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Don't Put This Dog Down: TV Needs FX's Terriers

"Which way will it be?"

And now we wait.

I'm not typically an optimistic person. My cynical worldview has served me well in my thirty-plus years on this Earth, but for some reason I'm holding out hope when it comes to FX's Terriers, which wrapped up its sensational first season last night and is currently on the bubble for renewal.

It will take a bit of a Hail Mary for this remarkable if underrated series to avoid the guillotine and return to fight again. Too small to fail? You bet. But unfortunately the smallness of the ratings have made Terriers' future less than certain.

Which is a shame, really, because those of you who didn't give Terriers a chance missed out on what was easily the best new series of the fall season, a genre-busting crime drama about real estate swindles, brotherhood, secrets, and lies. It was humorous, heartbreaking, and human drama at its finest, the story of two men who try to do good yet usually wind up making things worse for everyone around them.

But whether FX ends up going straight or turning left, Ted Griffin's smart and savvy Terriers, executive produced by Shawn Ryan, gave us a fantastic season of deft characterization, tautly scripted dialogue, and one of the best TV partnerships in leads Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James.

Along the way, the series' early episodic cases gave way to a taut overarching plot which managed to dazzle and surprise in equal measure, a smart callback to the Lindus case of the pilot transforming into something far more sinister and complex than it originally seemed. Bodies piled up, vengeance was had, the real puppet master revealed, and both Logue's Hank Dolworth and Raymond-James' Britt Pollack learned that their actions had consequences.

Which brings us to that climactic final scene between the two of them and the question that lingers in the air: do we run or do we face up to what we've done? It's a question that's unanswered as the screen fades to black, offering a cliffhanger ending even after the Montague land grab storyline is more or less wrapped up in "Hail Mary." Have the events of this season lead Britt to see that running never truly equals freedom? Will he serve his time or flee? Will we, the viewers, have a chance to see just what he chooses?

The uncertainty of that final moment in "Hail Mary," (written by Ted and Nicholas Griffin and directed by Ted Griffin), of which way Hank turns the car, of where we go next, encapsulates the uncertainty of the series' future at FX. While some have pointed towards the fact that the scrappy Terriers doesn't quite fit into the FX brand, I blow a big raspberry at that logic.

Granted, yes, FX has a particular brand and most of its shows tend to fit into the network's depiction of brash, loud, and raucous manhood (which might be why the more female-centric Damages got the boot earlier this year), and Terriers might be a quieter, more low-key exploration of modern masculinity and brotherly love. Yet, I can't help but wonder whether Terriers' ratings would have been better if the FX/Dish conflict hadn't come to pass. After all, the series wasn't available to Dish Network customers and had to have been adversely affected by the elimination of FX from Dish's offering lineup. But also, Terriers was also perhaps undone by its title and the promotional/marketing campaign, which I've already discussed in full elsewhere.

I'm not going to be blind and pretend that people were tuning into this series in droves because they weren't. The ratings were not good, but for those of us who looked past the title and the dog-focused advertising and gave Terriers a chance, we discovered its beauty and humanity, its humor and its pathos, and its incredible array of eccentric and flawed characters.

There's special praise necessitated for the many superb actors who filled out Ocean Beach so memorably, each turning in nuanced performances that made me fall in love with this quirky crime drama. Logue, Raymond-James, Laura Allen, Kimberly Quinn, Jamie Denbo, Rockmond Dunbar, Loren Dean, Karina Logue, Alison Elliott, Michael Gaston, Daren Scott: you each brought your A-game to Terriers and it hasn't gone unnoticed. In the pinball machine of Terriers' plot, your characters served as the the flippers, bumpers, and kickers, knocking Britt and Hank around, either physically or emotionally.

I'm not ready to say goodbye to Terriers, certainly not yet. While the plot of the Ocean Beach land grab scheme may have been tied up now, there's the matter of the duplicitous and menacing mastermind behind the scheme, Cutshaw, played ably by Neal McDonough, a corrupt soul whose seemingly benevolent charity work belies a horrific true nature, the man behind the mask willing to kill Mickey Gosney and whoever got in his way in order to get that scandalous photograph back. (I'm going to assume that the photo depicts him engaged in child abuse of the most awful kind.)

