his symptoms. Ultimately averted, as he is able to get surgery and return to patrol.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: while Southland was never the sweetest show, it was never particularly dark. However, "Chaos", the second to last episode of the series, is pitch black, showing the sheer insanity of the two methheads. Their home, the way they kill Hank Lucero, the way they force Cooper to dig his own grave is just disturbing. And how it all just mentally breaks Cooper, who had been an emotional rock since Season Four, is even worse. To a lesser degree, Sherman's final step into a dark territory and his deteriorating friendship/partnership with Sammy also adds to the tone shift. Ben barely bats an eyelash at Cooper going missing, sounding shocked, but not distressed.
  • Cliffhanger: at the end of Season Five, Cooper snaps and beats the shit out of his ex-wife's neighbor, bludgeoning his face with the man's gun. We don't learn if Cooper actually beat him to death. And in the end, police officers arrive. For whatever reason, Cooper doesn't drop the gun, instead moving his hand like he was about to shoot. Cooper is shot four times and it's not certain if he'll live. The saddest thing is, because of TNT, we'll never fucking know.
  • Coming Out to Spouse: In one episode, we find out that the reason that John and Laurie Cooper divorced was because John came out as gay. They are still on friendly terms though.
  • Cowboy Cop: By the end of "Thursday" this is what Sherman is becoming, much to Sammy's despair.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Many, but Cooper stands as the snarkiest of them all.
  • Darker and Edgier: Upon moving to TNT from NBC due to the looser restraints on content.
  • Dirty Coward: For all his talk about war, Steele leaves Cooper to die when they're attacked by a random lunatic.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Mike, the gay teenager who is found on a roof in "Legacy." While his first attempt fails, his second succeeds.
    • While it's rather ambiguous and we'll never have closure, Cooper may have done it as well.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Not by the police, but by one irresponsible, insane caller. In one episode, the cops are called by a mentally ill old woman who's been eating chicken nuggets from the same restaurant for 15 years and got angry when they ran out of nuggets. The police dismiss her request and fight off her yelling, with one cop recommending she try the fish instead. In real life, calling the police on a non-emergency situation such as this is a felony.
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Moretta reveals to Sammy that his "little sister" is actually his daughter from a previous relationship. His girlfriend got pregnant just as he was about to begin his service in the Army, and his parents didn't want them to give the baby away to be raised by a stranger, so they took her in and masqueraded as her parents. Moretta's daughter doesn't take the news well; she begins acting out in the second season.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Sherman and Ferguson seemed to become this when they hunt down and kill the pimp that tried to kill Sherman and Sammy.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Ben Sherman. He starts out as a wealthy kid who wants to do good and sees law enforcement as a noble profession to which he can contribute to society. After three seasons, a near death experience, dealing with his mentor/father figure's "do as I say, not as I do" hypocrisy, Sherman breaks badly and becomes a dirty cop who uses excessive force, turns a blind eye on police corruption, and sees his job as a thankless task that has wiped out the idealistic good guy he used to be.
  • Gayngst: Averted by Cooper, who tells a gay teenager that he has a lot of problems, but being gay isn't one of them.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Ben Sherman becomes a completely dirty cop by Season 5.
  • The Hero: Sherman definitely starts off as this, with heavy doses of Naïve Newcomer. He does his best to be an upstanding cop. He's also clouded by chivalry, letting a woman burn her boyfriend's face because he didn't want to hurt her. He starts going downhill when his mother's rapist (who didn't actually rape his mom) is set free. Ben is finally disillusioned when Cooper starts falling apart because of his addiction and injury. This culminates in Sherman nearly dying because Cooper couldn't keep up with him. By season four, Sherman is a firmly in Anti-Hero territory.
  • Hide Your Pregnancy: In-Universe example with Adams.
  • How We Got Here: Every episode starts this way.
  • I Am Spartacus: A local community is harassing a registered sex offender and end up burning his house down. When Cooper and Tang try to find out who did it, every member of the local community replies "I set the fire."
  • I Did What I Had to Do: When their boss, Sal, loses his gun, Dets. Moretta and Bryant justify the department's (unauthorized) full-court press of the neighbourhood to each other by pointing out that they wouldn't have found out about a much bigger gun-running operation otherwise.
    • Money-strapped Russ sells the photos that happened to come from Lydia's phone for a half a million dollars to TMZ. He lets her know that he didn't know they'd come from her phone, but his explanation is not appreciated ("I don't even know you, dude"). Needless to say, that friendship/UST is over and Russ is probably going to leave LA.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Cooper and his ex-wife are Amicable Exes; it's clear that they care for each other and the only reason they split is his homosexuality.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Dewey tried to help a prostitute in Graduation Day (okay, he also threatened to taze her, but he did try to help her) and seemed genuinely unhappy when he found her high on a bench.
