Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TV Episode Review: Southland “Punching Water”

Blogger’s note (how pretentious am I?):  I know this review is extremely belated, but I want to try and keep up with this show throughout the season, so I’m posting this one late for what it’s worth and promise to try and do better from now on.  Because I know thousands of my three dozen readers were losing sleep over not having my thoughts on a niche cop drama within a couple days of its airing.  All apologies.

This episode draws its quirky title from a melodramatic little speech by Detective Salinger about how when the murder victim is a kid, it reminds an officer what it felt like the first time he looked at himself in the mirror wearing the blue police uniform.  It’s nearly a cool moment, but the stilted sentimentality of it rings just a bit too artificial for a show that hangs its hat on an almost documentary tone (it felt like the kind of speech David Caruso would give on CSI: Miami, but I couldn’t say for sure because my brain would kick my skull open and climb out of my head if I ever sat down to watch something that looks so stupid). 

Luckily, it was a small moment in an episode that had somewhat bigger ambitions than last week’s premiere and seemed to breathe a little energy back into the show’s character interactions and pacing.  The biggest development this week within the department is the self-celebrating return of Officer Dewey from AA; he’s reformed, resolved and absolutely insufferable.  The episode opens strongly with his callous remarks about the dead toddler of a gangbanger the crew is investigating.  It was a nice touch to have him reintroduced to the dynamics of the show without any update to explain to viewers how he’s been reinstated to active duty—his disgusting verbal ejaculations that the boy’s death just saves the department time because they would’ve been back for him when he turned into a gangbanger in 10 years isn’t inaccurate, but it’s a reminder of what these officers can easily become once cynicism outweighs their belief that what they’re doing makes a difference.  It’s a pretty dark worldview for Dewey, given that he’s all about “trusting the Man up above” now that he’s been through the program.  But it’s also fitting that it come from him, a man who has certainly seen how dark things get and probably has little reason left to pull any punches when talking about the way the world really is.  Regardless of his mindset, his harsh words make for a double shot of chin music for viewers right out of the gate—his observations are hard to stomach, and it’s a compliment to his character’s impact that I got a sinking feeling when I saw Dewey back in a police uniform. 

When he’s assigned to ride with Cooper, pushing Sherman in with Chickie (which is probably for the best, given the ribbing he’s taking for hooking up with a notorious badge-chaser who’s already “made the rounds” with everyone else), it’s only a matter of time before Cooper snaps.  The fact that his reaction within the episode is to simply pull “the old switcheroo” on Chickie when Dewey stops for a coffee is a bit disappointing, but the potential for the two to butt heads further down the line makes me believe Dewey’s return will eventually end badly for one or both of them. 

Meanwhile, Moretta and Bryant’s B-story didn’t pick up much this week.  It’s an unfair standard of judgment, but seeing them working over locals for info on gang activity only makes me long for Vic Mackey and the special unit to come in and get things done the right way (also know in legal circles as “the wrong way”).  They haven’t been given much to do, nor has it mattered in any interesting way so far, but I still have to think that will pick up.  I refuse to believe that the biggest story these two talented actors are going to be thrown this season is the cliffhanger revelation this week that Bryant’s wife cheated on him and might be having some other guy’s baby.  Good, kick her out, she’s been an anchor weighing down the show throughout its entire run.  Her character doesn’t mesh well with Bryant.  I know they’re written as an incompatible couple.  My point is that their relationship doesn’t ring true on many levels—he has no interest in her life, she’s not the type who would appreciate a detective’s devotion to his job, and neither seem like the type of person who would rededicate themselves to a struggling relationship.  Bryant especially is a dismissive personality and would have cut a girl like this loose long ago.  The big surprise that jumps out of the bushes at him (almost literally) at the end of this episode is not unexpected and doesn’t really carry much emotional investment (I doubt many viewers were elated to hear she was pregnant in the first place).

As for Adams, her partner remains smug and utterly unbearable this week, so it’s unfortunate that the one good shot she gets in on a fellow body in blue is wasted on Dewey.  He deserves it, but Adams needs to put her foot down about getting another partner who just isn’t cutting it.  More to the point, the show has driven the ongoing dramatic arc of who could possibly replace Adams’s original beloved partner right into the ground, and if this is their permanent solution then I’d like to lodge a formal complaint.  Despite her value and potential “street cred” and experience, she’s built up a lot of animosity with Adams and viewers alike, and I think it’s going to play pretty poorly if in the coming weeks we’re asked to change our opinions of her based on some golden gesture meant to tug forgiveness from our shriveled hearts. 

For all of the continued fumbling about for character relationships and stability, this week’s episode did deliver some solid police drama in the form of that great cold open and something of a step forward in terms of last week’s thematic concept.  The cops don’t exactly work through loopholes in the system this week, but the episode seemed to provide some setup for the idea of frustrated police working the angles to get the right outcome as tensions rose steadily between partners and in the emotional response to the baby-sized cowboy boots lying in the street at the scene of the drive-by.  It’s not a lot of momentum, but I continue to recommend the show readily to anyone who hasn’t seen it, and there have been enough sparks of raw, energetic television bursting here and there in these first two weeks for me to remain confident in the remainder of the season.

Overall Score:  7.4/10

Great Quotes, Interesting Moments, What Not and Occasionally What-have-you:
  • The sub plot in the car garage seemed like wheel spinning to keep two characters busy for an episode.  I want Moretta and Bryant to get something useful to do, and soon.
  • I like the lunch sessions we've gotten to sit in on at the outdoor cafe this season--the dialogue there is casual and natural.  It's an old trick but an effective on to ingratiate characters to viewers through these types of scenes, and this show has done it partiucularly well.
  • I want to know if girls like the badge-chaser really exist.  I'm not looking to change professions or anything but the episode struck me as slipping into pure fiction with this little sub-plot.  Any agents of the law out there want to comment?  You can post anonymously...

No comments:

Post a Comment