Thursday, December 2, 2010

Compliment Case 5: Terriers

A whip-smart, cleverly written SoCal noir about plucky low-rent PIs, that has struggled with low ratings. Yeah, obvious.

The points at which Veronica Mars and Terriers meet are so numerous, I’ve actually struggled expressing myself—it’s just so self-evident. Clever, self-deprecating, low-rent, unlikely but brilliant PIs. Skewed, twisty cases often playing out in delightfully unexpected ways. A strong, compelling central relationship of a sort not usually central on TV—Daughter-Father in one case, Buddy-Buddy in the other. Sunny southern California, where the two margins of American live side-by-side—I’ve even heard that VM’s Neptune is based on Terriers’ real life setting of Ocean Beach. They’re certainly about the same distance from the Mexican border. One show’s young and female, the other’s middle-aged and male, and they reflect those respective concerns. One is uncertainty, confusion, and the angst of growing up, the other is loss, regret, and the way past actions and mistakes linger, but they could rest comfortably in the same universe.
            I think it might surprise some that the two finest modern noirs I’ve seen on TV both take place south of San Diego—the images of the genre’s classic expression are rain-slicked, shadow-filled, canyons of alleys. Feels like a New York, doesn’t it? People forget that Sam Spade lived in San Francisco. In the midst of the post-WWII anxieties, shifting gender roles, and German Expressionism, the genre is a place where the Wild West met Industrialization, where the lawmen remained rugged individualists, but the bandits invested in real estate. Sounds a lot closer to California. And it’s still ground zero for many of our modern worries—a place where our country’s most powerful and affluent live alongside our most desperate. Sam’s dark streets aren’t as far away as they seem.
            I guess somewhere between the murders of Hollis Mulwray and Lilly Kane, the powerful decided they didn’t need shadows to hide their nefarious dealings anymore—they were rich and powerful enough to hide in the sun, taking in the surf, working on their tans. We still need bad-asses to find their murders, sex crimes, embezzlements, blackmails, real estate frauds, and drug deals, and then throw them out on the beach for all to see, though. The hard-boiled detectives may look like a tiny pep-squad castoff, a schlubby 12-stepper, and a slacker dirt bag, but make no mistake, Veronica Mars, Hank Dolworth and Britt Pollack are first rate bad-asses. In fact, they’re the best kind—bad ass with nothing more than giant brains, tenacity, and a smart quip.

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