Amazon pilot review: Mad Dogs and Salem Rogers: Model of the Year 1998
Ivan Radford | On 21, Jan 2015
Hot on the heels of Transparent’s Golden Globe win, Amazon is back with its new season of TV pilots – available for free to customers and non-customers alike. Feedback from viewers is then used to decide which to commission as full series.
We continue our rundown of the line-up with a supermodel comedy and a thriller remake.
Billy Zane. It’s hard to think of two better words to make you watch a TV show. Unless, of course, those words are “Shawn Ryan”. Mad Dogs, then, is one of the more interesting prospects in Amazon’s new pilot seasons.
Amazon’s Mad Dogs is a remake of a Sky TV series of the same name, written by Cris Cole. The scenario is broadly unchanged: four old friends travel to visit a fifth member of their group, who is about to retire. Zane plays Milo, the rich Belize resident, who appears to spend his days lounging by a swimming pool. He’s confident. He’s imposing. He’s clad in a thin, white shirt. He’s Billy Zane.
The others, naturally, are both jealous and suspicious of Billy Zane; a combination that can only lead to bad things. But it turns out that their divisions go deeper than that, as old secrets and conflicts are unearthed. The cast are all up for it as the varyingly divorced and single bunch, from Romany Malco as Gus and Michael Imperioli as Lex to Ben Chaplin – who played Billy’s role in the original – as Joel. Steve Zahn is the stand-out cast member, though, as the married Cobi, who wastes no time getting off with one of the (extremely loud in bed) locals.
That’s one of the few moments of laughter in what is purportedly a comedy, as the majority of the episode’s humour stems from the kind of laddish banter that is, in 2004, both tired and familiar. But director Charles McDougall brings some visual energy to their man-child chaos, while Cris Cole’s script, co-written with Shawn Ryan, seems to benefit from The Shield creator’s experienced handling of machismo and testosterone, turning the awkward reunion into a bubbling cauldron of unease; even if the characters themselves feel like shallow stereotypes, the tension that builds is tangible.
“I’m a grown man! I don’t have to have loyalty to him or to any of you!” cries one, as a dead animal, a hijacked boat and an explosive dinner party stack up, one after the after. The hour of Things Going Wrong climaxes with a thrilling final confrontation that reiterates the potential the UK premise clearly had – enough to spark this version. Will this remake offer anything more than more of the same? Billy Zane, you may well reply. But with Milo introduced as more of a cameo than a central character, the weight will fall on Shawn Ryan to bring something new. Compared to fellow Amazon pilot The Man in the High Castle, the result feels disappointingly average. With the original spanning an impressive four seasons, though, maybe more of the same is what Amazon is hoping for.
Salem Rogers: Model of the Year 1998
If Mean Girls were a TV show and starred Regina George, Salem Rogers: Model of the Year 1998 would be it. Leslie Bobb plays model, who went off the rails and into rehab in her 1990s heyday – only for rehab to kick her back out again as a lost cause, over a decade later.
Society, though, has changed. Models are now normal-sized people. The name Salem Rogers means nothing. And Victoria’s Secret? She’s more likely to get a gig strutting her stuff at the local mall.
Salem stumbles through this strange world with all the subtlety of Brian Blessed, consistently being annoyingly self-centred, horribly rude and mildly racist to everyone around her. It’s a one-joke premise, which starts to wear thin, despite Bibb throwing herself into the role.
Just as things begin to get tedious, though, up pops Rachel Dratch as her former assistant, Agatha, who now writes self-help books for kids. Can she take Salem under her wing and help her improve? Will she learn lessons about herself along the way? The pilot wins no points for originality, but Ratch is equally dedicated to her character, all nervous twitches, barely contained anger and forced smiles.
Together, the actors make a surprisingly watchable pair. There are still nowhere near enough laughs for a comedy that is so “edgy” it includes near-total nudity and cocaine, but the couple’s interactions are enjoyable, particularly when not saying anything; for a show about surface appearance, it’s apt that both stars’ facial expressions are perfect.
Even with the appearance of Mad Men’s Harry Hamlin in a supporting role, though, it’s hard to imagine Salem Rogers developing into more than a mildly diverting 30-minute pilot. Somewhere between Mean Girls and Young Adult, without the wit of one and the bite of the other, there is potential, but as it stands, it’s not totally fetch.