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Apr-11-2009 23:25printcomments

Southland Sizzles on NBC But Lacks Realism

One utterly unrealistic scene is complimented by more believable portrayals of gangland LA, aka the "Southland" - a term used regularly by LA news anchors.

Southland tv show cast
Photos courtesy: nbc.com/southland/

(SALEM, Ore.) - The new NBC police drama "Southland" debuted last week, and I have to admit I was looking forward to it. The new show by the creators of "ER" definitely was a fast moving and exciting crime drama that I expect will be around for a long time. Well-written and at times unrealistic, it is typical Hollywood but more edgy and never slow.

Officer Ben Sherman, an LAPD
rookie, is played by Ben McKenzie.

I observed a mix of extreme reality-based portrayals of gangland Los Angeles, aka "the Southland" as LA news anchors often refer to it, with one utterly unrealistic scene in the beginning, and very questionable moral messages, unfortunately.

The setting for the unrealistic scene that I mentioned is the first day for rookie LAPD Officer Ben Sherman, played by Ben McKenzie, who is paired with seasoned Officer John Cooper, played my Michael Cudlitz.

They see a yellow Ferrari Testa Rosa do an illegal u-turn which would constitute (most likely) a traffic infraction, in real life.

A young, blond-haired typically California rich kid quickly asks if they know who his dad is. The seasoned officer tells the rookie to "search the car" and upon doing so, the first-day cop pulls a baggie of marijuana out of the Ferrari's passenger side. As the order to search the car is issued, the driver objects, saying he didn't grant permission for the officers to search his car.

Veteran, seasoned Officer John Cooper is
portrayed by actor Michael Cudlitz

The seasoned cop responds by saying, "You've been watching too much TV kid".

This is troubling, because search and seizure is something Americans are legally protected from, that is if you read the Constitution. It's called the Right to Privacy.

But too few know this simple fact, and believe they must submit to search and seizure when they don't have to.

The program could have taught viewers a thing or two about their rights, but instead suggests that the "good guy" cop is in the right when he's completely wrong.

This scene came very early in the program and I thought that was going to be a sign of things to come, but it wasn't.

The Ferrari driver who implied that he was the son of a very wealthy man, recognized the rookie officer and thought for a moment that it was a TV show. Apparently the rookie cop is a Beverly Hills guy who chose to be an LAPD officer and prove his mettle. This appears to be the point for the entire Ferrari scene in retrospect.

Here's the simple reality check for the writers of this program; cops in LA do violate people's rights, they do it all the time and they have for a long time. But they aren't stupid, even the bad ones, and they know that rogue illegal cop stuff; searching without just cause or a warrant, needs to be reserved for poor people who don't know their rights, or have lawyers.

Rich kids in Ferrari's have dads with powerful attorneys and if cops have career patterns of constantly doing things illegally, then prosecutors and judges know they aren't credible and they fail to get convictions on arrests. Soon they cease to be cops, if they work for realistic agencies.

There are many variables, but even if it is a gradual process, there is real level of accountability for police officers and complaints go in their permanent records. Then there are civil law suits and other things officers don't look good for initiating.

Again, it is not to say that people don't routinely have their rights violated by police in LA or most other big U.S. cities, but cops have a good sense of what they can and can't get away with. The biggest group affected by illegal search and seizure are often minorities. Scenes like this one in Southland give people the wrong idea on many levels.

In the end of the show that same seasoned cop gives the younger guy a talk about how he can never lie, and always has to be honest. It seems confusing based on his character in the Ferrari scene.

The show's plot simultaneously involves the disappearance of a little girl, the shooting of a teenage boy who is mistaken to be a rival gang member by gangbangers in a low rider, and the dealings between witnesses who can help identify the shooters, the police, and their mother who wants zero involvement with the investigation.

The acting throughout was fantastic, it is worth watching and I look forward to the next episode. I think that Southland will go far and I personally enjoy seeing the places that I recall while growing up there. A friend of mine said, "Oh that's just what we need, another Southern California cop show!"

I couldn't agree more.

I have intentionally left a good deal of the plot out of this so as to not be a spoiler. Here is the link to the Website for the show. If you have high speed Internet, you can watch it in full frame perfection. Follow the video links: nbc.com/southland/

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Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 in Afghanistan with Oregon troops. Tim recently returned from Iraq where he covered the war there while embedded with an Oregon Guard aviation unit. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com




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Kelli September 7, 2009 6:44 pm (Pacific time)

Looking back over the posts......... I really meant it when I said the comment about brighter than that. I was referring to the rest of your piece. Sorry if I offended not intentional. I watched all the series last year and I loved that they did not fill in every blank. I thought the show way very exciting. again sorry if I offended.


Gunslinger June 21, 2009 9:52 pm (Pacific time)

I understand your story flaw perception with the whole search and seizure issue, but I think you may have jumped the gun a bit in your search and seizure of that theory ;) As the story progresses, we see that the officer in mention is definitely on a downward spiral, and is making decisions that are leading to a road down the line that may possibly hurt his career as an officer. The point of these little protocol mishaps are not unrealistic portrayals of officer intelligence in regard to what they can and can not do, but rather a specific insight on that particular characters mental and physical deterioration.


Kelli May 28, 2009 12:25 pm (Pacific time)

........... Sorry. You are wrong. I checked with a friend who is a cop. The car is fair game. Once the stop was made for wreckless driving ......... Even eratic driving. Now going into the trunk would be a different story. Gus the laws are different in your state.


Kelli April 12, 2009 8:53 pm (Pacific time)

I live in california. You can't just whip a u turn in without a signal and w/o pulling into the center lane...( if one exists ), also a car is fair game if he appears to be stoned or under the influence. but maybe it needs to be spoon fed to you. I thought you were brighter than that. (Or maybe Cooper thought the kid was a dick ! ). There is alot of crap out there. This is an exciying show. It does have flaws but I am not going to nit pick.

Tim King: Wow, you take little shots and you are not pleasant enough to spar with.  The show didn't establish that the guy was stoned; that's all I was trying to say.  If every person who hung an illegal "louie" was illegally searched and arrested for less than an ounce of weed (An infraction- you know, the most minimal way one can break the law, like 30 mph in a 25 zone) there wouldn't be any drivers left on the road. Anyway, you said your two cents, but you never made any point at all  If you write again, keep  the personal insults out or I'll flush it down the comment toilet, dig? 


Gwen Castro April 12, 2009 3:46 pm (Pacific time)

Great show, I loved it!


Kelli April 12, 2009 12:13 pm (Pacific time)

I just assumed that he could smell the pot. ............. and after a very illegal U turn they had plenty of "Cause" to search the car.................... maybe you have been watching too much TV.......lol.

Tim King: Kelli, you crack me up but we know by watching the show that they never established that.  U-turns aren't illegal in California, so other than the squeeling of the tires, there wasn't even a crime.  They didn't actually show the guy smoking out. 

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