In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Sky 1 HD
As we all know, Sky1 doesn't produce much original content, and what it has produced has tended to be lowest common denominator crud that sucks in the extreme. But the times they are a changing. The new philosophy at Sky 1 is that if they make programmes that are halfway decent, that will entice people to take out subscriptions - in particular, HD subscriptions.
So how about this for tempting: Mad Dogs, an HD-only four-part crime series set on Mallorca that stars Max Beesley, Ben Chaplin, Marc Warren and the Life on Mars/State of Play dream team that is Philip Glenister and John Simm? Maybe with just a hint of nudity from these stars
Sounds good huh? Well, it doesn't stop there, when it comes to BSkyB pulling out all the stops for this one: cue the promotional trailer by David LaChapelle. We can talk about whether it's any good or not after the break
Max Beesley, Philip Glenister, John Simm and Marc Warren are out of their depths in this surreal psychological thriller that will keep you on your toes.
Woody (Beesley), Quinn (Glenister), Baxter (Simm) and Rick (Warren) have been friends since sixth form. The fifth member of their gang is Alvo (Ben Chaplin), a risk-taking opportunist who, having made his fortune in property, leads a luxurious lifestyle in Majorca.
Now in their 40s, they've all taken different paths in life with varying degrees of success. When Alvo flies them to his extravagant villa to celebrate his early retirement, they enjoy a trip down memory lane.
However, all does not go to plan and they find themselves entangled in a web of deception and murder involving beautiful police women, large yachts, Speedos and a rather short assassin in a Tony Blair mask...
Is it any good?
You know, it's not half bad, actually. It looks good, it's got a great cast, it's quite edgy, it's clever and doesn't talk down to its audience, and it's not pulling any punches.
The plot summary above gives you pretty much all you need to be going on. Our gang of friends - although most haven't seen each other in a year - head off to Mallorca to meet up with the oddly behaving Ben Chaplin. For most of the episode, all they have to do is lie by a pool, their phones locked away in a safe so they can avoid the temptations of modern life, and we get to learn about how these 40-somethings' lives have turned out. One is divorced, one is married but to the wrong woman, one is cheating on his wife, and one is a widower - and in Ben Chaplin's case, one is obviously up to his neck in Spanish crime.
These are nice moments of character exploration, with Chaplin acting as the unflinching spotlight that shines lights on aspects of their characters the friends would rather not know about. Chaplin here channels his Game On persona, while Simm is nerdier than normal, Glennister and Beesley are more subdued, while Warren gets to be a party animal.
Of course, the moment you hear Chaplin has put his villa in his friends' names "in case something happens", you can guess what's going to happen by the end of the episode - but it's unclear why Chaplin is doing what he's doing.
In fact, 'unclear' is pretty much the definition of the piece at this point - but in a good way. Nothing's being spelt out too much and there are mysteries that writer Cris Cole is actually keeping for later episodes. Whether those mysteries will be worth waiting for, we'll obviously have to see. But with the whole set-up becoming increasingly surreal by the end of the episode, it should be worth tuning in for the next episode at least.
Overall, a good start - nothing outstanding but compared to what you might expect of a Sky 1 drama, practically Shakespeare.
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