Hi everyone, I just finished cleaning popcorn out of my hair (cheese-flavored) and now I'm going to unwind by finally watching Terriers, FX's one-n-done crime drama that your friends rant and rave about. Seems like we all know someone who's like, "That is just the best show," but most folks are all "Wuh? Are you okay?" I definitely fall into the second group. I remember being intrigued by the poster art enough to investigate the premise, but also too confused/lazy to pursue it. The 13 episodes came and went, like the now-discontinued holiday line of Sour Patch Christmas Kids gummy candy (R.I.P.), and that was that. Until now of course. If you've seen it already and want to relive the journey, or if you're new to the series like me, then don't even pretend like you got stuff to do—it's the summer! Come on, let's take a trip back to late-2010, and watch this show together. Please?
As a genre, I'm a huge fan of Surf Noir. Growing up in a working-class, Southern California beach town, I witnessed firsthand the irony of such a paradisiacal environment acting as the backdrop for petty crime committed by lower-income salt of the earth. So-Cal is a regular place, and not just an escape for delicious four-way burritos and fun in the sun. Yes there are shades, babes, and waves, but also burnouts, crooks, and drifters sporting great tans still trying to capture the Endless Summer, and growing bitter in the failing. Suffice it to say, beach towns are tragic as hell—a veritable lotus-flower buffet where the chilled-out population remains subject to the extremes of human decay and morality, yet blissfully numbed by gorgeous sunsets and the lull of a watery horizon that seems to promise eternity. I had heard Terriers was set in such a place, known as San Diego's Ocean Beach neighborhood. But a show shouldn't have to rely on the audience's relative personal experience. "Good is good, ya know?" (—Gandhi). Why should anyone who didn't grow up in a beach town even give a care? Well, because supposedly Terriers succeeds on its own terms. Let's see...
So Hank and Britt (Donal Logue, a.k.a. MTV's Jimmy the Cab Driver among numerous other roles, and Michael Raymond-James/Renee from True Blood Season 1) are two dudes stuck doing odd jobs for peanuts. We first meet them on a favor for Britt's dry cleaner, whose adorable bulldog has been stolen by her bodybuilder ex-boyfriend. It's the kind of gig that involves some non-lethal physical danger and an alias as "The Gomez Bros" pool servicemen. They enjoy the scrappy excitement but it's obvious this lifestyle can't last long: Britt's girlfriend Katie (Laura Allen, who was just in Awake as Michael Britten's wife) wants a baby(/stability), and Hank's ex-wife Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn) is selling the house in which their marriage fell apart. Hank's not happy about officially having to start a new chapter of life, but also doesn't want to show it. So it's up to Donal Logue to be all good at acting, and do that thing where a person smiles on the outside, while his eyes show sadness on the inside.
Boom, nailed it. Already I'm starting to see why people swear by this stuff. Who among us can't relate to being a screw-up with a good heart? Life is hard for sure and what's immediately real about Hank is that he's not the worst down-and-outer there is, and there's not one extreme flaw in him causing all this woe, things just petered out in a non-spectacular fashion. We find out that Hank has recently clawed his way out of a drinking problem that cost him his job as a police officer and his marriage. When he bails an old boozehound friend out of jail, Hank and Britt agree to help said rummy find his missing daughter solely for the sake of friendship. Hank is compassionate, and in my experience a big heart cuts both ways. Get some saddy-sad juice in there, and the world loses its charms. Hopelessness takes over. Maybe I'm just projecting, but I like to think this is where the writers want us to be with Hank. Anyway, the investigation leads them to wealthy real estate developer Robert Lindus (Christopher Cousins/Ted from Breaking Bad) who agrees to pay the boys to track down a sensitive item that the missing daughter may have. Hank immediately takes the payment and makes an offer on his old house, much to the chagrin of his ex who figures he's still having trouble letting go (which he obviously is). Bad move Hank, seriously, this probably will not make you happy.
So while that drama's going on in his shaggy dog heart, the trail of clues scares up a dead golf pro who may have been murdered by the drunk's daughter. So rad, so sinister that they find him in a lifeguard tower of all places. Great use of beach things. Anyone with regular access to the coast knows that at nighttime, these structures get locked up and just sit there in the empty night, sounding echoes from the waves. So creepy to imagine a dead body in one and a very strong isolation of the beach noir genre. Plus, Britt and Hank react like real people: grossed out and not quipping. I hope to see a lot of this type of thing moving forward. Maybe someone will get cut in half by a surfboard or impaled in the face by a seagull.
