Friday, 11 February 2011

TV Review | Terriers

Thirteen weeks running, Terriers eroded my expectations, teased smile after smile from my grim visage, and finally, irrevocably, broke my heart. Charming, disarming, cute and cunning - like a puppy dog pleading for a second helping of supper - that even on a cable network known for its niche successes it died an obscenely public death in the ratings is nothing less than a goddamn tragedy.

Don't get me wrong, Caprica: you were alright. And The Walking Dead, well, you could do better... but we had a bit of fun, did we not? Whatever the calibre of these recent series, not to mention certain other debuts, speak not their names in the presence of Terriers. The best new show since Justified by a generous margin, alas, at the time of this writing Terriers is dead in the water. Rest assured, however, it'll be ready for you - just as soon as you're ready for it.

Trouble is, too few folks were, when it aired on FX. And I suppose it's easy enough to see why: challenging television has been receding in prominence and popularity since reality arrived to ruin everyone's day. Really, why work for your entertainment - whatever dividends your efforts in that regard might repay - when you can sit back, pop a pill and a TV dinner, and gape at nearly-naked twentysomethings making a tit of themselves?

Huh. I suppose I am bitter, after all...

Well, I've reason to be. Of course, there was another notable issue holding Terriers back from the success I'm here to tell you it deserved, and you folks who were AWOL during this gentle little gem's hour of need, you're less implicated in that: it suffered, there can be no question, because of some dreadfully unhelpful marketing - including but hardly limited to that there poster at the top of this review. Not that it's an inappropriate image it all... in fact it rather captures the tone and indeed several of the subjects of the show we're talking about today, but without having seen Terriers, ask yourself: what exactly does a dog, a beach and two scruffy little dudes tell you?

A bucket and spadeful of nothing, I would wager. With added woof.

Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James - whose Cajun charm remains the best thing that ever happened to True Blood - give life and such light to Hank and Britt, a pair of unlicensed PIs making ends meet in and around Ocean Beach, the Southern Californian suburb they've called home all their dead-end lives. Hank's a recovering alcoholic, a dishonourably discharged policemen, and very beardy indeed, whereas pretty-boy Britt used to steal shit. Like, all the time. Together, they carve out a scruffy path on the road to reward indeed: helping folks to help themselves. In the first such case we see, the twosome help an old drinking buddy of Hank's locate his lost daughter. And so begins the end.

It's tantamount to incredible, looking back on Terriers, seeing from the very first how everything is connected. For when it begins, it really doesn't seem a show with the grandest of aspirations; some soulful Southern take on Psych, I would have said then, with the trademark FX edge thrown in for consistency's sake. Little did I know. At the heart of Terriers' narrative is a conspiracy that leaves bodies in its wake like a hellish hurricane, and though the details don't come clear till well into the single season's run, the foundations are being sunk all the while. Inch by inch and innocent by innocent.

In the mean, we spend a lot of quality time with Hank and Britt, getting to know them and their circumstances. Hank still loves his ex wife, Gretchen, who's about to remarry, while Britt and his girlfriend Katie are fast approaching a pivotal moment in their relationship. Filler or fan-service in most other shows; in Terriers, no one narrative thread is so throwaway. Every character, every relationship, every conflict gets its moment in the sun: each is treated with such warmth and tenderness and heartfelt, homebrewed humour as to become winning in its own right very easily indeed.

Contrary to the received wisdom, I didn't spend any time at all drumming my thumbs, waiting for the myriad intricacies of Terriers' narrative to be revealed. Before the story even thought to happen, it had me, and that's a credit to creator Ted Griffin, the screenwriter who gave us the rather more bombastic Ocean's Eleven, as well as to writers and executive producers Shawn Ryan and Tim Minear, who brings traits of their particular legacies to Terriers: from The Shield, the slow-burn of characters coming undone, and from Minear's time in the Whedonverse, a sense of continuity, and of humility.

Truly, Terriers is a terrific show, packing such a emotional punch as to leave one winded. A terrific show which completely failed to catch on with the Ritalin-ridden audience which will come to be an embarrassing signature of our era, and I can't pretend to be surprised by that. Would that it could have been otherwise - daring to dream of a future for intelligent television is more of a fool's errand with every dreary season of American Idol - yet there's something to be thankful for: small, but perfectly - perfectly - formed, Terriers seems constructed more like a miniseries than an ongoing affair, say in the vein of State of Play. It begins, and yes, it even ends. Which is all I could have asked.

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