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Mad Dogs, Ep. 1.01: “Pilot” shows promise, but needs some work

Mad Dogs, Ep. 1.01: “Pilot” shows promise, but needs some work
Steve Zahn, Michael Imperioli, Romany Malco, Ben Chaplin, Billy Zane

Steve Zahn, Michael Imperioli, Romany Malco, Ben Chaplin, Billy Zane

Mad Dogs, Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Written by Cris Cole and Shawn Ryan
Directed by Charles McDougall
Released January 15, 2015 by Amazon

Streaming television shows have made a major mark on the television landscape over the past few years, whether it’s by winning awards, or simply being part of the cultural conversation. Amazon has been no slouch in this department, with their show Transparent garnering its own level of acclaim, both critically and commercially. Among the newest crop of pilots from the streaming service is Mad Dogs. Based on the UK show of the same name, the series is created by Cris Cole and executive produced by Shawn Ryan. The pilot, while indicating some major holes, also shows some promise for a potential show.

One of the strongest aspects of this pilot is how well the relationship among the five individuals is fleshed out throughout its runtime. The strains in the friendship among the group makes itself fully apparent even before the key blowout, and the way the characters speak to each other has a level of ease to it that effectively illustrates that the group knows each other well, while also adding a level of rustiness that underlines how their lives have diverged, even before the dialogue points it out. Frustratingly, this is at odds with the characters themselves, as they display very little in the way of distinguishing traits, both in terms of adding more dimension to each individual, and giving each character their own distinct identity within the group. While the group dynamics work well in the show, the characters themselves feel thin at the end of the pilot, and hopefully this is something the show addresses if it gets a series order. The individual character actions are crucial for a show of this nature, particularly given the friction already present in the members of the group even before the death of Milo, and for them to have any resonance, the characters themselves have to make an impression. Thus, the success or failure of a potential show will hinge on the characters making an individual impression that’s more distinct than the one in the pilot, where their names have to be constantly repeated for the audience to keep track of who is who.

The show also stumbles in painting a full picture of what the group is getting into in Belize. While this is understandable in giving the audience a good idea of the disorientation the group feels with Milo’s death and the corresponding threats, the pilot fails to draw the line at simply mysterious. Not only do the viewers have no idea of the seedier aspects of Belize that Milo finds himself wrapped up in, there’s also no portrait of the other aspects of Belize, leaving the country as a blank slate at the end of the pilot, despite the prominence of both the murderer and Cobi’s date, neither of whom manage to say anything about the country they’re inhabitants of. If Mad Dogs does go to series, a focus on people in Belize will go a long way towards improving the show, whether it’s a look at the people that Milo was involved with, or simply a better idea of the world beyond the villa’s walls. Not painting a better picture of the country and its inhabitants also runs the risk of the show falling into lazy stereotypes about non-American countries being filled with corrupt police officers and young women who find all Americans attractive.

While the potential series does have some work to do, it does show some overall promise. The pilot moves along at a quick pace that would serve it well in a season-long run, and the performances help elevate the material, as does the cinematography. The main cast is filled with performers who have been highly effective in supporting roles to date, and their work is a large part of what makes this pilot an interesting watch. The story presented in the pilot also shows some promise, particularly in how it sets up the necessity for the characters to continue staying in Belize rather than leaving, and the fact that it doesn’t feel dull is a huge positive. The presence of Shawn Ryan’s name among the crew is particularly encouraging, as he has shown a degree of skill with shows of this nature, and how well he manages to influence this series will go a long way towards determining the quality of Mad Dogs. While not a stellar pilot, the series does have the potential to develop into something entertaining, and hopefully it gets the chance to do so.

– Deepayan Sengupta

Other Amazon Pilot reviews: Salem Rogers/The New Yorker Presents/Down Dog/The Man in the High Castle/Point of Honor/Cocked