Monday, December 6, 2010

Standing Up for TERRIERS - Another Great Show Bites The Dust

"Got a ride with a trickster and a javelin man / To a town down by the sea ..."

- Another week, another great show cancelled before its time. This one is particularly painful though, as TERRIERS wasn't just a great show, but a phenomenal one - arguably right up there among the year's best series, and certainly one of the brightest stars of this year's new Fall TV season. Since the Fall, I've held off on doing many episodic TV reviews, for a variety of reasons. Time was / is a big factor - it takes a lot to write up reviews of TV episodes in a timely fashion, and there are places like The AV Club that are doing an outstanding job of providing weekly reviews of most of the best / most interesting shows on TV. I guess I was also just burnt out on writing so much about shows like Lost and 24. With those series completed, I figured it was time for a break in all that blogging. But, even if part of me misses doing weekly write-ups of shows like Fringe, an even bigger part of me wishes that I could have used this space to be more of an advocate for a show like Terriers. In the past, I've gone all-out to do what little I can to spread the good word about low-rated-yet-awesome series like Arrested Development, Veronica Mars, and Pushing Daisies. This year, the show that would have / should have gotten that same sort of push from me, and from TV fans in general, was TERRIERS. It was that good. It deserved more viewers, and hopefully it finds 'em on DVD, digital download, etc.

I first tuned into Terriers on a whim, intrigued by a new FX series starring Donal Logue. After Justified turned out to be all kinds of awesome, I was curious to see what else FX had up their sleeve. That said, the marketing for the show was certainly less than stellar. The ads made the series look goofy and lightweight - almost similar to FOX's recent series The Good Guys, which I didn't really take to. The marketing also failed to really convey that the show would be less bouncy buddy-cop show and more serialized, darkly-funny, neo-noir - not all that dissimilar from something like Veronica Mars. At first, I was hooked by the great characters - Hank and Britt, two scraggly, down-on-their-luck PI's - were an immediately likable duo with a lot of soon-to-be-revealed depth. Later, I was roped in by the deft mix of case-of-the-week capers with an ongoing mytharc that grew increasingly intense and absorbing with each passing episode.

Taking place in the small, hardluck SoCal beach town of Ocean Beach, Terriers filled out its world with all kinds of fascinating and colorful characters. It had such a great sense of place and setting - it looked and felt different from other shows on TV, and the photography really captured that sunsoaked SoCal vibe - albeit in a slightly menacing manner that implied that shadiness and scandal lay buried in the town's corners and alleyways. And Hank and Britt - played to perfection by Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, were the perfect antiheroes for this place and for this story.

Michael Raymond-James, who I had previously only seen in his small part on True Blood, was absolutely fantastic as Britt. Britt was such a complex, nuanced character - a big-hearted guy who also had a vicious streak, a would-be career criminal who was trying his best to do right by his friend and partner, Hank, and his girlfriend, Katie. Britt was a nice guy, on the surface, but as the series progressed we saw just how close to the edge he really was, and how unstable the life he had built for himself could be. Again, a superb performance from Michael Raymond-James, an actor whose career I will now eagerly follow, if only because he was that damn good on Terriers.

But man, the heart and soul of the show was Donal Logue as Hank. This was, quite simply, a career-defining performance from Logue. I've been a fan of his for a while, but I honestly had no idea he was capable of this level of acting. He tore it up on just about every episode of Terriers. And if the Emmys want to be taken seriously, I don't see how they can overlook this performance. Logue's Hank was a near-broken man who was somehow still standing. He'd survived divorce, alcoholism, and getting kicked off the force. Now, trying to start over as a PI, he was fully embracing the scrappy, underdog status he'd always had. But the thing with Hank was that, if anyone could take on the Man, could fight the power sans badge, sans credibility, sans resources - it was him. He was too big-hearted to ever quit, too stubborn to ever know when to say die. He could be a jealous, scheming, paranoid asshole, but he was also a loyal friend and a fighter who was determined to take on anyone, no matter the odds. Man, what a great character, and what an awesome performance from Donal Logue. The guy had moments on this show that were off-the-charts intense. Moments of anger, of sadness, of humor. Maybe my favorite lead-actor performance on any TV drama this season. It's a total shame that Logue won't be able to keep this character alive, because Hank is a character who you want to spend time with, check in on, see what crazy-ass fight he's picked this time.

