By Missy Schwartz
Updated April 24, 2009 at 10:22 PM EDT

I thoroughly enjoyed last night’s episode of NBC’s new cop drama Southland — especially the scenes with the divine Regina King, one of the most underappreciated actresses working today. (I’ve loved her since 227. Holler!) But then, some 18 minutes into the ep, the show had to go and commit one of my biggest pet peeves: actors walking around with take-out coffee cups that are so clearly empty they scream “I’m a prop! I’m a prop! What you’re watching is a TV show, not reality!” There was C. Thomas Howell, standing next to his cruiser, clutching two paper goblets, one of which almost tipped over sideways…yet without spilling a single drop! Give me a break. In this age of Starbucks — or Peet’s, the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Dunkin’ Donuts, or whatever outlet of caffeinated beveraging you prefer — we all know what a cup filled with a hot liquid looks like. It has a certain weight and heft, and anyone who handles it does so gingerly, for obvious reasons. Yet on the big and small screens, characters continue to sip from receptacles whose absurdly obvious emptiness shatters our belief in the fictional world we’re beholding and forces us back to stale reality. It’s the proverbial “exit sign” in a movie theater: You’re enjoying a juicy moment of drama or whatnot, then happen to glance at the bright red letters near the door and remember you’re in a room with a bunch of strangers, staring at a piece of celluloid. Downer!

What’s odd is that it’s quality stuff like Southland, and not low-budget junk, that repeatedly commits this sin. (See: The java-loving ladies of Gilmore Girls, among the most egregious repeat offenders.) Sure, I get that concerns for wardrobe and on-set safety pretty much preclude arming the cast with real, piping hot, half-caf, low-fat venti lattes. But come on! If Southland can film a baby crawling into traffic, the show can figure out a way to make those cups look more substantial than what’s inside Ms. South Carolina’s head. Fill the damn things with bean bags for cripe’s sake! Just stop showing us actors flinging around swathes of air wrapped in cardboard.

Okay, that’s my pop culture pet peeve. What’s yours?