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TV Tonight: The Truth About Cats and Dogs

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NBC has generated headlines over the past year with its attempt to remake ’70s private-eye show The Rockford Files. Somebody should let them know they can stop trying now.

FX has not remade The Rockford Files with its sly-humored new P.I. drama Terriers, debuting tonight, but it has pursued what is probably a better idea: creating a new, original series that puts a new spin on the picaresque charm of the James Garner classic.

Terriers (from Ocean’s Eleven’s Ted Griffin and The Shield’s Shawn Ryan) features not one but two rogueish, small-bore private dicks. Hal Dolworth and Britt Pollack (played by real-life buddies Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James) are a pair of down-at-the-heels investigators who tool around southern California in a beat-up pickup truck, paying the bills with a series of little cases.

The first job we see them on is, true enough to the title, canine: reclaiming a bulldog for Britt’s drycleaner in exchange for free cleaning work. The dog metaphor is persistent and accurate: Hank—an ex-drunk ex-cop still pining for his ex-girl—and Britt are hangdog underdogs. (The title of episode 2: “Dog and Pony.”) And the title of the show analogizes them perfectly—they’re scrappy and persistent, making up for what they may lack in resources, luck or size with tenacity, be it in pursuing a job or, in Hank’s case, trying quixotically to win his ex back by buying their old house when she puts it on the market.

Life becomes more complicated for the pair when they stumble upon a deadly case involving a wealthy local developer, sex and a seemingly dirty business deal, and it becomes personal for them when the case ensnares a friend. The investigation is dangerous and, they are repeatedly reminded, above their weight class. But they keep at it, partly because they’re invested, and partly, one suspects, because of the challenge: after lifetimes of settling and lowering their expectations, can they prove that they’re something more that everyone assumes? One way or another, as they become entangled in the case, they’re committed: they’ve become the dog who’s caught the car.

Like its characters themselves, Terriers has higher aims, but its appeal comes from being likeable and familiar. It balances its running storyline with individual cases, carried largely by Logue and Raymond-James’ charm. The role of the beautiful slacker with bigger aspirations is something Logue can play expertly in his sleep (think Knights of Prosperity). But Hank also carries a broken heart and real personal losses, and Logue does a fine job selling the show’s more dramatic side as well.

From the five episodes I’ve seen so far, Terriers is a welcome complement to some of cable’s bigger, more operatic dramas: it doesn’t go for the gut-wrenching violence of Sons of Anarchy or the brooding emotion of Mad Men, but it also doesn’t—like escapist cable shows like Covert Affairs or The Glades—aim for simple high-gloss entertainment. Instead, it turns its small scale into an asset, charming viewers as Hank and Britt aim for something greater in their jobs and, therefore, their lives. In the process, Terriers becomes pretty darn good as well.

The CW

I don’t have as much to say about tonight’s other animal-titled debut, The CW’s Hellcats, and what I do have to say isn’t positive, but I do want to emphasize that I’m not writing it off because it’s a drama about competitive cheerleading. If anything, I had inordinately high hopes because it’s a drama about cheerleading. I’ve long thought that Bring It On, a gem of a cheerleading movie, could have had the stuff of a great series. But Hellcats, set at a Tennessee college, can do nothing more with the material than a stale story: a hard-up pre-law student (Aly Michalka) loses her scholarship and has to try out for the cheer squad to stay in school, running into a predictable coterie of bitchy alpha girls (the most alpha of all played by High School Musical’s Ashley Tisdale).

Ah, well, at least we still have Glee. As for tonight’s battle of the debuts, it definitely goes to the dogs.