Mad Dogs PREVIEW

Rating ★★★★★

Sky1, Thursday, 10 February, 9pm
 
Sky TV has targeted February as the month to launch some exciting new shows because the Beeb and ITV are resting on well-worn laurels in the shape of Midsomer Murders, Silent Witness, Taggart and the like.

But in addition to the much hyped stuff from the US on new channel Sky Atlantic – Boardwalk Empire, Blue Bloods etc – is a homemade crime drama on Sky1 that is an unexpected jackpot.

Mad Dogs is simply superb – terrific cast, pitch black humour and an intricate thriller plot that brings to mind classics by Hitchcock and the Coen brothers, with a twist of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre thrown in.

Philip Glenister, John Simm, Marc Warren and Max Beesley
The dream team on screen is a quartet of some of the UK’s best TV performers – Philip Glenister, John Simm, Marc Warren and Max Beesley. Largely playing against the type of roles they’ve made popular recently – in particular, Glenister’s Gene Hunt in Ashes to Ashes and Beesley’s hardman in Survivors – here they are four ordinary middle-aged mates going on a lad’s holiday to Majorca.

They’ve been reunited and invited out to celebrate the retirement of their old sixth-form friend, Alvo (Ben Chaplin), a risk-taking, flash opportunist who has become opulently rich. From the moment the four UK-based chums meet at the airport there’s a little needle in their banter.

But that’s nothing compared to the sledging they get from Alvo. While lavishing hospitality on them at his millionaire’s villa, complete with pool and tennis court, he also picks apart their failed marriages, petty rivalries and stunted careers.

‘How’s the teaching?’ he says to Glenister’s uptight Quinn.

‘Lecturing,’ Quinn sniffs.

And when a tennis ball goes missing, Alvo says, ‘One thing I’m not short of is balls.’

A dead goat in the pool

Ouch. He also needles Baxter (John Simm) about his divorce and giving up the law to sell antiques. It’s biting stuff, but between blokes, all very believable. Writer Cris Cole captures a commonplace sadness in the group. ‘It’s like one minute you’re looking forward to everything,’ Quinn says, ‘the next you’re looking over your shoulder.’

Events turn sinister when a dead goat turns up in Alvo’s pool. Earlier he’s been on the telephone angrily turning down a work proposition. We wonder what kind of retirement this is.

And here comes the Hitchcockian theme. The ‘four herberts’, as Quinn perfectly describes them, are unwittingly drawn into a brutal and bewildering trade in drugs and local corruption.

Alvo seems a bit cracked
When Alvo drags the group for a cruise on a ‘mate’s’ luxury yacht, they have no idea he’s taking revenge on the owner, a spectacularly dangerous criminal, for dumping the goat in his pool.

They’re finally convinced their ‘mate’ is not quite the superstar he seems when he tells them that they’re going to abandon the boat. He seems a ‘bit cracked’ one of them says, while another points out that it’s ‘like we’re his only mates’.

At times laugh out loud funny, switching to sinister and then surreal, this is a terrific, compulsive four-parter from Sky1. The channel has really moved on from its Dream Team days, recently having successes with The Take and Thorne. But Mad Dogs tops those successes.

Cris Cole, whose writing rap sheet includes Bill episodes and a TV movie called The Good Times Are Killing Me, has really burst onto the scene with this rich and nuanced thriller that every major broadcaster apparently bid for.

Watch out for ‘Tiny’ Blair
The characters and the way they interact with each other is the joy of the drama, particularly by episode two when distrust between them rears its head because €3 million falls into their grasp and the police start squeezing them.

The opener finishes bizarrely and brilliantly when a dwarf turns up one evening at the villa in a grotesque Tony Blair mask.

‘It’s Tony Blair,’ one of the friends says.

‘Tiny Blair more like,’ says Rick (Marc Warren).

Seconds later, no one’s laughing.

Don’t miss it.

First glimpse of Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat

Sky1’s all-star dramatisation of DI Thorne, featuring the first two stories from Mark Billingham’s hit series of novels, are now scheduled for October. I hope to be reviewing them in the first week of next month, but in the meantime here is a glimpse of scenes from the opening three-part Thorne films.

Thorne: Sleepyhead
Stars: David Morrissey (State of Play, Red Riding, Doctor Who) as Tom Thorne; Natascha McElhone (Californication, The Truman Show); Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes, Little Dorrit); and Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Identity)

Thorne investigates a sadistic serial killer, whose fourth victim, Alison, survives – unluckily for her. The killer has induced ‘locked-in syndrome’ in her, a state in which she is conscious but unable to move or communicate. Thorne soon realises this was the goal in all the killer’s attacks, not to kill but to paralyse. During the investigation, he also revisits a terrifying personal secret from 15 previously.
Director Benjamin Ross (Poppy Shakespeare, RKO 281) says, ‘I wanted to shoot an epic version of London. We shot a morning chase across the roofs of Shoreditch and a murder sequence at the Thames Barrier. It’s a very gritty landscape of London that you don’t even see in movies.’

Thorne: Scaredy Cat
Stars: David Morrissey; Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy, Sideways)

Two women are murdered near St Pancras Station. Thorne discovers he’s chasing not one, but two serial killers.

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