The opening episode of Mad Dogs began as a worryingly prosaic TV take on a lads’ gangster movie, like Sexy Beast by way of Guy Richie’s Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. As the series’ first hour drew to a close, however, things took a decidedly more surreal turn, as Ben Chaplin (him out of The Truth About Cats & Dogs) was abruptly gunned down by Tony Blair, or at any rate, a man in a disturbing Tony Blair mask.
This week’s episode opens with the ex-PM’s gun still smoking, while the rest of the group, any semblance of ladishness thoroughly terrified out of them by the phantom of New Labour, quietly begin to blub.
“If you go to the police,” Tony Blair says in a muffled Spanish accent, “We are the police.” One of the characters briefly stops crying and looks a bit confused. Meanwhile, Baxter (John Simm) has, to use the parlance of Life On Mars, been stitched up good and proper, Blair having smeared Baxter’s saliva and fingerprints all over the murder weapon.
After the masked killer has made his exit, the lads, each in turn, begin to freak out. “I’m a walking Petri dish,” screams Baxter.
“How’re we gonna explain this?” says Rick. “Tony Blair took his DNA. They’re trying to frame us!”
The sense of panic pervades the rest of the episode. Corpses are hidden, recovered, sawn up, and then hidden again, while an attempt to recover a vital piece of evidence from the luxurious cruiser we saw last week merely creates more problems, particularly when a group of posh drug dealers show up to exchange a hidden stash of cocaine for a huge pile of money.
Now sat on a stolen boat with a stack of drug money that isn’t rightly theirs, the lads try to come up with a plan. “Let’s set sail for Africa!” blurts Woody. Quinn, channelling the alpha male spirit of Gene Hunt, decides that they should carry on their holiday as though nothing’s happened, and head back to the UK at the end of the week with the pile of drug money in tow.
Returning to the late Alvo’s expensive villa, a Spanish police officer (played by Maria Botto) shows up to really throw a spanner in the works. Like Columbo with better hair and make-up, she’s an expert at picking holes in the lads’ tremulously related alibis, and her tactic appears to be to seduce her suspects into blurting out the truth.
After last week’s slow build up, Mad Dogs is developing into a nifty TV thriller with an engaging sense of the absurd. Writer, Cris Cole, enjoys picking holes in his characters’ machismo as the tension mounts, and the strange billboard posters dotted all over the sun-scorched island, which say “Yenda a ninguna parte,” (“Going nowhere”) are perhaps a foreshadowing of their imminent fate.
The introduction of a worryingly insightful female cast member has also wound the tension up another notch, and while it’s perhaps inevitable that everything’s going to go terribly wrong for the men of Mad Dogs sooner rather than later (and the opening shot of episode one hinted strongly at this), the journey to that conclusion’s an entertaining one, nevertheless.