Like many viewers, I’ve tuned into past couple episodes of Southland expecting to learn a little more about gay LAPD Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz). Indeed, the show’s creator had told Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette that several minutes about Cooper’s being gay that didn’t make it into the pilot would show up in a subsequent episode. So far that hasn’t happened.
Curious what was up with that, I got in touch with a network spokeswoman who told me that "Episode 6 has the next scene that gives light to the fact that John is gay. Again, it is subtle."
That episode airs May 21st, is titled "Derailed" and will be the last to air until the fall.
I know some folks are frustrated by the slow development of Cooper’s personal life and some even fear we might be witnessing another Heroes degaying debacle in the making. Given that NBC let that happen once, I can’t say those fears are completely unjustified.
But I’ve talked to a number of folks very close to the show and I’m still not particularly worried about that hapenning here. Indeed, I continue to think the show is conducting a very interesting experiment. At this point, millions of folks watching Southland — presumably a lot of straight men — are getting to know and even identify with these characters. That includes John Cooper, a middle-aged white guy who, on the surface, seems a lot like the middle-aged white guys watching at home.
If the show doesn’t degay Cooper’s character, at some point those viewers will realize Cooper is gay. But by then they’ll already know and, hopefully, like him. So how will they handle the fact he’s gay? I think the situation is similar to when a gay person comes out to co-workers who get to know you professionally before personally. No doubt some will suddenly dislike Cooper, but I think just as many are likely to have some of their stereotypes about gay men shaken up by his "coming out."
Other readers have expressed concern that even if Cooper isn’t degayed, we’ll really learn nothing about his personal life. Here at AfterElton.com we write a lot about "barely there" gay characters, those characters who are gay, but get a cumulative screen time of 15 minutes over the course of a season. Or who have no personal life while the heterosexual characters fall in and out of love faster than your average 8th grader. But I always judge a show on how it treats its gay characters compared to how it treats the other characters on the show and on that score I think Cooper’s been treated fairly equitably.
Cooper was prominent in the first three episodes before disappearing in last week’s outing, which focused on other characters. So it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t had his share of screentime. As far as personal lives go, we have learned a little more about some of the other characters including Lydia (Regina King) and Sammy (Shawn Hatosy), but we’ve also learned very little about Ben (Ben McKenzie) and Russell (Tom Everett Scott).
The show has been picked up for a second season (though last week’s rating took a worrisome tumble, down nearly three million viewers from two weeks ago) and a source close to the show tells me writers are now working on the next batch of scripts, which will include some very interesting storylines for Cooper that clearly reflect his sexuality.
Will that come to pass? We’ll have to tune in next fall to find out for sure, but I’m feeling optimistic.