Thankful for Terriers

Jason Mittell's picture

I’d like to interrupt this unplanned blog hiatus – yes, it’s been one of those semesters – to give thanks for this year’s best new show: Terriers. I’d been planning on posting a blog about Terriers after a few episodes, but I’m glad I got too busy to write it, as the show has transformed into something much more engaging and powerful since then. What started out as a shaggy good time has emerged into taught double character study packing a surprise emotional wallop.

Before diving into a longer (non-spoilery) celebration of the show, I want to encourage readers to join the campaign to convince FX to renew the series for a second season. The ratings have been quite bad, despite nearly universal critical praise and a very active fanbase on Twitter. While Nielsen ratings are a fatally flawed system for measuring viewer engagement, they’re still the main metric that networks and cable channels use to gauge viewership and sell it to advertisers. But unlike with the ratings-challenged shows of previous eras, there are actually ways for fans without Nielsen boxes to have their fandom count in somewhat meaningful ways.

The best thing that a fan can do – as well as anyone who hasn’t seen the show and wants to give it a chance – is to buy an episode on iTunes or Amazon, as FX is reportedly tracking these numbers. All twelve episodes that have aired are available, but if you’ve not seen the show and want to give it a try – or if you love the show but want your fandom to register in FX’s eyes – I’d recommend buying the episode “Pimp Daddy” on iTunes or Amazon. Some fans are trying to coordinate a “Pimp Terriers Day” for the day of the season finale, December 2, with coordinated purchases of the episode (which is an excellent example of the show, focused on a great case involving a transexual prostitute) and proclamations of “I love Terriers so much I’m willing to pay for it!” on your favorite social networks. By focusing on that one episode, we hope that FX will see a concerted effort to support the show through the sales figures.You can also watch on Hulu, or go to the fansite Terrierists.com to see links to a range of legal ways to watch the show. None of these will compensate for the poor ratings, but they make more of an impact than just sending an email to FX (which you should do as well!).

Why should we care about the fate of Terriers? At first, the show seemed like a throwback drama to the low-rent charms of the classic private eye drama The Rockford Files. Focusing on a pair of down-and-out unlicensed investigators, the early episodes of the season spent time developing a robust sense of place in the quirky San Diego community of Ocean Beach, with lead charaacterss Hank & Britt trying to stay afloat amidst cases that quickly sink deeper into danger. My favorite facet early on was the breezy chemistry between the stellar Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James (whose smile completely lights up the screen!), two shaggy guys who seemed to just love hanging out together. With crisp & clever dialog and tight plotting, the show started out as a fun episodic crime show with some good character arcs, a fine sense of place, and a sharp crew of supporting players.

And then shit started going down. Hank & Britt find themselves wrapped up in a major case of urban corruption, and both of them face huge personal crises forcing some moral quandaries, all of which get wrapped up together in a jumbled mess of a situation. It still is a shaggy show, but the shagginess serves as an overlay for impressive emotional melodrama and heavily serialized arcs. What we’ve seen in the last few intense episodes builds on the character and situational foundation that was built in the early calmer episodes. And we’re left with a level of high-stakes emotional tension rarely seen on television outside of my other favorite current show, Breaking Bad.

This season-long design makes for stellar drama that will play especially well on DVD (or binging now on iTunes or Amazon!), but clearly hurts the goal of building an audience in weekly installments. Anyone who watched an early episode and found it too episodic or lightweight might not stick around for the late-season payoffs. And once things got really intense, it might be off-putting for new viewers trying to catch up with the arcs. While not as tightly serialized as HBO shows like Deadwood or The Wire, Terriers certainly has a similar sense of the season as a cohesive emotional unit, not a set of interchangeable episodes.

But since the weekly episodic model is still the primary way that serialized storytelling is funded on television, we’re faced with the tough situation of convincing FX that ratings would improve for a second season once the word-of-mouth on the DVDs grows. So do what you can and pimp Terriers next week – buy an episode (or twelve), spread the word, and hope that FX invests in the future of Hank and Britt!

Filed under: Fandom, Narrative, Television, TV Shows, Viewers Tagged: fx, Nielsen ratings, terriers

Jason Mittell

Publication date (from feed): 

Thu, 25 Nov 2010 19:48:20 +0000