    • Danny Ferguson is also a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, with an extra side of Jerkass. He doesn't care if kids poke dead bodies and he sure as hell doesn't care about solving a gangster's murder; and he's perfectly willing to badger Sherman and escalate it to a fight. But as Sammy tells Ben in an anecdote and what Ben sees firsthand in "Thursday" he'll stick his neck out and put his life on the line to protect his fellow officers.
  • Karma Houdini: Officer Tang, who shoots a kid playing in his yard, then breaks off the orange safety tip of his toy gun so that the shooting seems justified. Not only does she get away with it, she gets promoted shortly thereafter.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: "SULA" for USC, even though the scenes on campus were (at least partially) shot at UCLA.
  • Made of Iron: The sheer amount of hell Dewey has gone through only rivals Cooper. He's survived being shot during the first episode and flipping a car at the end of season one. In season five, after having a heart attack, he's back on the job in two weeks.
  • Money to Throw Away: In one episode, two cops have to chase a bank robber who is tossing handfuls of cash out behind him, which complicates the pursuit. It turns out he fully expected to get caught, but wanted to redistribute some the wealth before he was.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: A particularly brutal one is the content of Officer Tang's infamous Internet video. She is not the one delivering it.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Sherman comes from a wealthy background, but he lives and breathes being a cop, often creating a distance to his old friends and family.
  • Pair the Spares: Non-romantic example at the end of season 3. Sammy and Sherman had both lost their partners, and Rule of Drama places them together when one transfers departments.
  • Parenting the Husband: The inverse is true: Tammi is so unbelievable naive, flaky, and Jerkass-y, that Sammy often appears to be the exasperated husband and father!
  • Put on a Bus: Chickie transferred to Metro.
    • Because Nate's dead and Sammy moves to Alverado to work as a patrolman, Sal is gone by Season Four
    • Nate's family moving to El Paso, Texas.
  • Rage Against the Mentor: Sherman to Cooper at the end of their partnership. Cooper's painkiller addiction has ruined him as a cop, and Sherman won't let him get a fresh recruit killed.
  • Shout-Out: in the episode Bleed out, light relief is provided by the cops being called to an apartment where a naked man is exposing himself on a balcony. On investigating, they realise he is escaping a violent woman. She is a petite dominatrix, with glasses, curly blonde hair and a high-pitched voice. He met her at an academic conference the night before. His name is Howard. Shame the woman with the whip was not played by Melissa Rauch. We are not told if the academic conference was down the road at Caltech, Pasadena...
  • Shown Their Work: A former cop and detective described the show as "the most accurate cop show [he'd] ever seen on TV."
  • Straight Gay: Cooper
  • Suicide by Cop: Cooper (if his mental state at the time was any indication).
  • Teens Are Monsters: The teenagers in "Legacy" who beat Mike up, put him in a dress and drive him to commit suicide. Oh, and the cause of this is that a guy pretended to like him and then outed him to everyone.
  • Television Geography: Averted. One of the things the crew of the show prides themselves on is that they film a LOT of scenes on location. In fact, the riot scene in the season 2 premiere was actually filmed in South Central, and according to Word of God, at one point the cast and crew were fearing for their lives due to a lot of onlookers not knowing the riot wasn't real.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Ben in spades in Seasons 4 and 5.
  • Tragic Hero: Cooper, whose painkiller addiction originates from an on-work and its lack of treatment. What was the on-work injury? Helping firemen lift up a car to save someone's life. Why wasn't it treated properly? Because Cooper thought that he'd lose the capacity to do his job and to help people. He was afraid he would end up at a permanent desk-job humping the pine. And happens after he gets his treatment? His former partner hates him, there are rumors of his drug abuse, his second partner (Tang) ends up getting promoted after she covers up her shooting of an unarmed teenager (he had a toy gun with an orange cap). And then his third partner, Hank, is shot in the head by meth-heads and dies beside him. Then he's forced to dig a grave for Hank and himself. Them what happens when he's saved? He's put on desk-duty, gets emasculated by his other officers and treated like someone on suicide watch. And then he he gets shot three times by another cop after getting in a (violent) neighborly dispute.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Starting with "Chaos", Cooper gets in a fight with Lucero. Then they're kidnapped by methheads, along. Lucero is shot and killed by the addicts. Cooper is forced to dig his own grave and is abandoned in the desert. He ends up stumbling around and breaks down into tears at a gas station. In "Reckoning", Cooper is revealed to have been saved. But he's utterly demoralized by his fellow officers, who treat him like a suicidal baby. Even his mentor chides him about "letting go of his gun". His ex-wife tells him that she doesn't want to have a kid with him and he ends up being shot by his fellow officers (see Cliffhanger above).
  • Wilhelm Scream: When Roof Hopping, one should be careful not to misjudge the distance, as Mexican-jacket-guy found out...