Hit or Sh**: Amazon’s MAD DOGS
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
The words “American remake” are a declaration of war to many. The Revolution clearly failed at securing our independence from the crown, since so many in the US are still slaves to British culture, turning their noses up at anything from this side of the pond especially if it’s an imitation. So what happens when you knock off a knock off? MAD DOGS is Amazon’s direct clone of the British show of the same name (Hell, Ben Chaplin is in both of them), which was itself a poor man’s BREAKING BAD.
Sure, MAD DOGS has its differences from Vince Gilligan’s darling, but only in the superficial. Bryan Cranston is swapped out for a few dudes in flip flops and the setting is in Belize instead of New Mexico, but the conceit is the same. Billy Zane retires as a mega rich playboy in the Central American country and invites four of his old buddies, none of whom have approached his level of success, to come party with him in his mansion. Put off by Zane’s haughty behavior, the four are about to leave when they get implicated in a murder. Blackmailed, the gang must to do the bidding of a really scary druglord.
Someone in PD had a hard time reading the show’s title
Right from the get go, MAD DOGS sets off red flags. Amateurish cinematography, the one aspect of filmmaking that I usually let slide, stands out especially in the pilot. 360 and tracking shots that long overstay their welcome, instances of poor lighting, and odd framing can all be found in the first ten minutes.
Sadly, the problems don’t stop at the camera. Dialogue is stilted and unnatural, and it’s never established how these guys know each other or to what degree. Their sentimentality upon reuniting feels forced, as they are too familiar to have been long separated, yet too expositorily inquisitive to be anything other than strangers. This disjointedness further leads to the tone being impossible to pin down; the show follows the narrative beats of a drama but presents them with the lackadaisical attitude of a comedy, all while never identifying strongly as either.
But the chief stumbling blocks of MAD DOGS are the characters themselves. They’re all flawed, which is nice, but in ways that are as irrelevant as they are uniform. Michael Imperioli couch surfs, Romany Malco is a deadbeat dad, Ben Chaplin is jealous of Steve Zahn’s wife, and Steve Zahn is jealous of Billy Zane’s house. These tidbits of background info are all that differentiate the gang, but none of it matters, seeing as the action is anchored in Belize.
Otherwise, each of the men are equally meek, messy, and incompetent, with nary a backbone between them. For a show that wants to be the BREAKING BAD Vacation Special, it lacks what was one of that series’ greatest strengths: its chemistry. Walter was all of the above, but he had loudmouth punk Jesse to balance him out. The titular MAD DOGS, on the other hand, feel like the lineup for the Pokemon Gym Trainer of beta males.
The MAD DOGS camera team at work
The pilot for MAD DOGS features more awkward, middle-aged men partying in nightclubs than you’ll ever want to see. While the previously mentioned murder is a genuinely engrossing experience, it occurs at the end of the episode, long after my interest gave out due to the tepid storytelling. MAD DOGS is a faithful adaptation, but a good copy of a bad knock off is still a bad knock off.
MAD DOGS is available to watch in its entirety on Amazon Prime