'Southland' changes partners in fourth season

Southland (tv program)ConcertsMusicEntertainmentLucy LiuDorian MissickLos Angeles Police Department

Fans who tuned in last week to the fourth-season premiere of TNT's Tuesday LAPD police drama "Southland" may have noticed that many of the players were the same, but the pairings have been shuffled a bit.

Former rookie cop Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie) finally moved on from his training officer, John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz), and was teamed with former detective Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy), who's now back in uniform.

Cooper, having recovered from back surgery, has a new partner, Officer Jessica Tang (Lucy Liu). And Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King), who has had a string of partners, hopes she's finally found a keeper in her latest sidekick, Detective Ruben Robinson (Dorian Missick), a former Marine and veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

On this Tuesday in mid-November, the "Southland" cast is spending a rare day on the show's standing sets in downtown Los Angeles, at the same former office building that's been home to CBS' "NUMB3RS" and AMC's "Mad Men."

"We're hardly ever here," Cudlitz says. "I like it. They feed me."

As to whether he's sad that executive producers Christopher Chulack and John Wells broke up one of television's top "bromances" when they separated Cooper and Sherman, Cudlitz says, "It's good. It's the way of things. It had to happen. He had to try his wings and do his own thing. It's actually a cool transition for the show. All these relationships and these people that we think we know are doing different things in their lives and their careers, so it's almost like a reset."

"Obviously," says McKenzie, "the John-Ben relationship has been probably the central relationship on the show. Quite frankly, you can't be at all accurate if you're going to keep the training officer and student thing going past probation. The probationary period was already getting really long – three years.

"It's like, I'm a slow learner, but I'm awesome at my job. It was getting a little played out. We just couldn't keep going to that well."

McKenzie is also enjoying the different dynamic that Sherman, now a phase two probationer, has in the squad car with Sammy.

"All of a sudden," he says, "the status is not an issue. Occasionally, he'll give me some sort of advice. It's more like brotherly advice, like peer-to-peer advice. It's two guys, just out there, busting on each other, making fun of each other, but with real love and real affection. It's great.

"I love it. It's great. And these P2 dogs, these guys straight off probation, they're full of piss and vinegar. They've got all the adrenaline. The training wheels are off, and they just want to go out there and kick a... .

"So that's where we're going."

Meanwhile, Cooper is finally free of the nagging back pain and prescription pill troubles that have dogged him since the season premiere.

"John's healthy," Cudlitz says. "His back's been fixed. He's not on the drugs. He's not in pain. What I'm going with – and I haven't gotten clarification from them yet on exactly what it is – but there were pins put in his lower back, and the vertebrae were fused.

"Obviously, this last year, it got to the point where he had to do something. He made the choice to try the surgery. It could have ended his career, but it didn't."

For Missick, landing on "Southland" is, as he puts it, "a dream come true. I really love it. It's my favorite show. To be added as a cast member to my favorite show, as an actor, it's the best thing. It's never happened before.

"I was a fan of 'The Cosby Show' before, never got cast on 'The Cosby Show.' I was a fan of 'The Wire,' never was available to do an episode. So, yeah, I'm lovin' it."

Ruben is also pretty happy to be paired with Lydia.

"He's got this idea," says Missick, "that he wants to be the top of the food chain. You work with the best, you pick up the best habits. You work your way up from there. He's a big fan of Lydia. There's an attraction in that way."

As to possible sexual tension, Missick says, "Not that way. He's a married man. I don't see that happening. This guy, he's crazy about his kids and his wife. When this came around, I read the script, and I said, 'There's no way I'm not getting this.' I loved their dynamic in the sense that, although there's a mutual admiration, there's not that, 'OK, let's jump in bed' kind of thing. This guy's not going to do that, at least not to my knowledge.

"Regina's among the top three actresses that I've wanted to work with. Those three things: the writing, the fact that it is 'Southland' and that I get to work with her, pretty much sealed the deal."

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