2004 was a good year for TV. It was a year that gave us Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Deadwood, House, Rescue Me, Stargate Atlantis, Entourage, CSI: NY and Veronica Mars. You may not love all of these shows, but there are some pretty big hits in there, and many of them have only just ended their runs or are still on the air. Most years aren’t like this. Most years, we watch as the television landscape turns into a killing room floor, as networks take their cattle prods to the heads of all those new shows they’ve spent so much money on but no one seems to care about. There’s so much junk to wade through that whenever we find a show we actually like, it’s really exciting. Maybe you’ve found the next big thing, and you’re there right from the beginning!
So you’ve found your show, and just like the kid from Tulsa, Oklahoma realizing for the first time that he’s from Tulsa, Oklahoma and smoking crystal meth to dull the pain of it all, you begin to get addicted. And if your show, like so many others, is an underdog that isn’t performing too well in the ratings, things only get worse. “F**k those guys at the AV Club!” you proclaim to no one in particular, “This show is the BEST show on TV!” And then one day the unthinkable happens. Your show gets canceled. The depression sets in. Your rip your clothes and smear ashes in your hair. You go into seclusion. You vow never to watch FOX/ABC/NBC (probably NBC)/CBS/FX again, because how could you continue to support them after this? Well, as a friend once told me, it never gets easier but it does get better. And it’s true. Eventually you’ll forgive the network for killing your baby. But from now on that show will hold a special place in your heart. And while, in some dark corner of your mind you’ll be peripherally aware of the fact that your show had its shortcomings, you’ll choose to ignore them, and you’ll never ever voice them aloud. Your show was perfect, and must only be treated with veneration and respect.
This sums up much of the sentiment I heard going around the internets when FX canceled its poorly-advertised buddy-private investigator series, Terriers, almost one year ago today. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James starred as Hank Dolworth and Britt Pollack, two unlicensed private investigators who, over the course of the first (and only) season, get into all sorts of tomfoolery in the fictional town of Ocean Beach, California. The show popped up on a metric shitload of “TV’s Best Of” lists and its cancellation was seen as one of the biggest tragedies of last year’s television season**.
(**I heartily endorse TV critics Alan Sepinwall and Dan Feinberg’s excellent Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, but listening to the praise they so generously lavished on the show was a little sickening.)
Now, Terriers has popped up on Netflix Instant, and we’re seeing some of that same chatter bubble up to the surface, bemoaning the death of that perfect show. Talking about it as if, when it died, a piece of our innocence had died along with it. Yes, Terriers was a good show. Above average, even. But in the end, it was a repackaged cop drama whose biggest selling point was its two lead actors. The story-telling was at times uneven, with the Lindus investigation — the season’s main arc — drifting in and out of the narrative. I’m not saying a show has to hit its main arc and focus on nothing else every week, but Terriers felt like it was spinning its wheels the same way The Killing was by pushing off the Rosie Larsen investigation, sometimes for weeks at a time. And during these off-weeks, Hank and Britt seemed to be incredibly lucky, running into all those people who just happened to be in the market for private investigators, and unlicensed ones at that. Sort of like the time I asked Cornelia Neptune, who went to the high school I used to teach at if she could find out if there was any treachery afoot when my grandmother left her fortune to her lawyer, Herschel Goldfarb.
Anyway, the show’s problems didn’t start and stop with the storytelling. Terriers’ dialogue sometimes reached a Gilmore Girls-like level of obnoxiousness (One of the more memorable lines comes in the pilot, when Logue says, “You killed my friend, and now I’m going to destroy you!”). Karina Logue, who played Hank’s mentally-ill sister, Stephanie (and who just happens to be Donal Logue’s real-life sister) was undoubtedly one of the best parts of the show, and was kind of unceremoniously swept aside toward the end of the season.
When added together, all of these things equal a show that’s good, but very rarely is it great (if at all). I liked Terriers, too, and I’ll admit that it was a show I rarely thought about when I wasn’t watching, but always seemed to enjoy more when I was. It had a lot going for it. It was fun, and other shows should be so lucky to have the same sort of chemistry we saw between Logue and Raymond-James. But ultimately this was a show we knew was going to be canceled, and quite a bit before it was made official at that. And I think people’s disappointment clouded their critical eye, so that for years and years they’ll be looking at it through rose-colored glasses. Luckily, the show works as a self-contained unit, so not getting another season isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. And now that it’s on Netflix, it’ll always be there for people to enjoy. But we should enjoy and at least pretend to be aware of its shortcomings.