Reviews

'Terriers': You Can Read Proust

As Hank gets involved in Terriers' long-story arc, he not only expects the unexpected, but also takes some pleasure in figuring out the plot's twisty-turny perversities.


Terriers

Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm ET
Cast: Donal Logue, Michael Raymond James, Kimberly Quinn, Rockmond Dunbar, Laura Allen, Jamie Denbo
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: FX
Director: Craig Brewer
Air date: 2010-09-08
Website
Trailer
Amazon

"You didn't get to the end, so you really don’t know what the hell is going on." Hank (Donal Logue) isn't exactly surprised when he hears this. He's used to not knowing what's coming or even what's going on in front of him. But when Ellie (Rachel Miner) tells him he needs to finish watching the sex tape she's in, he takes her seriously. And so he carries her pink cell phone with him from room to room, letting it play through to the end, so he can start to see "what the hell is going on."

Hank's a private detective in San Diego, unlicensed. As such, he lives on a familiar kind of edge, the kind negotiated by ex-cops and recovering alcoholics. In the smart new FX series, Terriers, Hank has a few other accoutrements you've seen before -- an ex-wife, Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn), whom he still loves, and an ex-partner, Detective Mark Gustafson (Rockmond Dunbar), whom he still trusts. He's also got a scruffy new partner in his new detecting business: a one-time thief, Britt (Michael Raymond-James) makes an apt sounding board for Hank. As they talk through the legal boundaries they'll need to skirt in order to solve cases, they tell themselves they're doing the right thing, most of the time, anyway. And so, when they get involved in the long-story arc jump-started by that sex tape, they not only expect the unexpected, but they also take some pleasure in figuring out the plot's twisty-turny perversities.

Premiering 8 September, Terriers teases out both the pleasures and the perversities. When Hank decides to help Ellie out of loyalty to her father, an old friend and former drinking buddy, he doesn't think twice about it. Still, his decisions have rippling effects, even as he seems to take them one by one, each moment demanding a shift in priority and direction. This makes the story structure more layered than linear: even when Hank and Britt think they've solved a case, another consequence complicates and extends their involvement.

It's plain enough how this concept applies to their investigations, though the details only emerge gradually. An early encounter with wealthy developer Robert Lindus (Christopher Cousins) introduces his less than straightforward interests, as well as his young blond son, an emblem of how intricate his own motivations might be. While the show provides some standard-seeming villains -- expensively outfitted and imperious -- it also pits Hank and Britt against or in league with a number of less obvious types, including Hank's sister Steph (played by Logue's own sister Karina Logue). When she shows up in the fourth episode, she helps to stretch your understanding of him, as he copes with her unexpected decision to go off her meds and exit the hospital where she's been living. But she's not just the crazy sister. Instead, Steph (an MIT grad) offers another view of Hank, in glimpses of their shared past and in her independent mind, made visible in frame compositions that tell story as well as dialogue. So, when he asks Gretchen to look after her for an afternoon, Steph walks through the background of their conversation in the kitchen, reminding them that she can hear them and reciting the "rules" concerning her care: "Don’t leave her around any sharp objects, don’t let her read any Proust," she says, her figure out of focus as Hank and Gretchen also understand their parts in this knotty, multi-part relationship. "Never take her to the wild animal park, never serve her red wine with fish, blah blah, blah, blah, blah." As Steph observes here, social propriety is arbitrary, no matter whom it's designed to contain. "You can read Proust," he says.

Hank's own excesses, his steps outside such propriety, take a variety of forms. Britt has scenes apart from Hank -- mostly with his incredibly insightful and patient girlfriend Katie (Lauren Allen) -- but for the most part the show keeps you inside Hank's experience. This means you see him share a particular language and sensibility with Steph, worry about Gretchen's upcoming marriage to Jason (Loren Dean), and confess to his AA meeting that he's buying their old house from her. When a fellow member advises against it -- "You'll be living in a museum of all your past mistakes" -- the look on Hank's face simultaneously conveys his agreement with this assessment, his lifetime of regret, and also his enduring optimism.

Like co-creator Shawn Ryan's The Shield, Terriers features charismatic, complicated grown-ups wrestling with a lot of past mistakes, even as they continue to make them. Though Hank and Britt are accused repeatedly of behaving childishly, they know enough to see what they're doing, and measure it against other so-called adult behavior (say, cheating on land development projects or following proper investigative procedures). Guys who've gone wrong now trying to go straight, they value loyalty and intelligence. So, when Mark warns Britt, "You gotta know he's gonna let you down, it is not in Hank Dolworth to do anything but self-destruct on people and when he does, everybody catches shrapnel," the new partner nods and listens, but takes the risk.

But as his decision is indicated in a brief gesture, his world -- the ways that all choices are interconnected -- is repeatedly visible. Emotional and moral stakes are revealed in evocative framing: when Hank's on an elevator with a suspect, the camera hovers low, shadows emphasizing the angles of his face. Or when he shares a dinner with Gretchen and Jason, trying his best to be the cool ex, long shots of the group hint at tensions that everyone wants to get over. And repeatedly, Steph compels attention, whether she's scurrying to hide in her brother's attic, acting the part everyone else expects, her face dour but her eyes lively.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Television

'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.

Music

Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Reviews

Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.

Music

Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.

Books

Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.

Music

British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.

Music

Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".

Books

In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.

Music

Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.

Film

Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.

Music

Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.

Music

Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.

Music

'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.

Music

Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.

Television

From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.

Music

Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.

Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.