Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Day 180

The references that occur most often in our small handful of film/TV classes are Memento and Twilight. I saw Memento for the first time recently, a brilliantly smart but crystal-clear thriller I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying. I’ve also seen Twilight, a satisfying but single-levelled girl’s film about teenage infatuation.

Those two are referenced the most, but sometimes a film/TV show will be mentioned once in passing as an example of something really interesting. Recently the UK TV series Mad Dogs was brought up as an example of being an exploitative piece – it exploits the fame of its cast as its one and only selling point. Apparently.

My neighbour woke me up today by seemingly rearranging his bedroom at 5AM and I couldn’t get back to sleep again so I got to work on the whole 4-part series of Mad Dogs before my morning class. I wanted to see if the show has any merit besides its cast.

I did my research beforehand, and Mad Dogs was apparently made because John Simm, Marc Warren, Max Beesley and Philip Glenister are chums and wanted to work together. As chums. It’s an uncanny coincidence that they’re all famous British actors of course. You’d think Marc Warren and Max Beesley would be closer to Philip Glenister’s big brother, the awesome Robert Glenister, because they worked so closely together in Hustle, but let’s forget that’s the case.

Mad Dogs was shown on Sky because, according to Philip Glenister, “the problem with the BBC and ITV is more people coming in and telling you what to do. We are grown up and big enough to know where the boundaries are”. I don’t want to speak ill of Mr Glenister, but commissioning is a whole field in itself; knowing about it has absolutely nothing to do with being “grown up”. Philip Glenister is an actor, not a commissioner. It’s like saying to a gun expert “shut up and give me the gun; I’m old enough to know how to use it”.

Anyway, so these four are the main cast, which suggests two things. One, that it’s going to be a self-indulgent Judd Apatow-esque tribute to male platonic love. And two that the machoism is going to be balanced out to appeal to a female audience because all – I mean all – of these four actors are major British sex symbols. Nobody need worry about the second part though, because it’s set in Majorca. The “major British sex symbols” are a quartet of pink men with sweaty cleavages and sunhats, bellies protruding from their crinkled cotton shirts.

Again, not that I want to speak ill of them. I do like them all. I've liked them in everything I've ever seen them in. It's genuinely a treat to see these four acting together.

Mad Dogs is about five male friends “of a certain age” (I don’t know what that means) who go to a villa in Majorca for a week-long holiday. One of them gets shot by an assassin, and the remaining four have to figure out what to do. Most of this four-part series is not great. Lots of time is oddly taken up by the boys having trouble tying up boats, they keep stopping in random places to stand in a circle and have a discussion, and the frequent close-ups of irrelevant insects is conspicuous.

As for the characters, they’re all supposed to be exactly the same age (they were in the same class together at school), but they look like they range between 28 and 55. The likeable and funny Marc Warren plays the childish one, John Simm, who looks like a grape, plays a mean but delicate lawyer-type character, and Philip Glenister and Max Beesley take up space for a while, but I’ll get back to them later.

The vast majority of the dialogue throughout the whole series is just character setup – expositional explanation for their relationships and backgrounds – to the extent at which the characters get unexpectedly shouty and cruel and pick on each other’s weaknesses just so the audience know that one’s an alcoholic and one stole the other’s girlfriend and so on.

The twin backdrops to this character-driven series are 1) holiday and 2) gangster. Mad Dogs claims to be a black comedy, but it doesn’t get any comedy at all out of the holiday setting apart from one character sneering at another for wanting to use after-sun cream. But the gangster plot is funny. They don’t know what to do with the corpse, and there is a great moment when an armed gangster screams at them to put their hands up, but they’re all holding cereal. So they have to discuss what to do with the cereal. Should we put the cereal up as well, or...?

The first three episodes are mostly doubtful, but the fourth and final one was genuinely really good. Philip Glenister is finally convincing as a character other than Gene Hunt, and he plays the part brilliantly. A pushy lecturer character that ends up pushing himself and going a bit Rambo. Max Beesley also finally holds his own as distinctly the only likeable character of the bunch; an emotionally-damaged recovered alcoholic who now just wants the best for everyone.

The last episode is treated with a funky little soundtrack and is suddenly packed with references that I notice (I’ve never seen Sexy Beast, the main comparator). It has mirror scenes and character scenes straight from The Shining, and John Simm is Dustin Hoffman from Straw Dogs:

My favourite character in the series isn’t any of the main four, but the beautiful and affable police officer, MarĂ­a, who “is not who you think”. However, none of the characters express any opinion on her whatsoever, at any point. So she’s nothing but a plot device; not a character at all.

Actually, none of the characters have much to do. It’s never even implied why they were friends at school, so the “why” of the whole series remains unanswered. Apparently a second series has been commissioned, and I hope it’s 12 episodes. 12 hours. Just so they can finally move on from the endless exposition (which is, after all, telling and NOT showing, which is supposed to be the biggest no-no of scriptwriting!!!) and have some character dynamic in the here and now.

The appeal of Mad Dogs struggles fiercely to be let free. Like a mad dog. I bet the BBC or ITV would have let it out, Mr Glenister.

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