Is Cutshaw intended to be Hank and Britt's new target next season? Do they go straight or turn left? Does Britt cut and run or serve his jail time? Will we get an answer or will their decision sit, unanswered, forever, a car idling eternally at a traffic light? Do we need tidy endings to our stories or does the messiness of life--and art like Terriers depicting that messiness--mean that some things are unknown and unknowable?

The one certainty is that television was improved by Terriers' bark. Fusing together a buddy comedy, a relationship drama, a crime procedural, and a taut thriller, Terriers truly defied pigeonholing. If this is the end for the series, its creative spirit and its gonzo nature will be remembered for some time to come. For those of us who fell in love with its quirky charms and underdog status, these 13 perfect episodes represented an alternative to the by-the-numbers nature of this season's programming.

Ultimately, it's not just Hank and Britt who have to make a decision, but FX as well. Will the show have time to develop, to win over audiences who might have been put off by titles or campaigns, and who might discover this winning series on DVD? Do they take a chance on Terriers or do they cut and run?

For those of us who love television, I hope it's the former rather than the latter. With the broadcast nets decidedly uninterested in taking risks at the moment, Terriers represents the outlaw spirit of cable. I just hope that, in the end, FX gives this dog its rightful day.

Comments

The cliffhanger both begs and demands for another season.It's almost like Hank and Britt were talking about the show itself, whether it ends for good or goes on for another season.

There is NOTHING like Terriers on television. It's a pity not a lot of people know that.
kat said…
Great article! I am so keeping my fingers crossed that this excellent show is renewed.
leahruthie said…
hear, hear! my fingers are crossed.
Melanie said…
In this TV morass of reality crap, I'm thankful to have found Terriers. Wonderful show, great writing & awesome cast...I even love the theme song! PLEASE bring it back!
Cassandra said…
Oh dear God I hope they continue it! A gripping story that I don't even remember how I stumbled upon but I'm so grateful that I did! The drama, the tension, the occasional bad-ass fights and just the overall feel of this marvellous series is something many don't see nowadays in the typical reality tv show. I would be crushed to have the show end as such, but the ending, if it's the only one we get, will suffice. But I wholeheartidly agree, let the dog have his day!
Harleypeyton said…
Dearly loved this show. If you want to see a movie that is a direct ancestor, check out Cutters Way, directed by Ivan Passer.
Antproof said…
Here's to the hope that F/X remembers the adventurous spirit of cable and renews Terriers. There is no doubt in my mind that this was the best new show on TV this season and one of the best in a long, long time. The move from those first episodes to Hail Mary was amazing - edge of your seat TV.
wdavi said…
A great Season 1 ending! The episode was so well written, it could have served as a series ender as well. Here's to Season 2! Please?
davis said…
unbelievable that there is any doubt that the "powers that be" won't renew Terriers...but I guess that's a real concern based on other posts. Too bad the show didn't generate the ratings it deserved. I found the show very enjoyable, In fact I was hooked after the first show and haven't missed one yet - can't say that about a lot of the new programming that debuted this fall.
Tonya Ricucci said…
thanks for the wonderful write up of a fantastic show. please, FX, renew this show!
Anonymous said…
I thought it was a wonderful show, and the ending was perfect. Smart writing, engrossing stories, great characters, and the kind of acting that brings you right inside the characters' heads.

I get it; this is a business and no network is going to air a show that loses money for them, but dang! I'm always falling in love with a great but small show that subsequently disappears.

Here's hoping it shows up on DVD.
Liza180 said…
LOVED this show and I hope it comes back. If not, then FX is a bit stupid. My guess is that word of mouth and reviews will help dvd and download sales making it a cult hit. FX should definitely give it another shot and a better promotional campaign.

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