TV Review: MAD DOGS - Part One

Sky's newfound commitment to original drama continues with the sun-kissed thriller Mad Dogs, where four middle-aged friends -- Woody (Max Beesley), Quinn (Philip Glenister), Baxter (John Simm) and Rick (Marc Warren) -- fly out to Majorca to spend a week at their mutual pal Alvo's (Ben Chaplin) luxurious villa, at his invitation, to get reacquainted and relive their youth. A simple setup for a ribald comedy-drama about midlife crisis, but Mad Dogs has more sinister and surreal things playing on its mind. It perhaps reveals its hand too soon, in a prologue where each of the four friends were seen looking bloodied and bruised speaking into a camcorder, before the story jumped back in time to reveal how this situation comes about. But the buildup after that worked well, with escalating omens of trouble ahead (a beetle scooped from Alvo's swimming pool, hours before a dead goat was found dumped in the same water), and while the friends initially mix with affectionate camaraderie and good-natured teasing, things began to take a sinister turn: Alvo's distracted by phone calls where he's refusing to work for "Dominic"; a motorcycle courier arrivedto deliver a mysterious package Alvo's very guarded about; and it's not long before Alvo's behaviour starts to become noticeably less happy-go-lucky in general. In fact, Alvo's gentle ribbing of his friend's comparatively unsuccessful lives starts to cross the line into full-blown bullying, before he turned them into unwitting accomplices in the theft of someone's luxury yacht. The cast are a very impressive ensemble of familiar faces from British TV; particularly Simm and Glenister (reunited for the first time since the hugely successful Life On Mars), who both manage to put their iconic former partnership to one side. None of the actors are truly stretching themselves here, but there's a palpable sense of chemistry between them and -- with the possible exception of Glenister, who seems a great deal older -- you can believe in them as former classmates whose lives may have diverged but still retain a strong bond. Cris Cole's script followed a simple narrative process, but did an impressive job in letting you into some of the men's darker secrets and private lives, which all helped build a sense of something deeper and creepier going on. What has Alvo got himself into? Did he get rich honestly, or through criminality? Why has he gathered his old friends together, in a vague echo of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None? If he needs their help with something, why is he being so nasty to them? Does each man have a troubling back-story that will make sense of why they've been brought together, in light of this episode's reveals that Quinn fell in love with Woody's wife, who committed suicide shortly after Woody kicked a drug habit? It seems likely we're in for more surprises over the remaining three episodes, that will maybe expose the rot that exists between these outwardly friendly men. Part One was very much a scene-setting hour, but it did exactly what was required of it by laying solid groundwork and giving us a taste of each character's personality. Director Adrian Shergold (Pierrepoint) ensured everything looked exotic and drenched in warm sunlight, while also keeping a slightly oppressive and unyielding feel to the atmosphere -- and that worked well, what with the growing unease about Alvo's mental health and intentions. And, importantly, Part One ended on a freakishly surprising moment of bloodshed from a diminutive gunman wearing a grinning Tony Blair mask; an astonishing climax that singlehandedly ensured you'll be tuning in for Part Two.
WRITER: Cris Cole DIRECTOR: Adrian Shergold CAST: Philip Glenister, Max Beesley, John Simm, Marc Warren & Ben Chaplin TRANSMISSION: 10 February 2011, Sky1/HD, 9PM
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