Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Queue Continuum: Terriers

Having wanted to watch Terriers since it had begun airing only to have a DVR snafu render that impossible (at least without downloading), I was ecstatic to see that it was finally getting some sort of post-airing treatment, even if that didn't include a DVD release.

Upon finally getting to watch it, all I can say is: Holy shit.

All right, I can say more. A lot more actually.

(L to R) Michael Raymond-James and Donal Logue
Terriers was so damn good, I've actually watched the whole series twice-through since it went up on Netflix less than a month ago.

It isn't particularly groundbreaking, but absolutely everything works. Terriers, much like its ancestral kindred spirit The Rockford Files, has its private investigators living on the fringe of society. Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) is a cop who was kicked off the force; Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James) is an ex-thief trying to live at least slightly on the other side of the law. They are barely getting by, find themselves in trouble with the police, almost always end up getting screwed over eventually, and usually end up worse for the wear when they're done. Hank and Britt are often their own worst enemies, with self-destructive tendencies that would have a shot at doing them in if they were simply left to their own devices.

All that said, they are insanely likable characters. Their faults somehow manage to endear them more to the audience. Their banter is funny and fresh and would be enough by itself to make the show utterly enjoyable. Hank and Britt's relationship with one another is perfectly complementary. By the time the show has made its 13 episode run, you feel as though you are losing two friends.

While all of this would be fine in and of itself, what sets the show apart is its taut and nimble storytelling. More so than most other shows of its ilk, Terriers excels at balancing its complex season-long story arc with its single-episode cases, doing so more deftly than any other show in memory. Characters and plot points from early episodes prove to be relevant in later ones to satisfying effect. The narrative bounces unpredictably from season story arc plot points to character plot points to single-episode plot points while never leaving these aspects of the show neglected.

Given the fact that Terriers Creator Ted Griffin had experienced Executive Producers Shawn Ryan and Tim Minear* in the fold, the fact that it is damn fine television should not be a surprise, but that it distinguishes itself as one of the best shows on television in the past few years is unexpected to be sure.

*Ryan and Minear have worked together often, having both been writers/producers on Angel. Ryan went on to create The Shield and The Chicago Code while serving as an Executive Producer on Lie to Me and The Unit. Minear's resume includes having been an Executive Producer on Firefly, Wonderfalls, Dollhouse, and The Chicago Code, while having also been Co-Creator of The Inside and Drive.  

Laura Allen as Katie Nichols
While much of the show's success owes to the creative forces at the helm, the show would not be set itself apart as it does without its cast. As stated earlier, Logue and Raymond-James are fantastic together, but the supporting cast is full of great performances. Laura Allen, who you may have known from The 4400, All My Children, or Dirt finally gets a role she can sink her teeth into. It has always puzzled me as to why she didn't get better roles, and Terriers only solidifies the bewilderment, as she is outstanding as Britt's girlfriend, Katie Nichols. Rockmond Dunbar, who many will recognize as Deputy Sheriff Eli Roosevelt from this past season of Sons of Anarchy, nails the role of Detective Mark Gustafson, Hank's former partner on the force who was burned just enough by his friend to be permanently gunshy when it comes to having Hank's back. Long-time Upright Citizens Brigade performer Jamie Denbo is perfectly sardonic and grounds Hank and Britt as their lawyer (who they need often). As Hank's ex-wife Gretchen, Kimberly Quinn finds that point precisely where she can teeter back and forth between love and hate with Hank and summons up a performance rife with nuance and subtext.

In all, Terriers is phenomenal. While it is a damn shame its ratings were so dismal, likely owing to both an obtuse name and an advertising campaign that certainly left me wondering what the fuck it was about, the first and only season holds up on its own merits. If a show had to end before it should have, Terriers manages to end on a note not unlike Freaks and Geeks with the road open in front of the main characters. Fortunately, there is enough resolution to have not left the audience with any questions, and we do have 13 amazing episodes to go back and watch whenever we want. It's just a damn shame that we don't get to see the further adventures of Hank and Britt.

I cannot recommend Terriers highly enough. What the hell are you waiting for? Start watching now.

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