Southland: Punching Water – A Review

Southland: Punching Water


“Most good cops are passionate cops. Put enough of them together and occasionally their passions explode.”

You know, there’s simply not a better cop show on TV. Action, emotions, compassion, and realism. That’s what Southland brings to the screen each and every week. And the cast and crew absolutely nail the details—so much so, that I feel as if I’ve dusted off the old gun belt and jump boots and hit the streets again.

If you, a civilian, have ever wondered what it’s like to work an eight-hour shift as a police officer you need to look no further than TNT at 10 pm on Tuesday nights. This week’s episode, Punching Water, was that “day in the life,” that began with a murder committed by a killer with an odd nickname, a moniker that led to an interesting “pointing of fingers” by a very reluctant witness.

When the witness (above) told Sammy that “nobody” killed the guy, he was actually referring to a thug/gang member whose street name was Nobody. Street names are important to people who, well, live and work the streets. Many criminals, street people, drug dealers and users, etc. don’t use their given names. Instead, they go by a nickname, which in many instances is the only name anyone knows them by, including the closest of their friends. These street names are often assigned to people due to an association to them and a certain item or event. For example, I once arrested a drug dealer whose street name was Pork Chop. He, of course, had a passion for eating fried pork chops. Pork Chop’s friends included Popcorn, Onion, One Eye, Truck, AK, and Doobie.

– Ben, Ben, Ben…what’s up with the Badge Bunny? Didn’t your police academy instructors warn you about those uniform-chasin’ members of the opposite sex? They’re everywhere, waiting to prey on unsuspecting rookies. Sure, it starts with sex, but where will it end? Following you around while you’re responding to calls? Sitting across the street from your house while you sleep? Phony 911 calls from her residence so she can see you in uniform? Speeding just so you’ll stop her for the infraction? Oh wait, that’s how it all started, right? You should have listened to the warnings. “Red-headed-Sallys” can be bad news. Perhaps you should give her a gentle nudge in the direction of the local fire department…

– During the shift briefing the sergeant tells the crew to stop gang member’s cars for every single infraction, write tickets, and tow their cars if possible. Good scene. That tactic can be just aggravating enough to cause someone to snitch, hoping the police will leave them alone.

– One of the detectives said, “I’ve got a C.I. I can talk to.” He was referring to an informant (confidential informant). Each detective, over time, builds up a network of informants they can turn to for information. Good detail.

– John tells Dewey to “light ’em up,” meaning to initiate a traffic stop by turning on the blue lights (AKA “activating the emergency equipment). During the stop Cooper stood to the side and rear of the suspect’s vehicle while Denny approached with his hand on his weapon. Good officer safety.

– A thug tells one of the officers, “I ain’t no snitch. I’m off the paper,” meaning he was no longer on probation, which meant the officer no longer had that leverage over him.

– The scene where Nobody’s dead body was stretched out on the sidewalk was pretty realistic. Other cop shows should take notice. Even the blood was a fairly realistic color.

– Cooper calls for an RA unit. If I’m not mistaken this is LAPD-speak for rescue ambulance. Every locale has their own terminology for this stuff. In some areas officers simply say, “Send rescue.”

– This episode shows non-stop calls. Officers barely finish answering one before they’re dispatched to another. That’s the way it is, folks—an assembly line of he-said-she-saids, shootings, shoplifters, domestics, and unfounded’s.

– Sammy said, “The whole gang problem is about parenting. Walk into the living room it’s always the same song—Why, why, why did the Lord take my baby?” Sammy turned to look at his partner and continued, “Well, maybe he’s dead because you’re a crackhead and don’t know who the father is, and maybe if you’d raised him instead of his “homies” I wouldn’t be standing here.” I don’t think I could sum it up any better. That’s real life.

– A dead guy in the street surrounded by police officers and their vehicles. A crowd of looky-loos stands at the perimeter. The mother of the deceased forces her way into the scene, crying and hollering, “My baby. Why, why, why!” Seems like Sammy knew what he was talking about, huh? Yep, and I’ve been to this scene myself…dozens of times.

