You’re watching the final episode of Freaks and Geeks, the Judd Apatow-produced television series that began airing on NBC in Sept. 1999 and was cancelled by the end of March 2000. As it ends on a gorgeously melancholy note—I won’t spoil what actually happens—and the scene fades to black to the tune of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple,” you think, “Damn, why did they cancel this show?” Two weeks later, you start watching Joss Whedon’s Firefly; after ten hours and 14 episodes, you end the series feeling the same sadness: “Too soon, Fox! Too soon!” you cry. Then, you start watching Arrested Development. You get the picture.
To generalize: people of our age and demographic love to watch cancelled TV shows that have developed devoted cult followings. They love it for various reasons: 1) simply because shows that are too quirky for the mainstream are often cancelled; 2) because those shows tend to seem like they were “too smart for TV”—in other words, their thoughtfulness or depth seemed to exceed the limitations of their medium, and it feels exciting to understand a once-misunderstood work of art; 3) it is fun to revel in the heartbreak resulting from the show’s untimely death with other fans, and to imagine how much sadder viewers must have felt when the cancellation was unexpected. Our sadness surrounding a show’s conclusion demonstrates that we have been emotionally affected by a work of art, which (if it isn’t necessarily the primary goal of all art) is certainly the primary goal of television.
Terriers, whose season finale aired Wednesday night at 10 p.m. on FX, faces this kind of sudden cancellation. By the time this article appears in TSL, it will either have been renewed for a second season or cancelled—and the latter would be a shame, because Terriers is a wonderful, smart, and eminently entertaining show.
Terriers is about two unlicensed private detectives living in Ocean Beach, San Diego: the overweight former policeman and recovering alcoholic Hank Dolworth, played by Donal Logue, and the breezy and charming former burglar Britt Pollack, played by Michael Raymond-James. Hank and Britt stumble onto a large and sinister plot against Ocean Beach—whose socioeconomic subtext brings Terriers into the thematic territory of Chinatown—and their struggles against this plan are the primary driving force behind the first season. The show’s charm comes from its distinctive characters, compelling master plot, and engaging, self-contained cases—which always emerge organically from the master plot.
This is not a scrappier Burn Notice set in San Diego instead of Miami; while occasionally light and funny, Terriers is also ruthlessly, uncompromisingly tragic and dark, and it knows how to pile unfortunate circumstance on top of unfortunate circumstance with walloping effectiveness unseen outside of Breaking Bad. Terriers charms you and then turns on a dime and punches you in the gut.
Maybe you hadn’t heard of Terriers before reading this. If you don’t read any TV blogs, this is entirely possible, as the series has gotten atrocious ratings—averaging a little over half a million viewers per episode—and its commercials and title misled people early on to believe that it was a show about dogs. In a way, its struggle for ratings is appropriate, because the show deals extensively with the problematic consequences of rooting for the proverbial underdog.
If Terriers has already been cancelled by the time this comes out, take this article as a eulogy of sorts, and add Terriers to the list of shows you’ve been meaning to watch. If it has been renewed, watch it next season. Breaking Bad had a strong first season, but it wasn’t until its third that it became one of the best shows on television. Terriers may very well follow suit, if given the chance.