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Amazon Pilot Review: ‘Mad Dogs’

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Mad Dogs Is A Suspense-Ridden Adventure from the Get-Go

Amazon has rolled out a new set of pilots, including an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel (The Man in the High Castle) and a series that has previously found success overseas in the U.K. — Mad Dogs. Emmy-nominated screenwriter Shawn Ryan teamed up with the creator of the original U.K. series, Cris Cole, to bring us this wild ride of a dark comedy thriller. The story follows four middle-aged best friends (Ben Chaplin, Michael Imperioli, Romany Malco, and Steve Zahn) who travel to Belize to celebrate the early retirement of their mutual friend, Milo (played by Billy Zane, who adds depth and intrigue to the character perfectly). It all seems like a fun holiday at first until a twisted turn of events spins their holiday out of whack.

I had never seen the original U.K. series before watching the American pilot, but after giving the pilot a shot, I was tempted to watch the original, and discovered that the American version isn’t all that different. Amazon’s Mad Dogs even has a familiar face in the cast: Ben Chaplin. These characters all share striking similarities to their U.K. counterparts, having similar personalities and backstories. The events are even the same, with the extramarital affair, the dead goat in the pool, the mysterious package, the stolen boat, and the masked assassin just to name a few.

Despite being a bit of a carbon-copy of the original, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy watching this American take of Mad Dogs. It was fascinating to see how the new characters interacted with each other, and the acting was as flawless as the one in the U.K. version. The pilot also contained plenty of differences in cinematography that conveyed more suspense. The dead goat they find in the pool was made out to be a much bigger deal in the new Mad Dogs. The original episode didn’t really make it seem like the goat was much to worry about, grazing over the fact that there was a dead animal in the pool and not really expanding on the fact that it’s foreshadowing something. But in the new pilot, the underwater shot of the goat floating up to the surface was nothing short of ominous and it enforced that the animal’s death was not an accident, but instead a threat.

The carefree romp the four had in the beginning of their stay in Belize was just the eye of the storm. From the start of the episode, it’s clear that something is amiss with Milo, but his friends are too busy enjoying his villa and the exotic locale that they don’t think much about his behavior, though they do wonder where all his money came from. As the episode rolls on, Milo continues to act more erratic and begins worrying his friends to the point that they become suspicious. He pits his friends against each other and acts recklessly, and ends up involving his oblivious friends in the hijacking of a drug boat, which actually belongs to a psychopathic criminal. His friends begin to wonder if Milo has gone insane from living alone in Belize all the years they hadn’t seen him.

The four decide to leave, but not before joining Milo for their last dinner together. Milo must’ve known what was coming for him when he willed his friends into his villa, and it’s likely he knew he might die while his friends were visiting. So when an extremely strange, short man in a disturbing cat mask (who is revealed to be a part of the corrupt police force) arrives uninvited to their dinner, the four friends’ suspicions about Milo are confirmed. The man inquires about the stolen boat, and blows Milo’s head out. He then points a gun at Gus (Romany Malco) and forcibly obtains his DNA by swabbing his mouth. Even if Gus were to return home, he is now at risk for being framed for the murder and who knows what else. The friends go from unwitting tourists to being stuck between a rock and a hard place at the end of the episode.

While some comments on Amazon’s website (where I watched the pilot) complained that the pilot would have been better off as a movie, I would have to disagree. True, the four friends could have left before the night of that fateful dinner and avoided the messy turn of events that ensued, but if they did, what sort of dull movie would that be? And if the four of them buried Milo’s body, destroyed the evidence, and went home, what kind of ending would that be? There’s no closure, no happy ending, and no resolution here. What we’re left with instead is a cliffhanger. The four friends are literally knee-deep when they bury Milo’s murdered body and are left with his tainted villa, his blood on their clothes, and Gus to frame for his murder. It only makes sense that it follows in the footsteps of the original Mad Dogs as a series, but I’m hoping for more differences in the future. I definitely found this pilot promising, and I can only hope that this show gets picked up like the American adaptations of Shameless and The Office. But until this show gets the green light, I guess I’ll settle for watching the British Mad Dogs for now.