– There was a bit of racial tension floating around among the officers. It happens, and I’m glad the writers chose to show it. The same occurs along gender lines. BUT, cops work through it, and in the end they cover each other’s backs. No matter what…usually.

– Salinger says, “Fighting gang crime is like punching water. No matter how hard you hit it you can’t seem to leave a dent.” That’s the way officers feel, sometimes. No matter how hard you work, or how many you take off the street, they just keep coming…and coming, and coming.

– Someone referred to the AK-47 as a “neighborhood gun.” This happens quite often. A weapon is passed around to various gang members who use it for various crimes. Sometimes, the weapon is kept by a single person in a central location so others can get it as needed…sort of like checking out a library book.

– The scene where the entry team kicked in a front door, and the bad guy ran out the back into the waiting arms of detectives, was a good one. The runner had a planned escape route with convenient “helpers” (chairs, etc.) placed along the way to assist in climbing over fences. It reminded me a similar incident…We were trying to rid a neighborhood of drug and gang activity and one of our methods was quite similar to the tactics used on Southland. One night a group of uniformed officers hit the neighborhood at once, jumping out of unmarked vans. This caused the drug dealers to run, and their pre-planned escape routes included running through holes they’d cut in the chain-link fencing throughout those particular projects. Little did they know that I, and a few other detectives, were waiting on the other side of those holes. As they darted through, I used my steel Maglite to give each one a little “love tap” on the chins. They hit the dirt like falling trees.

– Cooper tells Ben, “You’ve got to learn when to turn off the camera inside your head.” That’s how cops survive the carnage. You turn it off. Unfortunately, not everyone can do that and it eventually takes its toll.

– John and Ben just happened to notice the shooting suspect’s vehicle in the line of traffic ahead of them. This happens quite often in real life…a patrol officer spots a stolen car in a hotel parking lot; she passes a car with a wanted suspect at the wheel, etc. Yes, sometimes luck provides the opportunity.

– Another good quote from this episode…”Remember what it was like the first time you put on your blues and stood in front of a mirror? Makes you remember why you became a cop.”

Finally…I can’t seem to warm up to Lydia’s new partner. Maybe she’ll grow on me. The problem is, however, her presence has already weakened the Lydia character. Nope, Lydia is no longer the tough cop she once was. And that’s a shame.

And Sammy’s wife…For me, she’s Southland’s Lanie Parish. And if you follow my Castle reviews you know that’s not a good thing.

8 replies
  1. GunDiva
    GunDiva says:

    You know, I have yet to see this show. I’m always at work when it’s on and don’t *gasp* have a DVR. Guess I’d better find it on Amazon and get caught up 🙂

  2. Kathy Bennett
    Kathy Bennett says:

    Yeah, Southland is one of the best cops shows out there. However, I’ve got to say the scene with the officers coming to blows in the street in front of the media was a ‘groaner’ for me. The LAPD has had enough unfavorable video shot of us to last a lifetime. The scene was highly unlikely.

    I enjoy your reviews, Lee.

  3. Mack
    Mack says:

    A character like Dewey is necessary for drama, tension, and because a character everyone dislikes makes it more interesting. But what would happen with someone like Dewey in real-life? Would he be tolerated as long as he doesn’t cross some line like getting someone killed.

  4. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Hey Lee:

    I was wondering if you were ever partnered with anyone who drove you crazy or if you had any friends on the force who had that experience? What do you do if that happens?


  5. Bob Mueller
    Bob Mueller says:

    Yeah, I expect fireworks between Chickie and John over a number of things. It’ll take another event like what John did last night to trigger it, but with that, John’s harping last season about coming off the streets, and his drug use (which I think Chickie suspects), she’s going to unload on him in a big way.

    Josie is growing on me a little. Granted, we’ve only seen her for two episodes, but I hope she hangs around longer than the last two partners.

  6. R. McMahan
    R. McMahan says:

    The handling of the racial and gender tensions, I thought was well done. In cliched shows, they would have made Sammy’s observations be “wrong.” And they would have shown Lydia’s new partner to be right. I think it was telling that Sammys’ assumption about the young man mistakingly killed was wrong. Also, though Sammy spouts a tirade many cops have heard and felt about what causes crime, you could see the look on his face when he held the mother back. In his mind, he may think one thing, but he sympathized with this woman’s loss. You could see the pain.

    Then Lydia’s new partner admits to not living “in the hood,” I think that says something as well about truth in bad neighborhoods and her flight from them.

    RE: Lydia’s new partner. I loved it when Sammy and his partner got the zinger in on her. She was doing the “when I was in Newton we didn’t need help routine,” and they told her,”Yeah I heard they were crying when you left.” Everyone has dealt with these cops who have done everything, know everything and have always done it better. And these zingers do fly.

    I can’t decide who’s more annoying, Lydia’s new partner or Dewey, of course they are both in a tie for second place with Sammy’s wife.

    And, am I the only one who’s waiting for Chickie to deck John for shafting her mid-shift with Dewey?

    Sal’s character has grown on me over the past two seasons. At first he seemed just there as the old Detective cheating with the news reporter. However, with scenes like the one where he talks about “certain lines being crossed” and “decent people living in bad neighborhoods” I think you see he’s a good cop who still knows why he went into policing.

    And I agree with Lee, the cops “taking it to the streets” with zero tolerance for thugs is very effective.

  7. pabrown
    pabrown says:

    Sammy’s wife was a major irritant from day one. I don’t know how many times I wanted to smack her upside the head — or tell him to grow a pair and dump the starter wife. LOL.

  8. Bob Mueller
    Bob Mueller says:

    Great observations, Lee.

    I thought Dewey was right on. Self-righteous reformed drunk, and just as caustic. John pointed out at lunch that when he was drunk, he was funny. Now there’s nothing buffering the acid in his personality, and we see more of the burned-out cop that Dewey really is. I liked John’s comment comparing Dewey to Ben. Interesting to see him back; I thought he had retired before.

    The Badge Bunny, or cop groupie is good too. They’re out there, at all levels of agencies and all types of departments. And female officers get them too. The look on Ben’s face at the “autographed poster by the door” comment was perfect. The razzing at lunch was very much on target. Ben is accepted, for the most part, but no one lets him forget he’s the junior officer there.

    The lingo is good. “Find me a wit.” “Boot.” “P2.” “CI.”

    Sal was interesting. He sounds just like an administrator when he’s yelling about the fight and the cameras. But I get the distinct impression he misses the street work. He and Josie talk like they’ve got some history, so it will be interesting to see how that develops during the season.

    Tactics were great, as you said. Officer positioning on traffic stops; the SWAT raid. Even when John and Dewey took the hotel room (and John continued to injure his back). The escape route for the banger after the raid was more of the attention to detail that this show excels at.

    I suspect I’ll be saying this a lot, but the characterization and casting in this show is just superb. The actors are completely believable: Lydia vs Dewey; The interplay of Lydia and Josie vs Nate and poor Sammy.

    I can’t quite decide how I feel about Josie. I didn’t like her as much as other characters after last week, but that’s normal. I wasn’t a huge fan of Nate after a few shows last season, either. We don’t like everyone we meet. Some folks just rub us wrong. But I get the feeling she’s still a good cop, albeit maybe with an interesting history. She strikes me as a bit of a female version of the stereotypical cocky male cop. I think she’s a much deeper character than we’ve seen so far, and I’ll be very interested to see her develop.

    My two nits:
    At the investigation of the drive-by, it seemed like the windshield hits didn’t match up. They looked straight on, instead of angled. Should there have been a more horizontal look to them?

    Ben and John have their lights & sirens on & off during the pursuit. Ben lights him up as they pull the U-turn, but in every shot following them clearing that intersection, the lights and siren are off. It’s really just a continuity thing, but continuity is a pet peeve.

    I’m also curious about the apparent reversion back to the old cruiser assignments after John dumps Dewey. Chickie is certainly going to be ticked, but was John able to get away with dumping Dewey without penalty? They made a big deal about Dewey riding with John at the beginning of the show, but was it only for one day?

    And will Sammy ever catch a break?

Comments are closed.