Sometimes unexpected pairings of things allow for some nice comparisons; they can allow the strengths and weaknesses to really come through as the differences get highlighted. I remember years ago, back to back, watching the episodes of The Wire where Stringer Bell was killed and the episode of CSI where Sara Sidle quit. You want to really get me worked up ask me about Crosetti’s death on Homicide and Bobby Simone’s death on NYPD Blue but that’s a story for another day.
At Spinetingler HQ we watch most of our shows on On Demand or online and we had the interesting, and quite frankly eye-opening and enlightening, opportunity to watch the episode of Hawaii 5-0 where McGarrett’s sister is introduced the same week that Steph Dolworth was introduced on Terriers.
Now I like Hawaii 5-0, it’s entertaining for what it is. But cheese and rice what a pairing. Hawaii 5-0 introduced McGarrett’s sister, then he decided she was annoying or trouble or something then stuck her in his office to be baby-sat before leaving her for the whole episode. Then they had like one little exchange at the end. She was brought on the show to advance the plot and remind McGarrett and the audience to not forget the supposed larger story arc from the first episode. Once she did her job then she was gone. She was a transparent function and not a character.
But Terriers doesn’t fuck around like that. Most cable shows don’t fuck around like that. Steph Dolworth from Terriers, in just a couple of episodes, became one of the best characters on a show filled with great characters; one of the best characters that we’ve seen in a long time; a character that is the heart of the show; and one that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. At a basic plot level Steph was needed to advance a plot point but again Terriers doesn’t fuck around like that and in addition to eventually advancing the plot she becomes a fundamental part of the shows DNA. Everyone knows her and likes her which is a great technique to give a character some added depth in a shows world. She get’s embedded in story arcs; she provides thematic shading to other story arcs; and she provides dark comic relief. Sometimes great writing means not explaining everything and a great example of this is her rules. “Don’t leave her around any sharp objects, don’t let her read any Proust. Never take her to the wild animal park, never serve her red wine with fish, blah blah, blah, blah, blah.” Why the hell can’t she read Proust? Then Hank comes back with the quick rejoinder “You can read Proust”. It’s a throwaway line but it leaves us wondering why in the hell can’t she read Proust and what’s up with the animal park.
TV shows and movies often times try and create and force chemistry (sorry but Olivia and Pacey just don’t have chemistry guys and I say that as a fan) and too often don’t recognize it or can’t capitalize on it when they DO have it (how in the flying monkeys did the diner scene from Heat become the fucking steamer Righteous Kill). One of the best ways to create chemistry on the screen is to use actors that have an off-screen relationship. Siblings, parents, children, lovers. Chances are if they have a relationship off-screen then their intimacy will be palpable on screen. Therein lies the key difference. Steph Dolworth is played by Karina Logue, Donal Logue’s real life sister and their scenes together out chemistry others in a show built on chemistry. For some damn reason a lot of TV shows can’t or don’t know how to present sibling relationships except to have them crack jokes on each other. Anything beyond that and they are stumped as if every TV writer was an only child. Not so with Terriers. Watch.
Her introduction has got to be one of the all-time TV greats. A casual reveal that is a call-back to one of the very first scenes of the series. A subtle joke that builds up to casual menace (a great WTF moment) then becomes so perfectly integrated as it shrugs it’s shoulder and says “no big deal”. Her departure is one of the most gut wrenching and complex scenes since you who did you know what in Breaking Bad or even Brotherhood. These shows portray an intimacy of death on occasion that haunts. As great as the scenes from these shows that I’m thinking of are they have discernible motives. Steph’s departure is all the more remarkable because it doesn’t involve death and is more emotionally complex.
The bar is high these days for TV shows and Terriers flies right over it. Terriers is a show that will run you through a complex array of emotions sometimes in a single scene. You will want more. C’mon, don’t you want to give Terriers a shot.