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Television Review

In ‘Terriers,’ detective pair are lovably ragged

Donal Logue (foreground) plays a former cop and Michael Raymond-James is a former thief in the new FX detective series “Terriers.’’ Donal Logue (foreground) plays a former cop and Michael Raymond-James is a former thief in the new FX detective series “Terriers.’’ (Patrick McElhenney/FX)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / September 8, 2010

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Every so often, a show arrives and instantly feels lived-in, like a comfortable old couch with slight depressions in all the right places. FX’s “Terriers’’ is one of those shows, beautifully torn and frayed from the get-go, which is tonight at 10. Like its lead actors, Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James (Rene on “True Blood’’), this comic drama is scruffy, unconventional, and irresistible.

Essentially, “Terriers’’ is a buddy private-eye series, and there are cases of the week — usually small cases that snowball into messy, high-stakes puzzles. Producers Shawn Ryan of “The Shield’’ and Ted Griffin, who wrote the “Ocean’s Eleven’’ remake, know how to unfold unpredictable twists with an effortless forward motion — the plots are rambling yet tight. But please note: “Terriers’’ is far from another cool procedural with office desks and badges. Set in San Diego’s ragged, hippie-tinged Ocean Beach neighborhood, the series is as much about retro townie atmosphere and two flawed heroes as it is about crime-solving. This is beachfront noir.

And this is character study — which is what makes “Terriers’’ an FX show, alongside other genre-plus FX series such as “Justified’’ and “Rescue Me.’’ Both Logue’s Hank Dolworth and Raymond-James’s Britt Pollack are reckless, overgrown boys coming of age late in the game. Hank’s a recovering alcoholic whose addiction lost him his job as a cop and his marriage to Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn). Now sober, he’s able to feel the melancholy attached to those losses. “Your checks always bounce — your life bounces,’’ Gretchen says to him, and he doesn’t argue. Britt is a recovering petty thief, trying to go legit with Hank and make his romance with Katie (Laura Allen) work. He’s not the brightest bulb on the tree, but he’s loyal and quick.

Their personal and romantic struggles anchor the show, which has ongoing plotlines, recurring bad guys, and emerging back stories that span the season. Meanwhile, their buddy rapport provides the lighter — and sometimes slapstick — moments. As they cruise Ocean Beach in Hank’s beat-up truck, trying to scare up PI work despite being unlicensed, Hank torments Britt by getting cloying songs such as “Close to You’’ stuck in Britt’s brain. Their buddy chemistry — affectionate teasing, mostly — is as natural as any dynamic on TV right now. Also a regular source of humor: the quirky, almost Elmore Leonard-like crooks and Hank’s contentious relationship with his former partner Detective Mark Gustafson (Rockmond Dunbar). Tonight, Hank and Britt try to help out one of Hank’s old drinking buddies and wind up tracking a murder one step ahead of the ever-rattled Gustafson.

Logue is, as he was in “The Knights of Prosperity,’’ perfectly at home in his own skin on screen — unruffled, unkempt, and smoothly ironic. And yet he’s able to make Hank’s AA material more poignant than you might expect from the star of “Grounded for Life.’’ He embodies the show’s hybrid tone, which never sacrifices its thick wryness for a Big Dramatic Moment. Logue and “Terriers’’ are both touching without really trying to be.

Raymond-James is the revelation on the show, though, giving a full-bodied performance that is kinetic and endearingly innocent. You can see Britt’s entire personality in his open gait. He’s the Artful Dodger, picking pockets like an old pro and scamming his way out of corners but still looking for and needing some kind of leadership. He’s a lost boy, and Raymond-James makes you want to root for him. With his squinting eyes and tousled hair, he’s a shaggy underdog.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

TERRIERS Starring: Donal Logue,

Michael Raymond-James,

Kimberly Quinn,

Laura Allen

On: FX

Time: Tonight, 10-11