Every era has its scam; the 1920s was the Ponzi scheme era and the late 60s saw a rise in quiz show scandals.
McMillions (stylized as McMillion$) is a six-part mini-series documentary that takes us not so far back to the beginning of the century, the story of the infamous McDonald’s fraudulent monopoly case with idiosyncratic characters and a monotonous storyline.
1. Article summary
As a person obsessed with conspiracy theories and podcasts on popular streaming sites, I usually imagine videos being made into films (which is what Netflix tried to do with Conspiracy, albeit appallingly).
Upon coming across McMillions, however, I wished it was either a much more shortened video or not made at all. HBO’s new mini-series drags on the story of the infamous rigging behind McDonald’s Monopoly Game and the scandals that trailed behind it.
2. Is it worth watching?
The story itself is wild. The McDonald’s Monopoly game that was extremely popular in the 80s and 90s was rigged. Told almost entirely from the FBI investigators’ perspectives, an anonymous tip stuck on a post-it note quickly unspools into a million-dollar fraudulent case involving the insanely popular promotional game.
Players of the Monopoly game were either supposed to collect peel-off tickets to amass land on the board game or find instant ticket winners.
However, the FBI’s investigation unearths a scam – one of insider trading and of winning pieces by a security officer for his own financial gain.
The cast of this docuseries includes former FBI squad supervisor Chris Graham. FBI agent Doug Matthews, also part of the series, has taken the internet by storm in his straightforward, no-nonsense attitude and a larger-than-life personality.
Amy Murray and Janet Pelliciotti, former McDonald’s employees who helped with the investigation, star in the series as themselves.
It also showcases Michael Pina, Michael Pizzuto, Fawn Bowen, and Cristal Bubblin. The docuseries’ writers and directors James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte play a key role in sitting down with all sides of this true story and chronicling the six episodes on HBO, an hour-long each.
III. Music and background score
Turkish-American composer Pinar Toprak spearheaded the music of this docuseries. Known for her work in Captain Marvel (2019), as well as the superman prequel series Krypton and the Pixar Animated short film Purl, she is a two-time International Film Music Critics Association awardee.
Perhaps the character that stood out most throughout the docuseries is that of FBI agent Doug Matthews, who orchestrated the entire undercover portion of the investigation and his well-large personality.
You may either find him delightfully charming or exceptionally obnoxious; there is no in-between. Armed with anecdotes from the case that seem engaging at first but eventually cause you to stifle a yawn while coming across as almost too eager to please the viewers, Matthews is a lot to take in.
Loquacious and incredibly vain, Matthews feels almost like something of a scripted character with his soft drawl and heavy bravado.
The docuseries also has the actual grainy and shaky footage from the case in it, making little sense; seeing portly officers of the FBI sitting around on their chairs all day isn’t exactly engaging, let alone fun.
Although one can derive a sense of satisfaction for sitting down to a true-crime docuseries that doesn’t revolve around a macabre murder or scamming of innocent middle-class people, McMillions is just too little to take in in too much time.
3. Final Thoughts
Although the story does not need much embellishment and speaks mostly for itself, the use of cringeworthy re-enactments to flesh out the details seems like something out of Comedy Central’s Drunk Histories instead of being a true-crime documentary.
The show’s initial focus makes it feel uncomfortably narrow, as though it couldn’t hold your attention for more hours of painfully cheesy re-enactments. While being audacious enough to continue for over six hours, the show holds little visual interest and an exceptionally underdeveloped visual aesthetic.
It is very unlike the usual genre of true crime with quirky details and bizarre orders of coffee, strained unfunny jokes, and quaint archival commercials. There is no narrative of grief, or the tale of endurance, or even social injustice at play. Genuine victimhood is hard to pin down onto the characters of this scheme. McMillions serves to be just as sleepy as the town it is set in (Jacksonville, FL); a remote world of the law where your mind wanders off to pick daisies while cheaters are caught.