Gone But Not Forgotten TV: Terriers

Gone But Not Forgotten is a new column at the House of Geekery where I will take a look back at TV shows that were cancelled way before their time.

Number of Seasons: 1

Noir is a hard genre to define mostly because it is more of a technique of filming based on German expressionist cinematography than an actual genre. Regardless, it has become the label for stylized Hollywood crime melodramas from a post-WWII era. The image most of us think of is a gumshoe with his feet on the desk speaking out of one side of his mouth while the other sucks down a cigarette when a curvy blonde slinks in and cries him a story about lovelost and murderous betrayal. It seems as if everytime a modern story tries to take a cue from it, it tries to re-define the genre. Many of them just mix it with a preexisting genre (like Dark City did with science fiction) or they would amp up the style over content (like Sin City or Give Em Hell Malone). They are all good movies in their own right, but they will always be remembered as neo-noir, modernizing a classic but falling short of redefining. That is where Terriers comes in. It seeks to redefine by pairing extra layers of depth to the story with the techniques.

One of the most instantly recognizable elements is the location. Noirs usually take place in dimly and/or neon lit streets of some dark and foggy city. They are the kind of settings that immediately trigger a fight or flight response. Danger is imminent. The setting also serves as an extension of the characters. It easily accentuates that lethargic attitudes of the characters involved. Terriers, on the other hand, takes place in Ocean Beach, CA. It is a brightly lit beachside neighborhood, just not the kind you would vacation too. It has a seedy and ugly underbelly that it has no shame in showing off. Ocean Beach is them, and they are Ocean Beach. While the disposition is a little different, it still serves that purpose as an extension of the characters, both good and bad.

The main protagonist is Hank (Donal Logue), a recovering alcoholic and former police detective. He was fired and now makes his money as a private investigator. It takes him to the ugliest parts of town and nothing seems to surprise him anymore. His partner, Britt (Michael Raymond-James), is a reformed criminal who used to rob houses. His expertise is now used to aid in Hank’s investigations. Hank and Britt fit the noir bill. They are cynical, sarcastic, and disenfranchised, but they are still in high spirits, as implied by their sun-burnt California scenery. They very easily crack jokes and keep up a number of their relationships. Britt has a girlfriend, and Hank is always turning on the charm for his ex-wife on the off chance she bites and takes him back. It is this kind of hopefulness that sets them apart from most noir good guys. Even though most noir heroes fight for whats right, they do so thinking or knowing that a brick wall is going to jump out of nowhere and stop them. They are usually just trying to enjoy their time or satisfy their good conscience before they get blocked. Hank and Britt carry themselves a bit differently. They pursue cases as if they were wrecking balls ready to knock down those walls. This way they are so much more likable and relatable. They convince you that the good they are trying to do isn’t futile. This way when they do hit one of those walls, it is heart-wrenching instead of inevitable, but we still get that hard-boiled, sarcastic sense of humor that is the hook for most noir pieces.

Hank and Brit in the default mode: beaten and bruised

Noir stories are also usually elliptical. There is usually a twist that needs to go back and explained. Sometimes a scene is replayed but from a new angle where a small piece of information is revealed to us that make all the events that have already taken place make sense. You see the modern incarnation in the modern police procedural drama. You are handed all this information and watch all these events play out over the course of the run time not really understanding how they fit together until all the good guys get together and narrate the previous 40 minutes as if we missed it. Feel safe that you can get up and take a leak without missing much as it will be summarized later. Terriers takes a very different approach, a better approach in my opinion. Each event begets the next. Hank and Britt brainstorm occasionally, but they rely heavily on the audience staying with them and paying attention. That way when they catch the bad guy or reveal some truth, it is not some prolonged narrative that we have to endure but rather a revelation that pulls on our emotions, feeling either excitement or joy or sadness or anger while in the moment rather than retroactively pondering the situation.

Terriers were a breed of dog popular in Great Britain and Ireland where they were used for vermin control keeping rats and the like away from populated areas. Such a fitting description for 2 private investigators who are loyal to a fault, affable as all hell, and passionate about keeping their beach community safe from the scum of the Earth. I know I am probably by myself on this one, but Terriers has become my go to example for noir. It has defined the undefinable taking the preexisting characteristics and tweaking them in such a way that the characters and settings seem more real and the events have a much bigger emotional impact.