Every time I hear someone rave about the moral ambiguities of Breaking Bad, I want to force them to watch Southland. Oh, you were an NYPD Blue devotee back in the day? Try Southland. You like fast-paced shows? Southland. Shows with strong female characters? Southland. Diverse casts? Queer characters? O.C. alumni? Southland, Southland, Southland. And yet this show flies under the radar. Remedy this situation tonight when it returns for its fifth season — which might sound like a lot, but tonight's episode is only the 35th episode of the series thanks to wonky scheduling. That means it's easy to catch up if you want to (on iTunes or Amazon), or you can just use this handy who's who and jump right in.
Michael Cudlitz plays John Cooper.
He's the mostly closeted senior cop who battled a prescription painkiller addiction for the first few seasons. He seems super gruff and grumpy, but he's actually the best. And he's full of cop wisdom all the time!
Regina King plays Lydia Adams.
Actually, she's the best. Adams is a former track star, a fantastic detective, and a new (single) mother. She's incredibly loyal to her fellow officers and is really good at talking to suspects.
Benjamin McKenzie plays Ben Sherman.
At the start of the series, Sherman was a rookie. He's since moved up a bit, but he still sometimes has an air of greenness about him — he wants to do the right thing, but it's not always what comes naturally, thanks to all of his Inner Demons.
Shawn Hatosy plays Sammy Bryant.
Sammy's kind of a dill hole. Early on, he was in a terrible marriage; now he's in a terrible postdivorce relationship with his ex-wife, with whom he shares custody of their toddler son. Sammy started the show as a detective, but after his partner died in season three, he switched to being a uniform cop. He's very, very complain-y.
C. Thomas Howell plays Dewey Dudek.
He's a longtime cop and a grade-A shit heel — racist, violent, misogynistic, you name it.
People come and go a lot on Southland; minor characters pop up many times over several seasons while seemingly major ones stick around for only a few episodes. It's just one more lovably unusual thing about the show.