The neo-noir drama, from creator Ted Griffin (Ocean’s Eleven, Ravenous) and executive producers Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and Tim Minear (Dollhouse), starred Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James as best friends working as unlicensed private investigators in the deceptively sunny Ocean Beach, Calif. (depicted as separate from San Diego), a town teeming with corruption.
Notable for crisp dialogue, quirky and deeply flawed characters — Logue’s Hank Dolworth is an ex-cop and recovering alcoholic, Raymond-James’ Britt Pollack a kind-hearted ex-thief — and a blend of comedy and drama, Terriers was reminiscent, in many ways, of The Rockford Files. That’s not to suggest that Terriers was a clone of that 1970s classic; it’s simply that they shared common elements, from the easy tone to the beachside setting to the memorable cast of recurring characters (Jim Rockford had his Sgt. Becker, and Hank Dolworth had his Det. Gustafson; Jim had his attorney Beth Davenport, and Hank and Britt had Maggie Lefferts).
Unlike The Rockford Files, which focused largely on the case of the week, Terriers interwove unrelated jobs — an amnesiac college student, a gargantuan bail-jumper, a transsexual hooker looking to solve the death of her friend — with an overarching conspiracy involving a land grab that would mean the end of Ocean Beach.
However, what propelled the series wasn’t the Big Mystery, but rather the central characters grappling with their own dramas: Still in love with his ex-wife Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn), Hank bought the house they once shared then launched an investigation into her fiance (stealing and using his credit card in the process). Hesitant to grow up and commit to his girlfriend Katie (Laura Allen), Britt finally takes the leap, only to discover she cheated on him during a drunken night of karaoke (Allen deserves an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of a guilt-ridden Katie).
Unfortunately, FX and the show’s creators made mistakes from the very beginning that likely cost Terriers its audience, and its second season. The lamentable title, a reference to Hank and Britt’s tenacity and not an actual dog (the series’ recurring canine, Britt and Katie’s pet Winston, is a bulldog), was made worse by an initial marketing campaign that put a terrier front and center. It’s little wonder that Terriers had the lowest-rated premiere of any FX series. What was the average channel surfer supposed to take away from the ads? Heck, if it weren’t for Logue’s involvement — I loved Grounded for Life — I probably would’ve initially passed on the show, then kicked myself when I later realized the writer of the underrated Ravenous and the creator of The Shield were behind it.
Considering that the Terriers finale drew just 800,000 viewers, it’s difficult to fault FX for not ordering a second season. Still, executives should probably shoulder at least some of the blame for those early marketing mistakes and for not taking steps to correct them.
There’s good news for fans of Ryan and Minear, though: Their new project, the cop drama The Chicago Code, debuts Feb. 7 on Fox. It used to be called Ride-Along, so … lesson learned?