At the crime scene they find the daughter's phone and some scandalous sex footage between Lindus and the runaway (P.S. I love it when someone's fingerprints are "all over" a place—"touch, touch, touch..."). Things are looking kind of fishy at this point. Could the wealthy real estate mogul be behind this murder? (Obviously, but we need some hard evidence!) The daughter corners Hank in his own digs and explains that she and the golf pro attempted to blackmail Lindus with the footage but never anticipated that the documented sex times would include a post-coital phone conversation about a shady land deal, the nature of which Lindus did now want to get out. This is getting cooler and cooler. Land deals are always causing crime because land is the mightiest thing a person can own.
The daughter swears up and down that her phone was planted so instead of turning in the girl, Hank and Britt ship her off out of town and then Hank's former partner Detective Gustasfon (Rockmond Dunbar) discovers Hank's alchy friend dead from a drug overdose. Gustafson's like "yo, are you connected to this crime somehow? If you are, or know stuff about it, then that is obstruction of justice." Sounds like someone got too close to the truth. Dang, Hank needs to clear his name for sure. Convinced this is Lindus's doing (and I imagine feeling some guilt over indirectly getting his friend killed) Hank threatens to take down the mogul and makes good by sneaking the murder weapon into the rich man's home, inciting a real doozy of an investigation (and clearing his name!).
Mwah! This is a very successful first episode as it manages to set the stage for these characters in a fun, strongly paced way without getting too bogged down in exposition. I hate it when pilots spend the whole time introducing worlds and characters and expect the audience to just have faith that spending time in this fictional universe will be worth their while. One compelling twisty-turny mystery in, and we have a possible overarching villain in Lindus, straightaway huge stakes in his mysterious business connections, plus I'm excited (emotionally) to see Hank struggle with past mistakes while providing an example for his younger partner Britt. However, I selfishly don't want to see them heal completely because it's that same brokenness which gives these dudes an edge in this surf town's postcard underworld. Oh yeah, Logue also has a mean "surf wince."
In the next episode "Dog and Pony," Terriers wastes no time in demonstrating how the show will function with more of an emphasis on episodic storytelling. The check Lindus cut Britt and Hank is being held as evidence (the same moola Hank needs for his down payment on the house), so the dudes scare up a bounty in this local, very nice looking and not buff fugitive known as "Mongo."
I appreciate how natural and fluid the writers have worked in this "case of the week" situation. Hank needs the money for a reason that fits into the overall plot very well. Good job, Terriers! Meanwhile, Britt and his girlfriend adopt a dog as a sort of training exercise for having a kid, which, if handled in a sitcom-y way, would be a sitcom-y presence. But this ain't no sitcom, and these people aren't idiots. But they are people. I'm sure we can all recognize the pitfalls of this relationship logic: a baby and a dog both require huge responsibility, but different types. This is the way real people think and sometimes it works, and sometimes it just results in dog mess.
Real quick, got to mention it was hilarious when the dog started licking Britt's balls during cunnilingus. Pursuing a contact of the fugitive leads to a kindly beach witch who tells Britt's fortune via tarot cards, revealing that a new "presence" in his life is going to screw things up for him. Once again awesome work, show, these types are ALL over the coast, able to make good enough on the hippy-dippy industry to buy wheatgrass and own cars.
But Hank and Britt aren't here to astral project, so they pretend to be some heavies shaking down the beach witch for a cut of her earnings in hopes she'll call in her fugitive boyfriend that night when they return to collect. I love that this is just what these two knuckleheads do. Hank and Britt are not ex-thespians, or aspiring actors, they simply put on appearances as dictated by instinct. Because they're regular folk, each time they pull a con like this, it's never guaranteed to work out. Hell, I couldn't pretend to be someone else without darting my eyes nervously and possibly urinating in my Bugle Boys. I guess what I'm getting at, again, is that we as an audience like to see characters who are just real enough to believe that things are not necessarily going to work out for them. Which is why when Hank finds out his ex-wife is getting remarried he heads straight to an AA meeting, for the first time in a while. Poor guy, he must be taking things pretty hard. Lucky he's got this former addict and ex-CIA operative to offer her unbridled support:
Just kidding. Everyone sees this type of lady places, right? Wal-Mart, the library, Bingo night, etc. Every time I see an AA scene in a TV show, it always feels accurate, which makes me think there are so many writers with drinking problems. Anyhow, some tough-talking, sober a-hole warns Hank about buying his old house because it would be like living in a "museum of mistakes," (and not the good kind). I agree, a-hole. Hank what on earth are you doing to yourself? Do you have an ace up your sleeve that we don't know about? Clearly this is just a bad decision, stop torturing yourself. Just saying. So then the evening rolls around, and the dudes meet up with the beach witch's hulk lover which in turn leads to a first-class butt-whooping. This is just the kind of excitement these knuckleheads live for, so I like to think on a certain level Britt's okay with being torpedoed out the front window.
