This week, FX is premiering its new private eyes series, Terriers [Wednesdays, 10/9C]. It’s a kind of soft-boiled detective drama that revolves around Hank Dolworth [Donal Logue, The Tai of Steve, Life] and Britt Pollock [Michael Raymond-James, True Blood], a odd couple of P.I.s – Hank’s an ex-cop [not by choice] and Britt’s an ex-thief [by choice].
The golden age of pulps was where the private eye became a staple – hardened sleuths who lived by an often dubious code, and frequently took on cases with repercussions they could not imagine. The best known writers of the hardboiled fiction occasioned by those characters were Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, whose Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade remain popular to this day.
In the seventies, Stephen J. Cannell co-created The Rockford Files – a show where the lead, Jim Rockford, had all the integrity and tenacity of a Spade or a Marlowe, but only resorted to violence when all else had failed. As I watched the first five episodes of FX’s Terriers, the series felt – to me, at least, like it was The Rockford as written by Chandler or Hammett and translated to television by Leigh Brackett [she adapted Chandler’s The Big Sleep – the Humphrey Bogart version – for film].
Like Rockford, Hank and Britt aren’t the most likely guys to be seen using violence as a first resort [and when they do, it ain’t pretty – for them…]. Like Spade and Marlowe [and, again, Rockford], though, they have a certain grimy integrity. When Hank makes a promise, for good or ill, he will see that promise through – no matter the consequences. Although the first five eps of Terriers don’t spell it out as straightforwardly where Britt is concerned, indications are that he is of the same ethical composition. When someone hires Hank and Britt, they will get the job done – even if they are in way over their heads.
Even though Hank and Britt are not the most hardboiled of detectives, there is a noir sensibility to Terriers. Besides the characters’ ethics and morality, there’s a dark flavor to the way the way the series is shot – there are shadows and interesting angles; revelations in corners of the screen, and even as the language evokes California, it has a underlying grit that could have come from Chandler or Hammett.
In the series premiere, the guys take one such case – and Hank makes a promise that bodes ill for someone. The ep leads into the big case by introducing us to Hank and Britt as they steal a dog back for a woman whose ex grabbed him while she was at work. Then, when a friend of Hank’s asks him to find his daughter, and giver her some money [she sounded scared, then disappeared], Hank and Britt meet a real estate developer named Lindus – who hires them to find her and retrieve something of his that is being used to blackmail him. From there, things rapidly go to hell in a handbasket…
Events set in motion in the pilot run throughout the five eps provided for review – along with a number of smaller cases and Hank’s efforts to buy the house he shared with his no ex-wife, Gretchen [Kimberly Quinn, House] – who has just become engaged. We also meet Britt’s girlfriend, Katie [Laura Allen, The 4400], a lovely young lady who is studying to become a veterinarian and the guys’ lawyer and frequent employer, Maggie Lefferts [Jamie Denbo, Reno 911!].
Rockmond Dunbar [Prison Break] rounds out the regular cast as Detective Mark Gustafsen, Hank’s former partner – and now his [mostly unwilling] ally on the San Diego Police. He is as much a thorn in Hank’s side as Hank is in his.
Karina Logue [sister of Donal] has a recurring role as Hank’s sister, Steph, who is both not all there and more than all there – depending on whether she’s taking her meds. She’s also a genius, but not terribly social – and Hank is ferociously protective of her [which she’s not too happy about]. Her introduction is one of those revelations in the corner of the screen I mentioned earlier.
Terriers is extremely well written, which makes sense when you consider that it was created by Ted Griffin [Ocean’s Eleven, Ravenous] and co-executive produced by Shawn Levy [The Shield] and Tim Minear [Angel, Firefly]. The characters feel real right from the opening fade-in and the cast chemistry is spectacular.
For a new series to feel like it belongs on a line-up that features Rescue Me, Louie and Justified [among others] is no small feat – and Terriers manages it with apparent ease.
Final Grade: A