Terriers and Hellcats both premiered on Wednesday night, shows that probably have mutually exclusive audiences. I can’t imagine that anyone who got caught up in Hellcats‘ tale of a hotsy law student who turns to cheerleading to pay the bills also dug the grungy pair of private eyes who are the antiheroes of Terriers.
It’s tempting to simply praise Terriers and dump on Hellcats. After all, Terriers has the cooler, hipper — sorry, we’re in for some cat-and-dog turns of phrase in this post — pedigree: The show is co-created by The Shield‘s Shawn Ryan and the writer of Ocean’s Eleven, Ted Griffin. Hellcats creator Kevin Murphy was the head writer for Desperate Housewives’ first seasons, and a slew of forgettable shows ranging from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show to Martial Law. Murphy’s credits aren’t anything to sneer at; it’s just that they don’t possess the cool factor of Ryan and Griffin’s.
There’s a lot to like about Terriers, starting with its stars. Donal Logue is one of those TV familiar faces whom some of us are always glad to see (although not enough of us to have ever given him a hit show), while Michael Raymond-James made an impact during his time on True Blood. Put ‘em together as the least slick detectives to squint in the California sun since Barnaby Jones, and you’ve got a charming show. Here’s the thing, though: I found myself straining to convince myself that the dialogue was more clever than it actually was (the brain kept insisting, “Come on, the guys who did The Shield and Ocean’s Eleven must just churn out buckets o’ hard-boiled wit, right? Right?”) and it’s basically a genre show, a detective series, a TV form I love but must concede is always threatening to go stale.
Hellcats is, in a completely different way, a genre show as well — a poor-scrappy-kid-triumphs-over-the-snobs story, High School Musical/Glee division.
There’s no point in thinking there’s anything intrinsically superior about Terriers over Hellcats just because Hellcats seems to exist primarily to show off a lot of attractive young people jumping around strenuously. Hellcats‘ most prominent star is Aly Michalka, a talented graduate of the Disney school of TV and music (she was half of the sister duo Aly & AJ, and they put out more good music than you might imagine). As Marti, the scrounging-for-tuition law student, Michalka comes off more like…a cheerleader, all glowing blond hair and energetic pluck.
As a result, there was no dramatic arc to what Marti went through in this week’s premiere episode. It was impossible to buy her as a law-school grind, let alone the “goth” that she’s called by her costar Ashley Tisdale’s Savannah. There’s nothing “goth” about Marti: She glows with radiant confidence. It was but a tiny narrative leap to see Marti try out for the cheerleading team (she gets scholarship money if she makes it) — far from enduring a prickly, Bring It On-style tussle, Marti fits in just fine, fast.
If Hellcats succeeds, it will be because she has some good back-and-forth chemistry with Tisdale; the show has real zip when it comes to dialogue. But the whole series looks like a CW misfire: It’s too perky to appeal to the network’s Gossip Girl/America’s Next Top Model fan base of jaded teens and young adults. Hellcats plays more like an ABC Family entry.
What bodes well for Terriers and poorly for Hellcats is the future. Terriers is setting up some interesting story lines, foremost among them that of Logue’s Hank — a recovering alcoholic whose sobriety is threatened by the yearning he feels for the wife who’s left him (she’s well played by Kimberly Quinn).
I’ll be coming back to Terriers to see how Hank fares. Will you be tuning in to Hellcats to see how Marti adapts to cheerleading? Did you watch either of these shows? Is it possible that some of you watched both? Let me know, please.