*This post contains pilot spoilers
I admit that I was terrified to hear America was remaking one of my favorite British TV shows, Mad Dogs. The masacre of Life on Mars on ABC is still too fresh in my memory six years later, and again America thinks they can swap out John Simm and Philip Glenister for Michael Imperioli and it will all be okay–We’ve seen this formula before and it ended what was meant to be a complex psychological 70s cop drama in a punny space expedition with daddy issues. Who did they think they were, Lost or something? Not to mention that something magical happened with the original Mad Dogs: brilliant writer, gorgeous cinematography, and highly talented cast. Could they be so lucky as to replicate that magic serum again?
I’m embarrassed to admit now that the American remake actually isn’t that bad. In fact, it might even be as good as the original. Part of the secret sauce is that Cris Cole is back as the writer and although the dialogue isn’t word for word the same as the original, it’s very much the same story. The characters are pretty much exactly the same and the plot only has minor changes–such as instead of locking their cell phones in a safe, they simply don’t have cell service in Belize. (Oh yeah, they changed the location from Spain to Central America and it weirdly doesn’t seem to make a jot of difference. Same bright colors, lush settings, and lizards running around.)
The premise of Mad Dogs is that four men in their 40s who had been friends at school reunite at their fifth friend’s new luxurious villa in Belize, but in between their mid-life crises and personal dramas, they get caught up in an international gang conspiracy that puts them on the run, possibly for life. In the UK version, the fifth friend is Alvo, played by Ben Chaplin. After Alvo goes off the deep end and steals a boat, someone asks, “Why won’t any of you stand up to him?” It’s clear that between the four of them, they could stop him, but they are all failures and don’t even try. However, in the US remake, Alvo (now called Milo) is played by Billy Zane, a large, bald, deep-voiced man. When someone asks, “Why won’t any of you stand up to him?” it’s a no-brainer. I don’t blame them. It’s an entirely different dynamic, one that doesn’t highlight the four’s incompetence as much.
Alvo/Milo is (spoilers) killed off in the first episode, so, despite some flashback episodes, Ben Chaplin doesn’t get a lot of screen time in the UK version. Luckily for him, he is cast in the US remake, and this time one of the four. He plays Joel (Philip Glenister’s Quinn in the original), a divorcee who may or may not be having an affair with Cobi’s wife. Cobi is played by Steve Zahn, a perfect US counterpart to Marc Warren’s Rick. Michael Imperioli’s Lex is immediately recognizable as Max Beesley’s Woody when he refuses the champagne toast, having recently gone sober. Finally, Romany Malco plays Gus, the ex-lawyer. Malco is a perfect fit for what was originally John Simm’s Baxter because Malco is a fantastic actor, as was Simm in the original. His expression at the murder of his friend is the best around the table, and I hope that Amazon makes more episodes because watching Baxter become more and more neurotic as the seasons went on was the best part of the show and Malco has already shown he can fill those shoes. His character is framed for the murder as the cat-masked gangster (Tiny Blair in the original) wipes Gus’s DNA all over the weapon. Because he is African American, it brings a whole new level to the framing. Gus points out that the police will be quick to stereotype the black man from Chicago as the murderer.
The remake doesn’t end in the same place, and actually, even though the murder of Alvo was an ending that made you want to go to episode 2 right away, it’s good to have the panicked cleanup in the same episode so that the mood doesn’t dip if you happen to wait between episodes (not me–I watched each season in one sitting). Instead, we end episode one with the realization that Cobi’s camera is still on the boat.
You can watch Mad Dogs pilot on Amazon for free.