Terriers -- TV Review

"Terriers"
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The protagonist in FX's "Terriers," Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue), is two parts the Dude from "The Big Lebowski," one part '70s Kris Kristofferson. He works as an unlicensed private eye with a young partner even more naive than he is in Ocean Beach, a slightly hippie-esh San Diego neighborhood that recalls both "Jackie Brown" and Thomas Pynchon's latest slacker-noir novel. Hank, a recovering alcoholic, was fired from the local police force; we've heard that one before, too. So originally is not one of the great virtues of this show.

The first episode, directed by "Hustle and Flow's" Craig Brewer, picks up speed as it goes along: Hank and partner Britt (Michael Raymond-James) start by doing a slightly illegal favor for a friend, then try to track down the daughter of an old drinking buddy, then find themselves on a windswept beach, stumbling over a corpse and a gun. By pilot's end, they're tangling with a burnished but potentially murderous millionaire developer. By the second episode, they're deep into a murder investigation, but we seem to have let the main plot drop.

"Terriers" is the brainchild of Shawn Ryan, creator of FX's acclaimed rogue-cop show "The Shield," and "Ocean's Eleven" scribe Ted Griffin. The writing is generally witty, the tone light, the tempo satisfying, the sense of place -- palm-reading shops, dead-end bars, beach-town slackers -- well drawn.

"Terriers" isn't really a noir; its worldview is far too genial and forgiving, its visual style not distinctive enough. It's more John D. than Ross Macdonald. But the private detective model -- mismatched buddies tripping over their own limitations, trying to chase bad guys while outrunning their own past, getting beaten up once or twice for every bit of evidence they uncover -- is flexible enough that it can work at this pitch, too.

Perhaps the best thing about the show is Logue, the Canada-born actor, with a name like a Van Morrison sideman, who played Dex in "The Tao of Steve" and the lead in early-oughties sitcom "Grounded for Life." At times he's so stupid and sentimental, especially in dealing with his pragmatic and radiant ex-wife (Kimberly Quinn), the role strains credulity. But he's a magnetic and authoritative in his own lovable loser way, and his chemistry with his good-hearted ex-con sidekick helps drive things forward. As a consequence, when they become liars or bullies, as they do in part of the second episode, it feels off: Nobody said these two were angels of virtue, but the show's moral scheme only works if we're rooting for these guys.

"Terriers" doesn't seem headed for greatness and doesn't seem to have it on its mind, either. Like its two hapless leads, the show is about making the best of things -- and having a few laughs -- in tough times.

Like the Elmore Leonard-inspired Kentucky noir of FX's "Justified," this is a cops-and-robbers show that's pleasing, driven by casting and good writing that will satisfy fans of the form without giving the team behind "The Wire" much to worry about. Hell, maybe it will surprise us.

Airdate: 10-11 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 8 (FX)
Production: Fox 21, MiddKid Prods.
Cast: Donal Logue, Michael Raymond-James, Kimberly Quinn, Loren Dean, Jamie Denbo, Rockmond Dunbar
Creator-director: Ted Griffin
Executive producers: Ted Griffin, Shawn Ryan, Tim Minear
Co-executive producer: Marney Hochman
Producer: Ed Milkovich
Writers: Leslye Headland, Angela Kang, Jon Worley
Music: Robert Duncan
Production designer: Bruce Miller
Art director: Nigel Clinker
Director of photography: Curtis Wehr
Editors: Jordan Goldman, David Kaldor, Kimberly Ray
Costume designers: Kathryn Morrison
Casting: Sharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas, D. Candis Paule
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