Lucy on TV with Diamonds
by Eric J Baker
Living with an addict is crushing. Believe me, I know.
Addiction, America’s ugly secret, is sneaky. In the beginning, it hides behind a façade of normalcy and happiness. But, like an insidious disease, it spreads until the victim can think of nothing but the next fix. The people who care for her are spurned, for she has found her one true love. Though you are desperate to help, it’s too late. The addiction has rotted her from within and infiltrated your home. It is addiction on demand.
It is cop shows.
At least I can take solace that the cop-show addict in my home, the lovely Ms. Ahn, my wife, has discovered TNT’s Southland. In a televised sea of cardboard CSI characters unraveling too-clever murder plots and fluffy, witless network detective dramas that take no chances on upsetting advertisers, Southland brings true grit to the airwaves. You know what? I don’t mind joining her for a toot of that stuff.
Shot with hand-held cameras, the documentary-style show follows three sets of law-enforcement characters through the grimy slums of L.A. as they bust up teenage prostitution rings, laugh at gun-shot-wounded drug dealers who are bleeding to death, and cause as much havoc as they put down. One storyline tracks jaded patrol officer Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy) and his partner Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie), the latter of whom gets emotionally invested to the point that, out of uniform, he sometimes enforces his own laws. Meanwhile, compassionate detective Lydia Adams (Regina King) and her chauvinistic partner Ruben Robinson (Dorian Missick) solve crimes while dishing out profanity-laden, Tarantino-esque dialog. The third storyline involves this season’s addition, diminutive tough girl Jessica Tang (Lucy Liu), teaming up with a recovering drug addict, Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz).
And does my Ms. Ahn have a thing for Michael Cudlitz or what? It never stops amazing me who women find hot. It’s hardly ever Ryan Reynolds and it’s almost always someone you would not expect, like Michael Cudlitz, who looks to me like a hybrid of John Goodman and Sean Astin. It recalls the time our own James Killough waxed poetic about the sexiness of disgraced New York governor and not-at-all-good-looking man Elliot Spitzer. But I don’t have to live with Killough, and I do have to live with Ms. Ahn, so every time Cudlitz’s face shows up on screen, I am compelled to ask (with affected incredulity), “Really? That guy?”
The show is thinly plotted, almost like a high-stakes episode of Cops with crisscrossing story threads. And whenever it seems we are about to travel down the well-trodden Law and Order path, the writers take a left turn. On a recent episode, a nanny driving her employer’s kids around in the family Mercedes disappears. In the Law and Order universe, where wealthy people are inherently evil and perpetually orchestrating murder conspiracies, the bitchy wife is all-but guaranteed to be guilty. In Southland, after an hour of trying to uncover a complex – but nonexistent – web of secrets, Detectives Adams and Robinson find out the nanny was killed by a random schizophrenic who wandered up to the car. Case closed. The show may be hard-edged and grim, but it’s underpinned by sardonic humor.
Given her fondness for the down-and-out Officer Cooper, my adorable little addict enjoys following the Liu/Cudlitz thread. Lucy Liu, who has carved out an interesting career playing venomous snakes of varying motivation and temperament, is cold steel as Officer Tang. Given her morose partner’s struggles with drug abuse, they make a dark pair. I prefer the lighter King/Missick storyline, not just for the crackling dialog but for Regina King’s weirdly sexy Detective Adams. King, who seems to be the black Anne Archer (she’s played the thankless “hero’s wife” in a number of films), is not a traditional beauty, but her character’s soft-spoken intensity and vibrant eyes make it hard to look away when she’s on screen.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, what with me having just cracked on my wife and Killough, respectively, for their weird attractions. When we were watching Southland the other day and Regina King came on screen, I said what I’d been thinking for a while: “You know, that’s an unconventionally beautiful woman.”
Ms. Ahn, in her distinct dialect of Konglish (a tangle of Korean and English) said, “You like the girls with the different skins.”
“Ya think?” I said. Perhaps she hasn’t looked in a mirror recently.
Her point, if she had one, was well taken. Why does one guy gravitate toward the exotic while the next one goes for the all-American apple-pie look?
Geographer, linguist, biologist, and Pulitzer-prize-winning science-guy Jared Diamond wrote in his fascinating book, The Third Chimpanzee, that we humans map the people closest to us during our first five years of life and later use that imprint as a model for sexual attractiveness. Diamond was citing others’ research and didn’t describe it exactly that way, but I think it explains why a lot of people marry someone who reminds them of their mother, father, or siblings.
I was an odd kid, though. My three older siblings are close in age to each other but not to me, which means they were seldom around when I was. That isn’t particularly weird, but the fact that I spent a lot of time alone with Japanese sci-fi films and blaxploitation movies might be. While other four-year-old kids were playing wiffle ball in the park with their dads, I was watching Blacula. My earliest opportunity to imprint the concept of “woman” was watching the versatile Mie Hama strut around in King Kong vs. Godzilla. No doubt you recall the scene in which she flees from a train (moments before it’s smashed by Godzilla), falls in the brook, and stands up, her dripping-wet dress clinging to her body…That moment was ten-bell hot when I was four, and it still gets my pulse rate up.
Another Japanese sci-fi princess from the 1960s, Akiko Wakabayashi, co-starred with Hama in the James Bond film, You Only Live Twice. To me, though, she will always be the beautiful yakuza moll in the bizarre gangster/sci-fi hybrid Dogora, about a space creature that eats stolen diamonds. But my dream girl back then was Kumi Mizuno, who starred in heaps of Asian fantasy films, including the hallucinogenic horror show Matango, which, as a metaphor for drug addiction, was rather ahead of its time in 1963.
Not that I thought about any of that as a kid. I just remember watching these women on TV and thinking, “Is it getting hot in here?” I’ve been begging Ms. Ahn to get a Kumi Mizuno haircut for years but she refuses, probably for the justifiable reason that I will be pestering her for sex and making her act out scenes from Invasion of the Astro-Monster all the time. For whatever weird reason, chicks aren’t into that. Go figure.
None of this explains why she is into guys like Michael Cudlitz and David Caruso. To my knowledge, she had very little exposure to raspy-voiced, middle-aged, redheaded white men while growing up 20 miles from the DMZ.
Looking for answers before I sat down to write this story, I asked her what it is about “John” she finds so appealing (she refers to her TV boyfriends by their character’s first names. When CSI Miami is starting, she says, “Shhh. Horatio is on.”).
She replied, with a definitive tone, “He looks like a man.”
Which made me feel pretty good because I can compete with that. I just need to get me a cop uniform. I’m already packing heat.