What Separates Southland From Almost All the Other "Cop Shows" on TV

In the season finale of Southland (airing Tuesday at 10/9 central on TNT) my character, Ben Sherman, takes drastic action that is at the very least unethical and arguably immoral. In part, Ben is still working through the psychological trauma he experienced as a child when he saw his mother assaulted, But primarily, his actions are a direct result of his descent into nihilism, which is borne out of his inability to accomplish what he set out to do when he became a cop: make things better.

The tension between striving to make the world better and accepting the world as it is lies at the heart of almost every plotline in Southland. And it's what separates Southland from almost all the other "cop shows" on TV.

Many shows involving police portray a black-and-white world of good guys and bad guys -- cops and criminals. A crime occurs at the opening of each episode, followed by an investigation and the eventual capture of the criminal. It's a satisfying formula. Viewers are titillated with some violence and/or sex, but they're assured that all transgressions will be punished by the good guys, and the world will be made safe again for the average, law-abiding folk.

By contrast, Southland offers no such easy answers. Its characters grapple daily with ethical and moral questions of how to perform their jobs while still maintaining their humanity -- how to live in the world as it is, not as they wish it to be. Each character in Southland is forced to make compromises. Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King) is pregnant and must decide if she can stay on the job or take a leave of absence in order to ensure the health of her child. John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) believes his partner Jessica Tang (Lucy Liu) may have been involved in a bad shooting. But does he know she committed an error, or does he just testify to what he actually saw? The answers are never simple. Perhaps Lydia should remain on the job out of a sense of duty to the populace she protects. Perhaps her real duty is to her child. Perhaps Cooper should warn the brass that he suspects that Tang is lying to protect her career. But if he has no solid proof, what is his actual responsibility?

And that brings us to Ben Sherman. Throughout the season, we've watched as the perfect "Rookieboy" with the stoic-yet-sensitive countenance has transformed into something much more complicated. Sherman has an explosive violent streak -- especially when he feels women are being attacked. He also tries to play by the rules as a "by-the-book" cop. But what happens when ethical behavior leaves him powerless to actually change the situation? What happens when he takes matters into his own hands? Who has he become if he behaves no better than the criminals he despises? As always with Southland, there are no pat answers.