The supporting cast on this show was nearly as great as the two leads. Laura Allen did a bang-up job as Britt's rocksteady girlfriend, Katie. The two had one of the most realistic-seeming, likable relationships of any two characters on TV. When they stumbled later on in the season, it was truly heartbreaking to watch. Rockmond Dunbar, who was great on Prison Break, was quite simply badass here as Hank's ex-police-partner, Gustafson. He and Donal Logue had many a great scene together, and I hope that Dunbar continues to get cast in roles like this one that take advantage of his acting chops. Meanwhile, Donal's real life sister, Karina Logue, came in mid-season for a memorable turn as Hank's in-series sister, Steph. Steph - a mentally-unbalanced savant - could have been an annoying character in lesser hands, but man, those Logues can act. Karina Logue put in an amazing performance, turning Steph into one of the show's most likable and memorable supporting characters. And hey, I've got to mention the awesomely evil Ben Zeitland, the scheming attorney helping to orchestrate a destructive land-grab in Ocean Beach. What a great villain - played with smarmy relish by Michael Gaston. He made Zeitland into one hateable bastard, one jerk-off sonofabitch - aka, a perfect foil for Hank and Britt.

The writing on the show was also fairly incredible. In between the moments of total intensity and drama, there were smaller, quieter moments of banter and wit and humor. The way the various ongoing plotlines weaved in and out of each episode was always impressively seamless, as the show created this living, breathing world for these characters to inhabit. There were any number of gripping twists and turns as well - this was just damn good storytelling, period.

Terriers just seemed to get better and better with each episode. And the show covered a lot of territory despite its relatively short run. We saw flashbacks to Hank and Britt's first meeting, saw the painful arc of Hank having to endure his ex-wife Gretchen's remarriage, saw Britt and Katie's various struggles, and saw our two underdog heroes almost singlehandedly save their city from being demolished by ruthless, murderous, corporate sharks.

As for the final episode? It was bittersweet. In many ways, it seemed to work more as a series-ender than as a mere season finale, wrapping up most of the season's ongoing threads while also giving us a classically-Terriers existential ending. Would Hank drive Britt to jail to serve out his latest sentance, or would the two say "to hell with it" and drive down south of the border to sip margaritas on a Mexican beach? We'll never know, but that's fitting, because in many ways Terriers was a show that never gave us easy answers. Its characters were complex and at times morally ambiguous. Its storylines took unexpected twists and went down surprising roads. The show was unpredictable, and that's what made that final scene with Britt and Hank so effective - either choice was possible, either was valid. How many shows can claim to have created such living, breathing characters in that way, where they seem to have that sort of existence outside the often paint-by-numbers world of television plotting? I won't use this space to specifically grade the show's finale, except to say that it was msot certainly in the "A" range. As were the vast majority of Terrier's episodes, to be honest. Again, how many shows can claim such a consistent level of quality?

Unfortunately, most people just didn't tune in. The numbers were very low, even by FX standards, and there was never much momentum in the ratings despite the small but vocal fanbase. Still, sites like The AV Club were a good indication of how much people liked the show - every week, it was one of the most commented-on series on the site. It's hard to blame FX for this one, but man, it would have been cool to see the show get one more shot. Give people a chance to see the DVD, give the show a real Emmy push, etc. I mean, if nothing else, I would imagine many would be hooked after simply hearing the series' amazingly catchy and mood-setting theme-song, which is always stuck in my head after catching a new episode.

It's funny, because the characters on Terriers were scrappy underdogs, and in the end, so was the show itself. I'd urge anyone who hasn't seen it to check it out on home video - it's good enough to warrant some marathon viewing. The good news is that the show's storylines should ultimately work well as a self-contained story. What we're left with is essentially a great TV maxiseries, a one-season wonder that will hopefully be rewatched and rediscovered and held up as an example of what great TV should aspire to. Still, it's a sad day for fans of the show - like Hank and Britt, Terriers deserved better.

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