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Tom Gliatto Headshot

Goodbye, "Terriers"

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Terriers, which lasted exactly one season on FX, was the best network series to debut this fall, and I and its apparently not large audience will miss and mourn it.

After the cancellation was announced Monday, there was a lot of online criticism directed at FX for mismarketing this melancholy exercise in West Coast noir. Well, yes: a small, snarling terrier was not the best image to convey the tone of the show, about two down-on-their-luck buddies trying to pick up some private-eye work here and there in Ocean Beach, Calif. I think you would have done better with the Walrus and the Carpenter from Alice in Wonderland, or Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men -- lumpy fellows walking slowly at sunset and able to gauge just how disconcertingly far their shadows jut ahead.

There were deep undercurrents of anger in the show, sure -- Donal Logue was an ex-cop, a recovering alcoholic, about to see his ex-wife find a proper new husband played by Loren Dean, a man with clean features and a sort of unsmudgeable blondness. (That turned out to be not altogether true...) Logue, on the other hand, always looks like a fairly intelligent form of life that has just staggered out of a marsh. But there was no nipping, biting fierceness to him, nor to his feckless friend and partner (Michael Raymond-James), who also ended up betrayed in love.

I'm not sure how you would market a show that, while preserving the noir tradition of chivalry among losers, was so attuned to the steady defeatism, desperation and cruelty of this milieu. I would recommend anyone who hasn't seen the show to start with episode 3, "Change Partners." The case involves a bank manager with a masochistic need to believe his wife is cheating on him -- she happens to be played by Olivia Williams (The Ghost Writer), that gravely sorrowful British actress so good at treading the via dolorosa. The hour ends with a devastating twist -- delivered with a deceptive quickness -- that leaves one person a suicide and everyone else with moral bruises pooling under the skin.

In a sense, the show's failure to find an audience was in keeping with its artistic achievement. If you're born to fall, how will you ever win? Forget it, Donal. It's Ocean Beach.