In a world where new cop dramas have to be better than any of the many offshoots of the preceding fifty cop dramas and reality TV spreads faster than a zombie outbreak, I stand against the tide. I hear people talk about quality television and how it’s being destroyed by soulless programming. It’s time to bring quality into the light, to spotlight the shows that deserve it. It’s time to talk about TV That I Love.
So yeah, a new segment. TV is an interesting thing, but for all its good it tends to be clogged with garbage and derided by the elite. But there is good on the TV, I can feel it, even if it gets canceled after a small handful of episodes. Those who know me might expect me to start with Firefly but that would be too easy. No, instead I’m going to discuss a recent tragedy: Terriers.
Terriers lasted one season, during which it received substantial acclaim but failed to find an audience. That is industry speak for ‘It was good but no one watched it.’ Part of the problem was likely the ad campaign. The ad campaign was famously aimless enough that the president of FX stepped forward and issued a statement about it. These ads consisted of two guys in an old pick-up truck looking at the screen, a small dog would run by, and then the name of the show popped up.
FX isn’t known for its reality TV but I assumed at the time that it would be a show akin to The Dog Whisperer and quickly wrote it off. Luckily I happen to have a DVR, combined with my dad reading a blurb about it being a detective show (“So it’s like Ace Ventura?” we wondered.) I set about recording this show.
It was a slow burn, and I now know why they had trouble advertising it. Terriers, (which begins each episode with a lazy and somewhat upbeat beach jingle) is a show about a couple of average guys who start an unlicensed (illegal) detective agency as a way to bring in some cash to their aimless lives. This point is somewhat unimportant as it is very character driven and seems to be more about these two guys trying to live good, but average, lives. But the main plot is really important because it accidentally sets everything in motion. You could say, at this point, it sounds directionless but it ended up becoming one of the best scripted pieces of drama I have ever witnessed. And that theme song, sometimes it feels an odd fit, but by the end its meaning sits uncomfortably clear.
So that is everything they needed to show in the trailers. Small wonder that the commercial failed to do it justice.
Honestly they should have shot a few vignettes with the main characters (Justified has had some success with this) and a hooking point. For a show so based on needing you to understand its protagonists it could have been crucial. Said protagonists are Hank Dolworth, an ex-cop and ex-husband, and Britt Pollack, a thief turned good for the love of a woman.
Hank is played by Donal Logue whom you likely know even if you don’t realize it. He was Balder in Max Payne, Quinn in Blade, and several other movies such as The Patriot. Donal portrays Hank as a decent guy, cynical but friendly and possessing the classic detective desire to do good. None of it is overplayed, or hammered in, he feels very much like an average guy you might hang with at the bar. It lends some credible gravity to scenes where he actually wrestles with his conscious and while you hope that he does the right thing, and can understand when he doesn’t you at least understand why.
Pollack is played by Michael Raymond-James whom you probably don’t know. He has done very little, only appearing in True Blood and Black Snake Moan before this. For most of the series he serves as an affable partner to Hank. He is given several chances to shine, and at least twice nearly steal the whole show. Again, these are the guys you would play poker with, or head to the bar to see. They are low key, but likable and it is upon that like that you decide to hang around.
However that low key nature also requires that Terriers be a slow burn. I have a rule with TV shows: they get a set number of episodes to hook me in, 1 to prove concept, 3 to show me something, and 5 to hook me. Terriers, at the beginning, just barely made each of these. Not that it was bad, but it took the time to build a strong framework and while it did so I never noticed the important elements being tossed in.
These elements really begin to kick up as the show carries on. Secondary characters walk in and out and often become a much larger part of the story than you originally thought they would be. A pair of favorites would be Rockmond Dunbar and Donal Logue’s real life sister Karina. Dunbar plays the cop who used to be partnered with Hank, and is still, despite his desire to not be, good friends with him. Karina, playing close to real life, is Hank’s sister and turns in an odd but fun performance. She came close to bringing me out of the show, but again the performances and tone kept me hooked.
I know I keep harping on a couple of elements and seem to be paying pretty vague but it’s how it needs to be. Terriers is that taut drama that really pulls you in, but it needs to be seen to be effective. It proves that TV can be as engaging as film and uses its format to great effect. It is not a simple premise that gets revisited each week, but instead is one very complex tale allowed to expand and be explored.
As of yet it seems to be avoiding DVD but the moment it lands on store shelves I will eagerly buy it and set it on the shelf as one of the finest pieces of fiction ever penned.