TV Eye

TV Curmudgeon

NBC's <i>Southland</i>
NBC's Southland

ER is over! Dead, gone, ended. Its death was called in one long, bittersweet episode, along with an hourlong special retrospective leading up to it, which aired last week. I just watched both this week. Now I can stop avoiding writing about it. It's just the way I roll. Whenever I see there's a lot of chatter about something, I run in the other direction. Besides, as far as I was concerned, ER was done for many, many seasons ago; I stopped watching when Anthony Edwards' Dr. Greene died. So the long farewell was long overdue. And while I thought the swan song was well done, I can't say that it made me wish I'd continued to be a faithful viewer. The only thing I missed was seeing that Dr. Romano (Paul McCrane) died when a helicopter fell on top of him. That made me laugh out loud. The irony of it – Romano previously lost an arm to a 'copter – was the blackest humor I'd seen on TV pretty much ever. In fact, that was the highlight of the entire "ER is ending" experience for me. Now if they can just kill off Izzie Stevens over on Grey's Anatomy as quickly as Dr. Romano – perhaps the ghost of her ex lures her into the woods where she gets lost forever? – then I will be happy. And I'll be ecstatic if Meredith Grey goes to look for her and gets lost, too, never to return. Ever.

So why all this TV gallows humor? Perhaps because I'm not afraid to see a show end. I will shout a litany of expletives when something doesn't get a fair shot – Arrested Development, Freaks and Geeks, and Wonderfalls come to mind. But when something lives beyond its shelf life, I have no patience. Even I have to admit that when my most revered TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was put to rest, it was none too soon.

Stories end. It's life, the stuff of our stories that goes on and on and on, with all its ordinariness, all its repetition, and all the obligations. Stories end so we can learn from them. Good stories end so we can relish them, share them, and re-read or watch them, because they are worth hearing, reading, or listening to again. Great stories ripen with time and have more to give than was originally imagined. In TV land, you want shows to end because it makes room for new stories, better stories, untold stories. And some of them are even great.

The long overdue demise of ER makes space for a new series that is just as good as – and potentially better than – what came before. In this case, it's Southland, which is taking ER's coveted berth Thursday nights on NBC. Yes, it's another police drama, but this one is surprising, refreshing, and superb. It marks the return of Austin-born Benjamin McKenzie (The OC) to the small screen as a rookie police officer in the Los Angeles Police Department system. I've only seen one episode, and what intrigues me about this series (also from ER's John Wells) is what is missing. While ER trafficked in sudden, high action, those crazy camera shots careening through the emergency room, blood and guts and melodrama dripping everywhere, Southland (at least the pilot episode) is remarkably still. What shocks is the absence of sound and action, as if you are caught inside the chest of the person (in many cases, McKenzie's Ben Sherman) as they try to make sense of what has happened and what might be coming next. The series also stars Michael Cudlitz (A River Runs Through It) as John Cooper, the cop assigned to break in rookies. Cooper is a cop's cop – but with a secret that could dismantle the respect he's earned over the years. And it is a big thrill to see Regina King (Jerry Maguire) among the ensemble cast, staring at Detective Lydia Adams, looming large in her understated, effortless way.

Well, what do you know – there is life after ER.

Southland premieres tonight (4/9) and airs Thursdays at 9pm on NBC.

As always, stay tuned.

E-mail Belinda Acosta at tveye@austinchronicle.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

ER, Southland, ER, Southland, Anthony Edwards, John Wells, Paul McCrane, Benjamin McKenzie, Michael Cudlitz, Regina King

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