Don't look for the scruffy buddy-heroes of FX's Terriers to be named Best of Show. Top dogs they're not. These likably roguish mutts, private eyes who operate without a license because "we found that by not working with them we never have to worry about losing them," are the opposite of slick. Brawn is not their strong suit. But they're great, funny, funky company.
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Hank (scrappy Donal Logue) and Britt (wily Michael Raymond-James, from True Blood's first season) are spiritual kin to Jim Rockford, at home amid the flotsam and jetsam of their downscale San Diego beach community. Hank's got the ex factor: He's an ex-cop, ex-drunk, ex-husband who's trying to pull his bohemian life together. Britt's a former thief who's not above using his old tricks to do what's arguably right and is in no hurry to grow up.
Created by Ted Griffin (Ocean's Eleven), Terriers is a caper lark with unexpected bite. Like FX's excellent Justified, it has a tangible sense of place and a terrific sense of humor as it entangles its flawed but irrepressible heroes in treacherous situations so twisted that it's not always clear who's good or bad.
"It's too big for both you guys," warns their very pregnant lawyer as the duo clashes with a wealthy developer and unearths a scam that leads to more scams, each with deadly consequences. "Are you saying we're small time?" wonders Hank.
Small scale, maybe, and that's part of Terriers' irreverent charm. As these guys get deeper over their heads, leaning on (and often messing with) their police and criminal contacts, there's suspense and surprise and just enough violence to remind you this is FX, after all. But it's grounded in a world you believe and a group of characters you instantly root for. Terriers has license to entertain, and this fall, that's saying something.
FX isn't the only network premiering its new shows this week to get a jumpstart on the big network rivals. The CW is also opening shop to get some early sampling. A show like Hellcats will need it.
Here's how I described the show in TV Guide Magazine's Fall Preview, out this week: "Gimme a P! Gimme a U! What's that spell? More jeer-than cheer-worthy, this energetic but emotionally empty vessel looks like an ABC Family reject."
To elaborate: Hellcats wants to be the Glee of cheerleading, but falls at least a few generic notes flat. We're at Lancer U in Memphis, where curly-maned pre-law student Marti Perkins (Aly Michalka), a blue-collar bundle of T&Attitude, sneers at the "football groupies" until her scholarship is revoked, forcing her to become one of the "flyers." (Coach Sharon Leal likes her unorthodox booty shaking, and the CW hopes you will, too, because that's it for substance here.)
Her roomie in Cheertown is the impossibly perky rah-rah team captain Savannah Monroe (High School Musical's Ashley Tisdale — and yes, there's a throwaway "Sharpee" joke) who is at least amusing as she tries to preserve a "no negativity zone" amid the various back-stabbing bitchery you expect from the genre.
In an obvious nod to Glee, these hard-bodied hotties are positioned as underdogs, threatened with budget cuts and worse (including eliminating the competition element from the cheerleading experience) if they don't win at Nationals. Where's Sue Sylvester when you need her? When does Glee return, come to think of it?
Several times during the pilot, we hear Marti say in voice-over, "Life can take you to some pretty unexpected places." It would be nice if Hellcats did as well. But alas. This show does not bring it on. (The good news: Things pick up for the CW almost immediately, with the return of The Vampire Diaries and the premiere of the hot new version of Nikita on Thursday. More on those later.)
Terriers premieres Wednesday, 10/9c, on FX
Hellcats premieres Wednesday, 9/8c, on the CW