Photo courtesy of FX
Review by Kara Gheldof

There appears to still be a lot of confusion on American audiences' behalf about what exactly FX's original program Terriers has to do with dogs, even as the show comes to the end of its first season—and what, unfortunately, may also be its last. Well it has precisely nothing to do with fuzzy little canines, at least not in a literal sense, but don’t let that discourage you. Terriers is still a deeply engaging show, with uninhibited appeal, and it needs a little help if it hopes to see a second season.

FX didn't lend a whole lot of time or effort to promoting their latest original dramatic series, hence the confusion, but it's probably best to go into the show not quite knowing what to expect because every episode turns the old clichés on their heels and leaves you wondering what could possibly come next.

To put it simply, Terriers is a gritty, character-driven drama in the style of the old noir detective stories. The title refers to an old nickname for private eyes and simultaneously provides a metaphor for characters that just can't let something go, once they sink their teeth into it, much like a terrier. It stars the irrepressible, ever-likeable Donal Logue (Grounded for Life, Life) and Michigan-born Michael-Raymond James (True Blood) as Hank Dolworth and Britt Pollack, respectively. Hank and Britt are best friends and unlicensed P.I.s, notorious for being "small fish," a reputation that is tested when they become involved in a mysterious corporate controversy after the death of Hank's old friend. There is an overarching season-long puzzle of what the bourgeois mystery men in suits are up to, revealed in carefully placed pieces throughout and bounding to a furious conclusion in the final episodes, but what makes Terriers special isn't the plot; it's the characters.

In addition to his recent woes, Hank is a former cop, a reluctant divorcee, and a former alcoholic, and yes, the first two are directly related to the third. In the first episode, we learn that Hank's ex-wife Gretchen is getting remarried, and it's something that sticks with him all season, to the point of investigating his wife’s new fiancé—and even tormenting him a little with credit card fraud. Britt mostly plays the sidekick role in the first half of the season, but picks up one of the most heartbreaking plotlines in the latter half when his girlfriend cheats on him, just when he is coming around to the idea of popping the question. This is a realistic show, with varying degrees of people. Hank and Britt aren't the nicest guys, but still manage to garner your sympathies, even when they are making the worst possible decisions.

Even the minor characters on this show are appealing and intriguing—from the no-nonsense pregnant lawyer that represents Hank and Britt, to the sarcastic ex-partner of Hank's, who chews on cigarette holders to help him drop the habit, even down to the criminally underused trio of hackers who set off some very familiar vibes if you're a fan of the X-Files' Lone Gunmen characters. This may be a show with few major players, but the supporting roles, right down the guest stars of the week, are all standouts.

And yes, for those who are wondering, there is indeed a dog. Though a terrier he may not be, Winston, an adorable bulldog acquired in the pilot episode, does show up from time to time to act as a pseudo-mascot when the show sees fit for him to do so.

It may already be too late for Terriers, but if there is any hope, I implore serialized drama fans to check it out, and I assure you that you won't be disappointed. This blend of dark humor, noir-style mystery, and gut-wrenching drama is the reason television exists, and to lose it when it's just getting started would be a shame. Terriers is one hell of an underdog, and it does not deserve to be put down.

© Kara Gheldof, 2010