Large groups of men, I’ve noticed, have their own unique and odd way of laughing. It’s a guttural, sneering sound, like the bleat of aggressive sheep.
You’ll hear examples of it in pubs and clubs, on football terraces and building sites, in the backs of forgotten truckers’ cafes and motorway service stations – any of the places where proper, pie-eating men congregate in significant numbers.
Wherever you go, you’ll clap ears on it: that same chilling lad-cackle, a lugubrious ululation of blokes. Its length varies from situation to situation, but its tone and volume is always the same. Typed out, it looks something like this: BRAAHAAHAARGH.
Mad Dogs, Sky’s starry new four-part drama, opens with copious helpings of man cackle. Its cast of familiar British faces – John Simm, Max Beesley, Marc Warren and Philip Glenister – play a group of men in their middle years, whose trip to visit their friend on the sunny island of Majorca allows them to reengage with the inner lad they’d probably abandoned in their late-20s.
As the plane lands on scorched Spanish tarmac, the lads spill out, singing out of key and playfully hitting one another.
If you’ve been wondering what the hell happened to 90s heartthrob Ben Chaplin after his prominent roles in The Truth About Cats & Dogs and The Thin Red Line, he’s apparently been hiding out in an expensive villa off the coast of Spain. Chaplin plays the enigmatic Alvo, who’s invited his friends over to his Mediterranean retreat for what at first appears to be a normal Brit holiday of mindless hedonism. As the group settle down for their first few sangrias, however, it gradually transpires that all isn’t quite as it seems.
For a start, each member of the group is revealed to have his own specific (and stereotypically masculine) failings. Rick (Mark Warren) is a financial consultant with wife problems. Woody (Max Beesley) is a recovering alcoholic. Baxter (John Simm) is an ex-lawyer who now scratches a living by selling antiques.
Finally, there’s Quinn, a college lecturer played by Philip Glenister, whose volcanic libido appears to be a direct cause of Rick’s marital problems. (Incidentally, isn’t casting Gene Hunt as a lecturer a strange decision? Can you imagine having to sit through his history lessons? “Right, you toilets. Today we’re gonna learn about bladdy Anne Boleyn, who ended up with her bladdy ‘EAD cut off. Braahaahaargh!” etc.)
As the episode wears on, Alvo’s demeanour becomes ever more sinister. Why does he encourage everyone to film one another with little camcorders? Why does he repeatedly remind his friends of their numerous shortcomings? Why are all the walls in his vila painted lime green? What on earth did he steal that huge yacht for?
And just when we think some of these questions are about to be answered, a character even more sinister than Alvo arrives to completely confuse matters.
In terms of writing and acting, Mad Dogs is good, but not perfect, and much of its knock-about banter is uncannily like any Brit gangster flick you’ve ever seen – it’s like Sexy Beast: the series. But when events push its premise from naff lads’ drama into exotic thriller, Mad Dogs gets infinitely better, and if nothing else, it keeps you guessing.
And as the sun sets and the mood darkens, the show concludes in a manner that has left me anxious to see the next instalment. I won’t give away anything that happens, but I will make this prediction: there won’t be much man cackling in episode two.
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