Editor: Someday soon we’ll have our own local critics and reviewers of “Terriers” – the new FX television series filmed – mostly – in Ocean Beach. But until then, we have to rely on others ….
by Ryan McGee /TV Squad / Oct 13th 2010
The fall season hasn’t treated new shows kindly. With few exceptions, not many programs made a critical splash, and one of the few that did (‘Lone Star’) got the boot after just two episodes.
It’s all well and good to think in theoretical terms about what can be done to ensure that only the safest, most inoffensive and blandest programming gets the green light in the near future. But I’m here to propose a simpler, more concrete, and potentially more effective way to combat a future slew of boring TV: watch FX’s ‘Terriers.’
Lost in the shuffle in more ways than one, ‘Terriers’ had quietly produced five consecutively strong episodes right out of the gate.
Whereas many shows find their footing through trial and error, this show seemed sure of itself from the start. In its tone, characterization, and overall mythology, ‘Terriers’ harkens back to the best of both film and television noirs, but puts its own unique spin on each of these areas.
In a recent edition of the podcast ‘Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan,’ a show I co-host with AOL’s Lead TV Critic Maureen Ryan, ‘Terriers’ co-creator Shawn Ryan told us both that while the show will definitely air its full, 13-episode first season, any chance for a second season will hinge on the audience it acquires over the initial run.
For those lamenting quality new programs in the television landscape, I have five reasons why you should be watching this under-appreciated gem.
1. The title refers to a personal ethos, not a breed of dogs. Why certain names connect with the general population and others don’t is for social anthropologists, more than television critics, to decide. But it’s clear that the name ‘Terriers’ either made people think of Animal Planet or Michael Vick. The ‘Terriers’ in question are two down-on-their-luck private investigators who stumble upon situations far too large for them to possibly solve on their own. And yet, through a combination of stubbornness, street smarts, and a nagging moral compass they see their way through to live another day. And in the world of this show, simply surviving is a feat unto itself.
2. These private eyes boast one of the most unique relationships on television right now. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of watching Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James play off each other, do yourself a favor and watch these two real-life friends onscreen. Whereas so many buddy relationships on TV create friction by playing off the inherent differences between two people, Logue’s Hank Dolworth and Raymond-James’ Britt Pollack truly enjoy each other’s company. That enjoyment is infectious, spills through the television, and makes their occasional confrontations have that much more impact. But it’s not all laughs and pats on the back.
3. The show is much darker, and hurts more, than you might think. Watching the promos for this show, you might think that this show would have a sunnier, lighter tone than it actually does. However, for a show that’s the brainchild of the writer of the ‘Ocean’s 11’ trilogy and the creator of ‘The Shield,’ what’s actually onscreen is a unique hybrid that’s equal parts of both franchises, while still producing its own unique viewpoint. Sure, Hank and Britt joke about, but often they joke about because the situations they find themselves in are so deadly serious that the humor turns into a coping mechanism. Just as the way audiences often laugh at shocking violence in order to relieve built-up stress, so too do these partners make the other one smile in order to keep them from crying out in horror. Logue, in particular, has shown haunting depths in the early goings: a former cop battling drug addiction, the loss of his ex-wife, and the nagging sense that everything around him is somehow corrupt. Which leads me to reason No. 4…
4. This ain’t the O.C., y’all. In terms of look and feel, ‘Terriers’ matches another recent, overlooked gem of a detective show, ‘Veronica Mars.’ Veronica’s hometown of Neptune, Calif. has a spiritual sibling in the Ocean Beach featured on ‘Terriers.’ For a place supposedly so sunny, everything is shot through a seemingly filthy lens, as if the corruption in the town gives off a visible vapor. (Without spoiling things, that vapor might not merely be metaphorical, according to the show’s ever-expanding mythology.) It also shares the same capacity to make violence count: both ‘Veronica Mars’ and ‘Terriers’ show its protagonists in dangerous situations in which violence is possible but hardly ever carried out. As such, when fisticuffs fly, they both shock the audience and leave real marks behind on the participants. Finally, speaking of shocking…
5. The show exploits audience expectations in order to produce unpredictable television. There’s a huge difference between shows that are “unpredictable” as opposed to “intentionally vague.” There’s a total time and place for the latter kind of programming, but the twists and turns in ‘Terriers’ stem not from the show’s writers purposefully teasing out answers while finding ways to prevent those solutions from emerging from the lips of its characters. Instead, ‘Terriers’ allows us to discover things along with Hank and Britt, which in turn allows them to discover things about themselves. Not only do their cases play against stereotypical type, but the ways in which this pair solves them also betrays conventional wisdom and action. Just watch Hank go through the mundane task of obtaining a mortgage in the stellar third episode ‘Change Partners’ and name another show that would produce that type of arc for its lead character.
Indeed, for its apparently conventional strappings, ‘Terriers’ delights in its overall disregard for conventional wisdom. You might think it’s too late to jump in now, but whether you catch up through On Demand, iTunes, or simply start watching this Tuesday’s episode as your first exposure, you’ll be enjoying one of the most unique hours of television currently on-air on any network. And in this day and age of increasingly safe TV, you owe it to yourself to give this stellar, scrappy show a chance to show what it’s got.
‘Terriers’ airs 10PM ET Wednesdays on FX at 10pm.