'Mad Dogs': TV Review

Courtesy of Amazon
Steve Zahn and Romany Malco in 'Mad Dogs.'
Everything that can go wrong to four friends does, but you might not care.
1/22/2016

It's a wild ride when four friends go to Belize to meet a buddy, but the madcap hijinks seem a little too calculated to be believable.

Amazon’s new drama series Mad Dogs, based on the original British show from creator Chris Cole, loves pandemonium.

The entire series seems to be based on it. The idea is to toss some humor into the middle of it and create something endlessly crazy but funny along the way.

It doesn’t really work out well enough as a concoction, unfortunately, as characters continuously choose one bad option after another, further complicating their already troubling situation and thus creating more pandemonium.

You really have to be into madcap mayhem to go along on that ride — and although Mad Dogs never lags, it never fully seems to functionally set the hook, either.

Created by Cole (and shepherded by executive producer Shawn Ryan), this new U.S. version stars Billy Zane, Ben Chaplin (who also was in the British version), Michael Imperioli, Steve Zahn and Romany Malco — it’s a well-stocked cast that can keep things intriguing even when the situations get ever more preposterous.

Mad Dogs centers around Milo (Zane), who is apparently living the high life down in Belize in a waterfront gated mansion. He’s invited his four best friends down to join him for some revelry. Lex (Imperioli) has known Milo the longest, since the two grew up together. A longtime screw up with addiction issues, Lex is clean and sober when he shows up. Cobi (Zahn), works in the financial field and is the only one still married — though he doesn’t act like it in Belize. Joel (Chaplin) is the one friend most dubious about the gathering, since he’s the quickest to say that they all have grown apart and don’t even like each other anymore. Joel’s relationship with Milo seems the most strained, and he’s apparently a little too interested in Cobi’s wife. Gus (Malco) is a former lawyer who now works in the antiques business, a change-of-scenery story that Cobi isn’t buying.

Ah, sketchy backstories and strained history. Once you get the sense that these four best friends might not be all that close as Joel suggested, you get to the core of Mad Dogs and what Cole seems intent to delve deeper into with each episode — the ties that bind them together and how fragile they might be.

This tactic is also where Mad Dogs goes a bit astray. When we first meet Milo in Belize, he’s confidently quiet but clearly has some kind of secondary reason for bringing the foursome down to his villa. Unfortunately, despite the initial hugs and party-time excitement in the first episode, it never seems like these guys were ever that close. Again, that seems to be at the center of what Cole was going for when he crafted the story (he wrote four of these 10 episodes), but it doesn’t allow the upcoming struggles to have a core connection that keeps them going.

And yes, boy, are there struggles. There’s a major twist in the first episode that sends these men on a season-long series of dangerous excursions. But before that occurs, Mad Dogs takes another less-than-convincing step, with Milo acting out without explanation and then gathering his friends around the table to berate each one about their faults. It seemingly comes from nowhere with no reason or motivation.

Almost none of it rings true, even if — as we’re led to believe — the de facto point of calling them all down to Belize was to ruin their lives (or, conversely, bring them together by trial and fire). When you’re not quite sure what the motivations are, it’s almost a cheat for the rest of the episodes to become a mysterious why-is-this-happening sub-story. Granted, Cole’s hope was clearly that the panic and chaos would also be filled with hilarious moments to make the whole thing breeze along — and the cast, particularly Malco and Zahn, have the comedic chops to make insanity funny, but if you don’t buy into the conceit in the pilot it’s hard to keep engaged.

Part of that disconnect comes from the structural issues inside the Mad Dogs story, which call for an increasingly dubious set of circumstances that these friends find themselves in. Every turn they take seems to be some accidental pitfall which ratchets up the stakes. It’s the vacation from hell. At some point you begin to wonder what else could possibly go wrong. The answer usually is “a lot.”

That said, the madcap pandemonium might be exactly what some people are looking for (and enjoy), and Mad Dogs promises to make the thrill ride run all the way through the closing credits of the 10th episode. Given that the series is on Amazon and will therefore be available in its entirety and, one would assume, for some time, maybe sampling an episode here and there would be better than binging it, since then the anything-that-could-go-wrong approach doesn’t stack up noticeably and might help the overall viewing experience.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine

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