I wish I could remember how anyone convinced me to watch Terriers. It has a singularly unpromising name and a less-than-gripping premise: a ex-alcoholic ex-cop, Hank, and his ex-con friend, Britt, solve small-time crimes in Southern Califonia. Donal Logue, who plays Hank, is always charming and weirdly sexy, despite taking roles as a lot of dead-end dudes, but I don't think that's what did it. Probably I had some time to kill and I was curious; you might have gathered that I'm into genre stuff, and always excited when people take it seriously enough to play with convention, working old tropes not to make them new, exactly, but to expose the other sides of them, the elements that were there all along, quiet, latent.
Terriers plays on the down-and-out noir detective theme, except instead of being rakish and devil-may-care Hank and Britt are scruffy and threadbare, the ghosts of their pasts and the demons of their present taking a palpable toll on them. They don't live outside the law of time and consequence, movie star handsome men brooding over past misdeeds and lost love; they are those men five, ten years later, living with the reprecussions of their reckless youths. Much as I appreciate teenagers on television, the shining artifice of eternal youth, it's fun, sometimes, to see characters who are recognizeable as human beings, deeply flawed in a way that makes them hard to sympathize with, sometimes even hard to like.
The show follows a fairly familiar procedural format: a central mystery that builds all season set amidst a handful of one-off cases. Britt and Hank work outside the law (though Hank calls in the occasional favor from his friends and ex-colleagues on the force) which means that it's not the slick stuff we're used to seeing, crime scene techs zooming in on grainy video to find in an improbably perfect frame of the perp's face or pulling DNA from the roots of a sinlge hair. Instead they have to be wily and clever, living demonstrations that the best detectives are something of con men at heart.
That's the real draw of Terriers: it's a show that's comfortable in the grown-up territory of moral ambiguity, presenting men who've fucked up big time as they try to use the knowledge gained in darker days to do some good in the world. Their methods are suspect and the results aren't always what they're after, but the show never preaches or condemns. It's smart and funny and scruffy itself, a story told by adults to adults. It takes pleasure, simply, in the telling, in the charm of its heroes, the entertaining draw of their antics and their banter, the narrative pull of cases to be solved.
Britt and Hank stumble to make things right, in their lives and the lives of others, little things, sometimes bigger things. The best part is: they screw up loudly and often along the way.
Terriers is available in its single-season glory on Netflix. Maybe they can revive it like they did with Arrested Development? Or maybe it should get the Kickstarter treatment next...
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