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The Wednesday Playlist: Southland, a Middle Valentine, Survivor

Michael Cudlitz | Photo Credits: Doug Hyun/TNT

Drama, comedy, reality: This is one of those nights where TV is firing on all cylinders.

Let’s start with the heavy lifting. One of TV’s most encouraging survival stories returns with the fifth-season premiere of TNT’s uncommonly gritty police drama Southland (10/9c), a network reject (from NBC’s darkest period) that thrives on cable, with a sharper focus and a determined avoidance of procedural cliché.

Each episode is like a graphic tour of duty on the streets of Los Angeles, and in the opener, it’s not always immediately clear if the patrol cops and detectives in the line of fire are witnessing a real crime or make believe or some other sort of scam. (One vignette involving a brawl between naked men in a sauna looks like an outtake from Spartacus.) “Treat it like a circus,” seasoned training office John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) advises his latest ride-along, an Afghan War vet with too much attitude. The media circus threatens to consume Cooper’s former partner Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie), newly decorated and enjoying the attention a bit too much. Grounding these characters in the mundane distractions of unblemished real life, Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King) is adjusting to single motherhood with…

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