Amazon’s ‘Mad Dogs,’ Starring Steve Zahn and Michael Imperioli, Is Strangely Excellent, About to Blow Your Mind
Amazon's latest is the weirdest and most fun part of their original programming yet.
The pilot for Mad Dogs — a remake of [a British TV series from 2011](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MadDogs(TVseries) by writer/director [Cris Cole](http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1659841/?ref=fn_al_nm_1) — has been sitting on Amazon for around a year. You may have gotten around to watching it, and you probably smashed that “Play” button just based on the promise of its outrageous central cast.
Whether the first episode hooked you or made you skeptical, the 10-episode series is set to hit Amazon Video all at once on January 22nd, and is necessary viewing. The madcap black comedy, set in Belize and Guatemala, stars the warehouse bro sextet of Ben Chaplin, Romany Malco, Michael Imperioli, Steve Zahn and …suddenly, Billy Zane looking like Brando in Apocalypse Now. Moving in chronological order through the events of just a few disastrous days in a foreign country, Cole’s show is willfully and hilariously absurd and sloppy, and a refreshing break from the pace and carbon-copy somber tonality of most bingeable modern serial dramas.
The conceit: This group of old friends from far back congregate at the mysterious Milo’s (Billy Zane) isolated estate in Belize. He’s retiring from business — no one quite knows his line of work, but it doesn’t seem strictly legal — and decides to fly out his old friends (who are, by all accounts, hardly his friends anymore) for a celebration. After a drunken night of club debauchery, Milo reveals that he is leaving the estate to them jointly. Strangely, however, he baits them continually with odd personal insults and taunts, as if to turn them against one another — as if there’s a dangerous catch.
Things go from odd to worse after Milo steals a boat from a mysterious mover and shaker on the island named Jesús, and puts the lives of himself and everyone else in the group in danger. Just when everyone in the group is sufficiently freaked out and annoyed, threatening to grab return flights to the U.S., tragedy strikes, and Zahn, Malco, and the gang are forced to figure out how to make things right with a group of crooked officials, mysterious masked opponents, drug dealers, and the elements in order to get out of Belize alive.
The pilot will rope you in, no doubt, with its manic energy, suspenseful pacing, tantalizingly unlikely — and increasingly goofy — scenarios, eerie villains, and a truly shocking conclusion. The air of this show is — similar to Amazon’s current rising hit Mozart in the Jungle — as if showrunner Cris Cole were given full creative control once the show was put to series. The arcs of episodes vary widely, shifting between long sections of dialogue-filled, improvised-feeling delirium, long streaks with characters apart and wandering through a scorching hot, unfamiliar country in fear of their lives, and truly odd, secondary characters — look out for Fargo’s amazing Allison Tolman — dominating the plot briefly before disappearing.
In short, it comes off like a strange lovechild of The Hangover and I Melt With You directed by Jim Jarmusch. The humor is not only in its outlandish action sequences and the constantly shifting comedy-of-errors situations, but in the sharply drawn characters. There’s boorish finance wheeler-and-dealer and womanizer Zahn, aging do-gooder hippie Imperioli, the ambitious and self-righteous disgraced lawyer Malco, and the darkly secretive, resentful high school teacher Chaplin — who played the equivalent of Billy Zane’s part in the British series.
With Amazon throwing a heap of money at a true plethora of new shows, we can only hope that the direction of future programming will go the unpredictable, delightfully sloppy direction of Mad Dogs, which manages to evade the normative structural models and stylistic gambits of “peak TV”-era, self-serious shows. You’ll be disappointed if you go into Mad Dogs expecting Fargo or Breaking Bad-level intrigue. But this is worth checking out if you’re interested in a formless but strangely gripping madcap adventure with one of the strangest and most hilarious casts in recent television memory. Zane and Zahn? You bet, and the cocktail is just as ludicrous as it sounds.