Friday, 4 March 2011

'MAD DOGS' - Part Four

Friday, 4 March 2011

I'm not going to lie: the climax to Mad Dogs was a disappointment. In retrospect, this miniseries can now be divided into halves (the engrossing first two episodes; and the choppy final two). There was a great low-budget British indie movie to be made from this premise, unwisely stretched to four hours of weekly TV. Thank goodness it had a strong cast giving it their best (particularly Marc Warren, unexpectedly), because otherwise it would have been hard to stay engaged with this holiday misadventure's second half.

In "Part Four", Quinn (Philip Glenister), Baxter (John Simm), Woody (Max Beesley) and Rick (Marc Warren) were forced to barricade themselves in the villa -- convinced the Serbian Mafia are lurking outside, launching distress flares and patrolling the grounds with laser-sighted riles. It's a siege. The gang became trapped indoors with limited provisions (a few bottles of water and Cokes) as the villa's electricity and water supplies were turned off and the baking Majorcan heat started to make tempers flare. In particular, Rick confronted Quinn about him allegedly sleeping with his wife, Baxter ranted about the struggles he's faced trying to survive various business upsets, and Woody vented his spleen to detective Maria (Maria Botto), who arrived on the edge of the villa's ground offering the boys leniency if they come clean about what happened to Alvo and the missing drug money from the boat the police have now found.

Two things ultimately spoiled Mad Dogs for me. Firstly, the situation started to unravel after episode 2, but particularly in this finale. The gang theorized that the Mafia don't want them dead because they know where their drug money is. Okay, but if that's true, why don't the Mafia storm the villa and torture them for this information? Didn't they wonder why the Mafia are also drawing attention to themselves by launching distress flares around the villa? And why were they cowering in their villa half the time, but then walking around outside to see Maria at the perimeter fence? Maria happily walked into the villa grounds in episode 2, so why was she suddenly very respectful of their privacy?

Secondly, the reveal of the overall "mystery" (via collected video footage Baxter pored over) was disappointingly flat and, frankly, made it feel that there wasn't much of a mystery to begin with. The Serbian Mafia didn't actually exist, the drug deal was between criminals and the Majorcan police, Maria was involved in the "inside job", and Alvo was killed because he didn't agree to help a Mr Dominic make the drop on Jesus' boat. We certainly got answers, which was good, but... they weren't very surprising. There was no deep reason for why Alvo gathered his friends together (I was hoping for some kind of long con), or why he was being so rude to them during their first day together, and no clever twist in "Part Four" to make you re-evaluate the preceding three hours. Maybe it was wrong of audiences to expect a mind-spinning twist, but a satisfying resolution didn't even materialize. Quinn shot Maria dead in the villa's pool before she could kill his friends (a surprise you could see coming given Quinn's absence), then sent his friends off to the airport with 20 grand each, and awaited an ambiguous end when a hitman (another bent cop like Maria, assumedly) walked into the villa's grounds cocking a gun.

It was also a disappointment that the show never really expanded beyond the villa, which gave everything after "Part Two" a cheap feel. Limited locations and characters is no barrier to greatness, but Mad Dogs would have been far more entertaining if the show had become more of a caper set around Majorca. "Part One" suggested we'd be in for a broader story, but every episode since seemed to draw things tighter. Maybe that was intentional -- to show the walls closing in on the friends and force them to really start communicating with each other -- but I can't help wishing Mad Dogs had been more outgoing. There wasn't enough of interest to make me care about the beef Quinn has with Rick, or Baxter has with Woody. It makes sense they cast four recognizable actors like Glenister, Simm, Beesley and Warren, as they imbued those character with more dynamism than what was on the page.

It's a shame Mad Dog didn’t manage a strong finish, as that's soured my overall opinion of this four-part drama. It's also tough to recommend the DVD to Sky-less friends, knowing that so much of the initial promise fades into watching four men in fancy dress try to attack a local Majorcan in a pincer movement. It got off to a great start and I enjoyed "Part Two", but the story hit some bumps in "Part Three" and ultimately fizzled out. Maybe two 90-minute episodes would have been a better format, to keep expectations grounded instead of building to unrealistic heights.

This hasn't been a very popular run of reviews, which I think it a shame, but does anyone have an abiding thought about Mad Dogs and Sky's approach to homegrown drama?

written by Cris Cole / directed by Adrian Shergold / 3 March 2011 / Sky1/HD