Further snooping around puts the boys in contact with the hulk's seemingly straight-laced half-brother who works down at the racetrack—also a real place where crime happens. What is this, a Raymond Chandler novel? Turns out the two of them worked together on an unsolved robbery there, and non-hulk bro tried to pin it all on his semi-sibling who saw zero dollars of the money. Tailing the racetrack weenie, Britt and Hank watch from the sidelines as he attempts to shoot and kill the muscleman. Luckily they come to the big galoot's aide and are able to exchange medical attention for information leading to the racetrack crime.
I like it! When we started this episode way back when, I figured tracking down this Mongo guy would be the endgame, but who knew he would actually turn out to be a decent guy with the keys to an even bigger score? Any hardliner cop would consider this an open-and-shut case, but Hank's able to see the goodness in well-meaning failures like himself, and benefit from the sympathy. If they can locate the missing monies, then Ol' Tuff Stuff won't have to go to jail, and Hank can still make the terrible decision of buying his old house.
While Mongo recuperates in Britt's home, he witnesses Katie struggling with the new dog, and offers the sage wisdom that pet ownership is in no way an indicator of one's ability to take care of a child (agreed). Yeah they are similar, but from what I understand about childbirth (other than what Prometheus taught me), the human body kicks into super-duper compassion mode in a way that's chemically different from rubbing Rover's tum-tum. But then again what do I know? I shout at my plants until they wilt.
Hank and Britt bust the racetrack bro and discover the money hidden at his house, but not before Hank's Detective Gustasfon warns Britt about the ex-drunk's flaky ways. Could this be the ruinous "presence" the beach witch mentioned? Or did this naysayer just speak the magic words, secretly exciting Britt about a bunch of rollicking, future Olympic-grade window dives?
In a final, heartbreaking scene, Hank meets his ex for a late night inspection of the property. Arriving early in the empty space, present-day Hank interacts with a ghost version of his wife from married times, as they're just moving in. He's distant, and she's vibrant as they discuss knocking down a wall in the home that still remains standing, a metaphor for Hank's screw-ups and "too little, too late" response. His wife arrives and offers him another chance to pull out of buying the home, so long as he doesn't make any drastic structural changes in the next few days. As soon as she leaves, this happens:
Had me in tears. Only the second episode in and we get a powerhouse scene that operates on multiple levels: a) he's making the space his own b) he's finally honoring his wife's needs, and c) he's making it impossible for him to back out of the deal. Plus there's something heavy about empty living spaces, right? Moving out, one's reminded of the role physical objects play as tangible references for memories and emotions. Without "things" it's just us; but without "us," things are just things. Whoa. Moving in on the other hand, bare rooms offer the potential for hope and/or failure. What's it going to be Hank? Heavy stuff, guys (I am high on bath salts). Good lord are we just alone in this world? Maybe, but not as long as the Gomez Bros are willing to see past our flaws, and lend the good-at-heart strugglers a helping hand. You are awesome, Terriers. Keep this up, and I will take a bullet for you.
"Pilot": 9/10 Dog Biscuits and a Well-Earned Tummy Rub
"Dog and Pony": 8/10 Dog Biscuits and a Head Pat
WHAT ON EARTH DO YOU THINK?
– Have you ever even seen this show before?
– Will Hank let down Britt? Himself?
– Does Hank still have a shot with his ex-wife?
– Will Britt and girlfriend Katie succeed as a couple?
– Is owning a dog a good practice run at owning a baby?
– What should Hank and Britt name their private eye business?
– Why was Terriers canceled?
P.S. for further reading in the beach noir genre, check out Kem Nunn's Tapping the Source and Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice.