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Southland season premiere in Hot town with hot tempers

Southland in a fifth season Wednesdays is a cop saga like Dragnet and Naked City yet determined to unsettle with frankness and emotionalism.

The premiere moved along a few familiar storylines. Regina King's Lydia Adams is coping with single-motherhood, a new infant, and the child-care help of her mother so that Lydia can still chase down fleeing suspects. Michael Cudlitz's John Cooper is struggling with the demands of his lover to make their relationship more permanent (his boyfriend goes so far as to suggest they acquire "kids" - is the compulsively blunt Cooper remotely ready for fatherhood?). Ben McKenzie's Ben Sherman was shown grappling one again with the fate of being both a good cop and good-looking: Attention comes his way even when he doesn't want it. And perrennially beleaguered Sammy (the terrific Shawn Hatosy) is still taking grief from his angry, eccentric ex, Tammi (applause for Emily Bergl, fearless about making her character belligerently, stupidly self-righteous

Wednesday night's debut - in which Chad Michael Murray popped up for a story curve that discovers him donning a crewcut "n" cop 'stache that makes him resemble a combination of Jim Carrey and deep Throat star Harry Reems - had various striking set-pieces that will pay off one week from now in a scene that is, if anything, stunningly better. Both of these hours consolidate to make energizing, heart-tweaking TV; it is the accomplishment of inventor Ann Biderman and her group that, over and over, the temperament in any given scene changes from malevolence to funniness to catastrophe with striking, totally persuading, velocity. Simply taking care of that subplot of the young person who was raped - there were so many elements in play, the economy in the storytelling, yet the expansiveness of the behaviors elicited, was impressive.

If Southland was on FX or AMC, I get the feeling it would be receiving more attention from viewers and awards groups (critics and a strong cult have remained loyal). Indeed, I think my dream two-hour drama block would be an episode of Justified polished off by a swift edition of Southland.

Yes, I know you're just getting hooked on The Americans. But we should be very glad and grateful Southland is back; I urge you to program your DVR for a season pass.

Twitter: @kentucker

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