A look at the TV Series ‘Mad Dogs’ created by Chris Cole and starring Ben Chaplin, Steve Zahn and several others.
It has been a long running debate for as long as humans have been domesticating animals; which is better?
It’s almost as thorny a subject as the arguments for ‘Spurs or Arsenal’ or ‘Protestant or Catholic’. Each side has a fiercely loyal following and neither will give the other an inch.
Cats are independent, savvy, intelligent and curious. Or they’re aloof, calculating, murderous little shit-bags. Depending on who you ask.
Dogs are warm, loyal, caring and compassionate. Or they’re clumsy, noisy beasts that can displace a bowl of water all over your carpet without ever managing to drink any of it and require you to scoop up handfuls of poo in plastic bags.
There’s a clear line and very rarely is it crossed.
This line appears to be one of the underlying themes in a TV show that follows the adventures of four friends who find themselves at a severe disadvantage in an unfamiliar place.
The setup for the show is thus: Four high-flying businessmen, all old friends, have reunited in Belize to meet the other member of their old gang. This fifth friend has a huge luxurious villa on the beach and has united the gang for reasons unknown. Squabbling and bickering ensues and it we quickly learn that these ‘friends’ do not really like each other all that much. So when a small man with his identity hidden behind a cat-mask shoots and kills the fifth friend in the villa, the other four are then drawn into a mysterious world of crime and adventure.
I’m doing it a vast disservice. It’s better than it sounds, I’m summarising to the Nth degree in order to avoid turning into a synopsis blog.
One thing always leads to another. A simple task, such as returning a ‘borrowed’ yacht quickly turns from being a straight-forward job to seeing them all involved in an international drug smuggling operation, hiding corpses from the police, dodging corrupted law enforcement officials and lugging millions of dollars worth of money around whilst arguing about what to do with it.
Each episode tells us a little bit more about our four calamitous friends, chipping away – little bit by little bit – the facade each of them has built and slowly reveals the truth behind their success or lack there-of. While they battle for their lives against enemies that can’t even begin to comprehend, they have to team together and survive or savage each other and die as individuals.
I feel this is where the title ‘Mad Dogs’ comes from. Dogs are pack animals. They stick together. If one of the pack is a little unruly, there will be some in-fighting but ultimately they stick together. This sums up our quartet quite nicely. And that the cunning and sneaky small man who sets them off on this most wild of life-changing tangents was wearing a cat mask is icing on the cake for our metaphor.
The episodes are darkly humerous. You don’t get joke after joke to keep you rocking in your seat, but there are some sharp lines in the dialogue and occasional action to raise the occasional chortle from you. The direction also plays a part in the comedic aspects; certain shots are setup to highlight a point or in some cases, to be reused in almost poetic style and you will find yourself smirking unknowingly as it plays out before you.
This is a show that does quirky brilliantly well. The narrative is fragmented at times, but it works. The characters hard to fathom, but they still work. The music is often grating and obnoxious, but perfect for the situation in which it is used. The songs and the score used reflect nicely on the state of mind of the characters as they ride the rollercoaster of failures and victories.
It is interesting to discover that this series is actually a remake. The original, which was initially released in 2011, was British and ran for four series before coming to an end. I don’t know much more about it and I fully intend to look it up, especially as Chris Cole, the original creator, worked to bring us this reworking of his original concept.
Given that the Americans like to remake the well-received British programmes in their own image rather than simply promoting the original (which would not only be more respectful but also a hell of a lot cheaper), it stands to reason that the original show is good enough to warrant being converted.
I’m not sure how to react to news that the American version was binned after just one series. Either the network figured it wasn’t doing anything better or different to the original and therefore felt they were wasting their money, or that it was good, but just a tad too quirky for mainstream audiences and was cancelled based on viewing figures.
The official spin was that they felt a one-off mini-series was the best thing to do for it and that continuing it would have watered it down and weakened the show. Nobody will ever know for certain, I suppose, but when you have something as strong as this, even a fractionally weaker follow-up will still blow the socks off the competition. But given that the money does the majority of the talking, one can only surmise that there was little extra revenue going into Amazon that could be linked to ‘Mad Dogs’ and they wanted to save a few pounds//dollars so that ‘The Grand Tour’ could twat about pretending to kill celebrities for an extra few weeks.
Perhaps once I’ve had a chance to screen the original British version, I can write an updated version of this post to help establish how the two fair side-by-side and if the remake was needed, if it’s more of the same or if it managed to become its own show with its own identity.
Until that happens, I’m still happy to recommend this American remake of ‘Mad Dogs’ to anyone who wants a short TV show to enjoy. It may not run for very long, but what you do get is amazing quality from start to finish with no gradual decline in the standards.
Like a cat, it very much does its own thing and doesn’t care if you like it or not. It also only sticks about for a short time before buggering off and leaving you wondering what it would be like to have more time with it.
Like a dog, it will make your life a little bit happier and more interesting for having sat with it. It commands your attention but rewards you with laughs.
Wherever your preference lies, you’ll find something here that will appeal to you. Especially since the whole cats Vs dogs thing is completely irrelevant to the story, anyway.
A reason why you should watch it: Great tension and atmosphere throughout. Darkly humorous and refreshingly different.
A reason why you shouldn’t watch it: Because it was canned after just one series and the original ran longer and isn’t even particularly old. Note to Americans: British accents are nothing to be fearful about… Embrace them and stop remaking our shows!