By Lew Ritter
CAUTION: HERE LIE SPOILERS!
Have you ever dreamed of getting an invitation to visit a tropical getaway from an old friend? As the old saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for.”
MAD DOGS was adapted by veteran showrunner Shawn Ryan from a British show of the same name created by Chris Cole.
In the U.S. version, which ran on Amazon Prime, Milo (Billy Zane) is the embodiment of the American Dream. He’s young, retired and wealthy. He’s invited four old friends to join him for some fun and the sun at his palatial villa on the sun -drenched beach in Belize, an island off the coast of South America It’s a luxurious villa that even Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg might envy.
At first, the friends frolic in the warm tropical waters on the beaches adjacent to Milo’s palatial estate. It seems to be a perfect weekend getaway. They eat at a magnificent four- star restaurant. And to the amusement of the other friends, Cobi (Steve Zahn), brings one of the local girls back to the estate for a night of unforgettable sex.
However, after the initial bonding has worn off, the friends start to notice subtle changes in Milo. Despite the appearance of wealth and luxury, all is not well with him. Below the tranquil surface, quiet tensions and hostilities make themselves felt,l especially after he makes an eerie promise that if anything happens to him, the friends will become owners of the estate. To further complicate things, he begins receiving menacing calls.
Each of the main characters has suffered misfortunes in their personal and business lives. Lex (Michael Imperioli) is a lifelong screw-up with addiction problems. Cobi works in finance and appears to be the only one still happily married. Gus (Romany Malco) is a former lawyer who has been disbarred and apparently works in the antique business. Joel (Ben Chapin) is the wariest member of the group. He senses early on that something is amiss with the reunion.
In a shattering conclusion to Episode One, the friends are assembled for an evening of innocent fun. Suddenly the calm is shattered by an arrival of a mysterious character dressed as a cat. The cat sneaks into the dining room and pulls his gun. Before anyone can stop him, he splatters Milo’s brains all over the dining room table.
In shock, the friends realized that they have become involved in something truly deadly. Each of the following episodes depicts their desperate attempts to extricate themselves from Milo’s tragedy, leading to them diving deeper into the morass and further into trouble.
They attempt to return the yacht Milo has been using and discover a hidden trove of stolen drug money. They attempt to rent a car and find a safe place to hide the money and wind up being observed by the local police and involved in a car accident. Lex end up in the hospital from an overdose, Joel and several others find themselves in a local jail.
The cast is energetic and enjoyable. Standouts are Billy Zane who makes the perfect smiling cobra of a villain and Michael Imperioli (Lex), who has been a personal favorite of this writer since playing Tony Soprano’s cousin. (He also was a standout as a detective in two short lived detective shows LIFE ON MARS AND DETROIT 187.) Here, he has the penetrating gaze and manner of a police detective and dominates every scene that he is in. And Steve Zahn, who normally plays the sad sack or comic relief character in big screen comedies or rom-coms, shows surprising dramatic depth in MAD DOGS as the tragic Cobi.
Some of the best moments of the show are during the quiet moments as the characters reflect on the shambles of their lives. As they face the wrong turns they took that led to their predicament, they, and we, realize that the four characters are much further from each other than first believed.
The show would work better as a spirited two-hour movie rather than a ten episode mini-series. In every episode, the friends engage in some desperate attempt to remedy their situation. Each of the characters chooses one bad option after another, which further complicates their already tenuous situation. This works for the first few episodes, but soon feels repetitious and predictable and works against any need a viewer might have for binge-watching.
The fact that at the end of the series, we learn that the usual suspects – the CIA, corrupt police, and drug gangsters – all were involved with Milo is a major creative letdown…a reason to be glad I didn’t binge on this show.
To me, the biggest betrayal to viewers, though, stems from something I really liked – the discovery that the characters’ lives have been deeply troubled and that they aren’t nearly as close as they’ve liked to think. This fact flies in the face of Milo’s motivation for wanting to ruin their lives
There is one saving grace to this version of MAD DOGS. The irony inherent in the fact that Milo’s motivation for wanting to ruin the lives of his friends has been that he thought they were all so much happier and better off than he was. In the end, his revenge proves to be – nothing.
Speaking of the ending, it’s structured so that most of the characters have escaped back to America. Only one of them remains in Belize and appears ready to take over where Milo has left off.
In context, this creates a somewhat interesting cliffhanger. Will the others be lured back to help their friend? Amazon clearly hasn’t become interested enough. The show has been cancelled.
Lew Ritter is a TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about him here.