If you’re a sucker for psychological thrillers, crime thrillers, black comedy or crazy mashups of them all, Amazon’s original series, Mad Dogs is your cuppa. Ben Chaplin, Billy Zane, Michael Imperioli, Romany Malco and Steve Zahn star as a group of buddies gathered at a gorgeous Belize estate. Aside from Zane’s outrageously successful Milo who’s hosting his pals for what seems to be a reunion retreat, the rest of the guys are average 40-something’s, impressed with Milo’s newfound wealth and ready to party like it’s a lost weekend from their college days. Things start out relaxing as the guys settle in Milo’s gorgeous beachfront oasis; between the tropical setting and Gus (Malco), Lex (Imperioli), Joel (Chaplin) and Cobi (Zahn) goofing around, the audience is lulled into an utterly false sense of…”Oh, is this shit going to be boring?” Indeed, the first episode perfectly plays out the quietly building background tension with Milo’s quirky, almost irritated behavior, setting up the audience for the first of seemingly endless rounds of heart-pounding, something-is-really-fucking-wrong-here moments in the episodes ahead.
Zane is fantastic as always as wealthy benefactor, recalling his haughty, entitled Cal Hockley days, somehow expecting to maintain the group status quo even as he talks down to his friends. Chaplin’s Joel is the thoughtful counterpart to party guys, Cobi (Zahn) and Lex (Imperioli); Malco’s Gus is the everyman, married with kids and always keeping that in the back of his head, but the foursome are quickly exposed as woefully hapless when things start going strangely. And man, do they go strangely. From the first shot of something floating in Milo’s pool to the appearance of an alarmingly violent and terrifying man known as The Cat (Mark Povinelli), we know this group is ill-prepared for whatever they’re forced to deal with. And from the moment things start to go sour, that incapability is played out for maximum comic effect, leaving viewers to feel like they’ve stepped into some wonderful, bizzaro combination of Weekend at Bernie’s and a Tarantino film fest. You know these guys, you see them every day of your life, and while it’s easy to sit back and say, “Holy what the fuck are they doing?” or wonder what they could possibly be thinking — every move to deal with something is worse than the last — you forgive, because you know guys just like Cobi, Lex, Gus and Joel; you see exactly how it could happen.
With twists and turns that’ll throw you and keep you thinking, the plot thickens, the players multiply and as the boys quickly figure out, everyone is corrupt and nowhere (I mean nowhere) is safe. The violence is shocking and visceral, there are hallucinations and sex and drugs and crazy attacks out of nowhere, and spontaneous bursts of courage and emotion alternating with realizations about each man’s own moral lapses. With excellent mid and late drop-ins from the likes of Phillip Davis (Poldark, Being Human, Alien 3), Coby Bell (Burn Notice, Archer), Ted Levine and my personal favorite, Allison Tolman (Fargo) as a delightfully frank…person who spouts great wisdom about the difference between male-female perspectives, Mad Dogs is an excellent roller-coaster of a thrill ride. Heck, I even got over my Michael Imperioli aversion; in the back half of the series, he really breaks out of that sameness I couldn’t see past in his other roles. Zahn’s Cobi is an unpredictable revelation, but it’s another character who’ll really surprise you when the final episode plays out. Stop what you’re doing, and watch Mad Dogs on Amazon streaming right now.
Interestingly, the series is actually the Americanized (*screech*) take on Chris Cole’s British version (starring Chaplin, John Simm, Marc Warren, Max Beesley, and Philip Glenister), but don’t let that scare you away because from what I’ve seen, this thing’s actually better than the original.
Mad Dogs was created and written by Chris Cole, co-written and produced by Shawn Ryan, and features episodes directed by Alex Graves, Randall Einhorn, Uta Briesewitz, and John David Coles. All ten episodes are available now.
Here’s a trailer if you need a peek.