October 13th, 2010
Terriers is the best new show of the season, but “Ring-a-Ding-Ding” is a fairly dangerous outing.
I don’t mean to suggest that the show is doing anything particularly risky, but this is a thematically homogeneous episode in a way that presents distinct challenges for a serialized procedural of this nature. The episode is all about marriages, as each of our main characters grapples with the prospect of marriage while the case of the week deals with a marriage in its final hours.
For a show which is trying to establish itself as something more than a P.I. procedural, this homogeny – which would normally be commonplace in low rent procedurals – has the potential to go off the rails, but “Ring-a-Ding-Ding” is a satisfying and successful hour. Instead of using the marriage theme to simplify the storytelling, the show uses it as a point of conflict, offering a noir-ish take on procedural storytelling befitting the young series.
For those who claim that Terriers is just a procedural, notice that this episode starts with an extended scene driven entirely by character. We open on the engagement party because it sets things in motion: it makes Hank think back on his own marriage, and it makes Britt reflect on his relationship with Katie. What makes the procedural storyline, conveniently marriage-themed, work is that it seems to be building on this opening foundation instead of introducing the subject on its own. It also works because the storyline works on the characters the same way it works on the audience: it isn’t there to tell the audience that “Hey, Marriage is this week’s theme,” instead there to reinforce the characters’ feelings regarding marriage and its role in their lives.
As for Hank, I’m glad the show allowed him to not get away with things: that Jason figured out who Britt was, and why his credit cards were being used, shows that Hank’s mistakes are not going to be ignored in the grand scheme of things. He’s going to get caught when he does something this stupid, which is necessary for us to believe in the character. For the most part, his interactions with Gretchen and Jason are no different than in previous weeks, and likely not too much different than we’ll see in the future, but it’s the idea that it will stay this way: Jason keeps his secret, meaning that he’ll have to keep living with Gretchen believing him to be a better man than he really is. That’s going to be more painful, really, than not seeing her at all, and I like that the episode manages to change their dynamic without changing things on the surface; it’s subtle, it’s effective, and it lets Donal Logue show off his dramatic chops.
As for Britt and Katie, it was a battle between conforming to and subverting our expectations. On the one hand, that it is Katie who strays from the relationship instead of Britt is surprising, but Katie’s storyline is pretty predictable beyond the bait and switch with the professor replacing the flirtatious classmate. Katie’s descent was a big cliche, right down to the teacher/student pairing, but it adds a new element to her character that wasn’t there before. It allows her to more clearly step into her role as an independent character: although it would perhaps be more meaningful if her development wasn’t tied directly to Britt, I thought Katie’s scene with Hank did a lot of good for the show as a whole. Seeing them interact independent of Britt gives us a new dynamic, and now that the secret is held between them it creates new tensions that will run throughout future episodes.
The case of the week, meanwhile, was sort of smart: the way the story unfolded made you think that it was going to be large and complex, but in the end it was actually smaller than you might imagine. The wife had the ring, the wife knew the hairdresser, etc. None of it was as compelling as, say, Olivia Williams’ story a few weeks back, but it provided enough interest and thematic content to build around the character work. I also liked the idea of how dark the story was, and yet how the show resisted vilifying the husband. Britt and Hank obviously judge him, and we’re meant to consider him a horrible person, but he never devolves into a villain, and the altercation is important in terms of its quiet moments of reflection as opposed to its altercations. The story stays subtle when other shows would have gone broad, and that allows it to keep from overshadowing the rest of the episode.
Throw in more with Stephanie, who continues to be a really clever character, and plenty of potential for future conflict, and you’ve got another march towards greatness for the show.
- I’m always up for a good Wuthering Heights joke.
- Interesting that the ring stays in Britt’s possession, suggesting that the story will perhaps be recurring – recurring cases of the week served the show well in the arc of the first section of episodes, so returning to that here would be valuable if that is the direction they choose to take.
- I’d have written a longer review, but the Terriers Pickup Truck Tour is skipping Wisconsin thanks to Shawn Ryan’s Illinois bias, so I’m holding out.
- Okay, I’m just kidding – still a big fan.