If you haven’t been watching Terriers, the new critically acclaimed show on FX, now is your chance to catch up with the comedic, edgy new series about two of the most unlikely private detectives you’ll ever meet. CAHIR O’DOHERTY talks to the show’s star Donal Logue and to its award-winning writer and executive producer Shawn Ryan.
In Terriers, the new crime drama currently broadcasting on the FX network, Irish American actor Donal Logue (The Tao of Steve, Damages) and Michael Raymond-James (True Blood) are the charismatic twosome tackling underworld crime with unorthodox methods.
Hank (Logue) is an ex-cop and a recently sober alcoholic who partners with his best friend Britt (Raymond-James) to launch an unlicensed private investigation business unlike any you’ve seen before.
Since Hank and Britt are basically lifelong slackers who struggle with maturity issues and their emotional commitments, there’s comedy in watching these two solve deadly crimes while studiously avoiding their own personal responsibilities. As pair of slacker gumshoes, they usually get into as much trouble as they investigate.
For TV viewers saturated with mindless reality shows and singing competitions, Terriers is a welcome breath of fresh air. But Miami Vice it is not. There are no cool cars, designer duds or fancy cocktails -- instead we meet two luckless guys driving broken down trucks who are desperate to make a buck from their detective work.
“What’s great about the show is that you’re seeing characters who are recognizable,” Logue, 44, tells the Irish Voice. “We’re the type of guys you went to high school with. Or the friend of your brother’s who got in trouble. We’re not prettied up for television. The humor comes from realistic situations. When it feels dangerous they are in danger.”
The show’s rough around the edges feel marks Terriers out from the beginning. Hank and Britt don’t look or sound like action heroes; instead they seem surprisingly real. That’s why you’ll find yourself coming to care for them, and when that happens you’ll be a convert to this show.
“On any show that I’ve done before you have to compromise to broaden its appeal. Not here. It was a blast making it,” adds Logue.
Hank still pines after his ex-wife, who has helped him get sober but has also quickly moved on in her life. Cruelly, Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn) his ex-wife tells him, “Your checks always bounce -- your life bounces,’’ and he doesn’t argue with her.
“I think when the stakes get high for the two guys they will struggle to protect the ones they love,” says Logue.
“But the other part of it is they think its fun to live a dangerous life when you really don’t give a s*** any more. You’re free. Hank has to accept that he may never win his ex wife’s affection back. That idea kills him.
“There’s a line in Jeff Bridges’ film Crazy Heart where he sings how it’s amazing how falling feels the same as flying. That’s what’s happening here. These guys are in freefall but they think they’re free.”
Logue’s parents hail from Co. Kerry, making him a first generation Irish American. He grew up a world away from Kerry in the 120-degree heat of El Centro, California, a stone’s throw from the Mexican border.
“It’s my home town and I love it,” says Logue. “But it’s number one on the U.S. misery index. It makes the list of one of the worst places in the U.S. to live. It’s kind of brutal in comparison to Ireland.
“I referenced the people and places I grew up with there when filming the new show. It was very easy for me to make the transition from there into the world of the show.”
Logues’s mother lives most of the year in Kerry so he and his family are frequent guests. He’s been a regular visitor since the 1980s and he knows the back roads like a local, having cruised around them with his Irish cousins growing up.
The dual perspective has helped him in his career because it showed him there was a big world out there, one that he could conquer on his own terms. Logue was a champion debater before he was an actor, and he eventually won a place at Harvard University -- all due, he says, to his background and the values it taught him.
“The Irish are so talented in the arts,” says Logue. “I would stand up and do improvisational stuff and people would eat it up here. But in Ireland people like Denis Leary and I would just be two more guys at the bar. I think there’s something in the Irish gene pool that makes them exceptional in the arts.”
The show’s writer and executive producer Shawn Patrick Ryan, the award winning writer and producer behind cop drama The Shield, agrees. Although he’s not opposed to a show that entertains for its own sake, there is an added element of realism to Terriers, he says.
“I have to give a ton of credit to co-writer Ted Griffin (writer of Ocean’s Eleven) who writes on the show and came up with these characters. It does seem like something different than everything else on the air right now. The tone of it, the way the two main characters deal with each other, the fact that they’re friends too. It’s a great relationship to watch week to week,” he says.
Casting is everything to a show like this, Ryan adds.
“I wasn’t as familiar with Donal’s work when he came for the audition, and he just looked and felt exactly like this guy. He’s a serious actor and a comic one,” Ryan says.
“The show starts off funny but we hit some dark dramatic points and he became the obvious choice. We wanted to hearken back to big story arcs like you see in classic movies like Chinatown and then mix that with stand-alone episodes. We wanted to go back and forth.”
For inspiration from his own life Logue doesn’t have to look very far. When his cousin from Kerry arrived in the U.S. he was knocked out by American cars, in particular the Camaro. Riding around El Centro in the 1980s, he was racing and drinking and acting out until the day he reversed his car, at top speed, into the house of an Immigration and Nationalization (INS) officer.
“My cousin was illegal, but instead of being sued and deported, this INS guy offers him a glass of whiskey and he starts talking about the old country. Turns out he was Irish and the two became fast friends,” Logue recalls.
That’s the kind of dumb luck that sometimes strikes Hank and Britt as they tool about in Terriers, and Logue can relate to it. It’s all because of his Irish background, he says.
“I’m very Irish in many ways,” laughs Logue. “When I go back to Sneem in Co. Kerry I look and my face and realize I’m among my own tribe. Then I’m an O’Sullivan from Kerry.
“But if you clean me up I end up looking like the assistant manager at the Best Buy down the street. I don’t know what happens, but it brutalizes me. It’s an Irish thing, our essence is destroyed. And I’m an Irish guy; I’m not a handsome one in that TV way.
“But they just let me be who I am in Terriers and I feel it’s better and more natural that way. I mean, I look cool when I roll up to work. They’re not paid to turn me into a dork. Don’t put me in an uncomfortable suit. I know who I am and so does my character.”
Terriers airs on FX on Wednesdays at 10 p.m.