The stars of Big Dogs say they thought they were filming a dystopian fantasy in 2018. As the cop drama series premieres Wednesday on Amazon Prime and Tubi, they see it as a cautionary tale.
Big Dogs is set in an alternate present in which the world did not recover from the 2008 economic crisis. As the crime rate rose, the New York Police Department instituted the Citywide Anticrime Bureau, which patrols in taxicabs instead of police vehicles and has very little oversight.
Manny Perez plays CAB Detective Sixto Santiago. Capt. McKeutchen (Brett Cullen) assigns him a new partner, More (Michael Rabe), who won’t even follow the limited protocol Santiago still observes.
Perez understands Big Dogs viewers could have the protests against George Floyd‘s death and patterns of police violence fresh in their mind. He hopes they see Big Dogs as a worst-case scenario.
“[I thought] we will never get to what was happening in the scripts,” Perez told UPI in a phone interview. “Now I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, we’re literally halfway there.'”
Rabe said Big Dogs also offers hope to balance the despair. As violent as the show’s world is, there are also consequences for wrongdoing.
“It definitely shows police officers doing some very bad things and it doesn’t work out for them,” Rabe told UPI by phone. “I think it shows that.”
The books by Adam Dunn, on which Big Dogs were based, were first published in 2016. Cullen acknowledged the parallels between Big Dogs‘ portrayal of corruption and real-life debates and protests. He said Big Dogs focuses on the individuals in its dystopian world.
“I don’t necessarily think that our show is about police violence at all,” Cullen said. “It’s more about family and trying to survive in a world.”
Many of the characters on Big Dogs have family. Santiago still seeks advice and approval from his father. His sister is still in his life. McKeutchen had a son who was a U.S. Marine and died in combat in Afghanistan.
Cullen said he learned that backstory from Dunn. He imagines McKeutchen sees the precinct as a replacement for the son he lost.
“Those are his kids,” Cullen said. “That’s his family and he’s the father.”
Renny (Micheal Richardson) represents the criminal element in the world of Big Dogs. He is a fashion photographer by day, but he makes his real money dealing drugs. Renny is caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s disease, so family drives him, too.
“He’s trying to run away from that sort of side of his life and get gratification through drug dealing and photography,” Richardson told UPI by phone.
Richardson says Renny is in over his head, working for Reza (Tony Naumovski). Renny thinks he’s a made man, but he will discover he’s only a pawn in the criminal underworld, Richardson says.
“He’s riding off of this confidence and security that he thinks he has because of his connections,” Richardson said. “He just has no idea what is going on in New York or the reasons or who’s Reza’s boss.”
Santiago tries to be a good cop to make his family proud. Being partnered with More could compromise him.
“He’s always trying to do the right thing,” Perez said. “By the end of the season, you wonder: Is he going to cross over as well?”
Cullen suggests McKeutchen saw Santiago’s heart for doing the right thing. McKeutchen may be the type of captain to practice tough love, at least around the other rogue cops in the precinct. Out of all the CAB cops, Cullen says the captain feels close to Santiago.
“[Santiago] became a surrogate son to him,” Cullen said.
Rabe says More’s objective becomes clearer throughout the first season. He read Dunn’s books and spoke with Dunn and executive producer Tony Glazer about his mysterious character.
“They would always say More is a gun,” Rabe said. “He’s there to perform very specific tasks very efficiently and goes about it in a pretty similar way.”
Cullen said McKeutchen feels he’s fighting the last battle for this crumbling world. Even with unreliable detectives in his precinct and outnumbered by criminals, McKeutchen believes CAB is on the right side of the fight.
“We will die if we have to, but we will not give up,” Cullen said. “Our job is to police the city and to make sure that its citizens are safe and to do the right thing.”