Do you roll your eyes in disbelief when a network TV show presents a female cop in a tight shirt, leather jacket and lots of cleavage?
Then imagine how Regina King feels, starting her fourth season playing one of the realest female cops on TV in TNT's Southland, when she comes across a typical portrayal of a woman detective on television.
"I actually did catch a glimpse of a commercial and a detective had a scarf on," said King, noting the Los Angeles Police Department has a dress code for female officers that probably doesn't include mufflers. "I was, like, couldn't you get strangled? (laughs) Okay, let me stop. It's a show; it's not for real."
The fact is, King may be the most overlooked actress on TV these days, nailing her portrayal of Los Angeles police Detective Lydia Adams on Southland, a show that distinguishes itself by trying to evoke a taste of the real trials officers endure on the job.
For an actress who has earned some of her biggest notice playing wives and girlfriends — she was Cuba Gooding Jr.'s wife in Jerry Maguire and Jamie Foxx's mistress in Ray — King has finally scored a meaty role playing a woman who is very much standing on her own. King's Lydia Adams is a rare character of color who isn't a best friend, girlfriend or stern boss, probably because Adams wasn't originally written as a black woman in the first place.
"Lydia doesn't have any children, she's not married, she's not a girlfriend," King said. "They basically kept the stories through the eyes of a woman that is a detective; that will probably ring very true no matter what nationality you are.
Southland remains a mostly under-the-radar gem, one of the best shows centered on urban cops left on television. Originally on NBC, the show was canceled to make room for the 10 p.m. Jay Leno Show, only to find a home on TNT.
This season, they get a little help from Charlie's Angels alum Lucy Liu as a patrolwoman with an embarrassing YouTube past and Lou Diamond Phillips playing a jerky officer given to disrespectful outbursts in public.
"I can't wait to see the day when (a TV show) has a black lead and she has a white best friend," King added, laughing. "I might call Sandra Bullock up and say, you know what, I need a white best friend."
Bullock, who starred with King in 2005's Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, could do a lot worse than casting her onetime castmate, who gives Adams a strength and down to earth quality which makes the character unique.
This being television, however, King warns the situation can turn on a dime — particularly tonight, when Adams runs into an old informant she once knew in high school.
"Most people who seem to be, you know, the most put-together people, if you get an opportunity to step into their world you see … how (they) start unraveling at the seams," she said. "It's like that show Hoarders … you see people all put together and their nails done and at their home … it's a nightmare."
Southland returns for its fourth season at 10 tonight on TNT.