December 1st, 2010
In plotting the first season of Terriers, Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin made two key decisions which shaped the series into one of the year’s finest.
The first was their willingness to resist creating a season-long arc: after the first four or five episodes seemed to be towards some larger conspiracy, the show risked frustrating viewers by pulling up before things became too complicated. In an age where hyper-serialization is highly valued, the decision seemed strange until we saw the result. The residual energy from the near-miss mythology lingered in the subsequent standalones, as unfinished business meant a constant threat of its return – when it did return in “Asunder,” there were more pieces to the puzzle, and the re-entry was surprisingly elegant.
The second was that, throughout the various ups and downs, the show never concretely positioned its heroes within any definitive morality. While we could argue that Hank and Britt are inherently good men, their willingness to do petty, despicable, and reckless things has been refreshing. Hank’s jealousy has never been romanticized, and Britt’s violent outbursts have never been pitched as heroic; while we understand why they do the things they do, we are never asked to agree with them, and the result is two characters who we can relate to even when we don’t want to. They’re characters we like even in their darkest moments, but characters that we don’t necessarily forgive after the fact. They are characters that feel real, and thus characters that we become connected with.
“Hail Mary,” coming off of the rollercoast that was “Quid Pro Quo,” is hopelessly hopeful. Following the earlier pattern, it concludes stories without actually concluding them, leaving threads of story that can be picked up at a later date. It provides a sense of future that it must subsequently tear away, reunions that are either years or weeks too late. While you could technically argue that this is a happy ending, a sort of scrappy P.I. Casablanca, in truth the ending is as the season was: an exercise in dynamic delay, a true marvel of narrative form.
And a show that simply cannot be allowed to ride off into the sunset.
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.
Don’t Forget About…FX’s Terriers
September 22nd, 2010
I’ll have some thoughts on Undercovers, NBC’s spy drama from J.J. Abrams, later today, but I want to offer a brief programming announcement first. Earlier this month, FX was kind enough to send along the first five episodes of Terriers, Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin’s private eye drama series which debuted two weeks ago. I watched the episode over a two day period, or so, and I was impressed: the show is smart, funny, and has an ease about it which allows its stars (Donal Logue, Michael Raymond-James) to shine.
However, to some degree the viewing public didn’t see it the same way: there were some disappointed-sounding remarks following the pilot, and the show dropped precipitously for its second airing (and that was before the complete fall season kicked in). It’s unfortunate timing, the return of network television, in that “Change Partners” (tonight’s episode) is unquestionably Terriers’ best effort yet. It is the moment where things started to shift when going through the screeners, and the pivot upon which the following two episodes expand. Olivia Williams (Dollhouse) and Shawn Doyle (Big Love) guest star in the episode, and it’s here that the series enters into some darker territory, and the sense of “danger” goes from situational to environmental (if that makes any sense).
While the show may not become heavily serialized in “Change Partners,” the episode lays the foundation for those elements to arrive in the subsequent episodes. It is an episode which raises the moral stakes, raising the series’ profile along with it. While I know that you’re tempted to check out Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell in The Defenders, I really hope that those who watched the first couple of episodes and felt the show could do better will give this episode a chance. It’s simply some really great television, and I’d hate to see it get lost amidst the chaos and madness in which we’re all currently engrossed.
10/9c. FX. Tonight. Watch it.