TV Review – McMillions
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
In 2001, news broke that a million-dollar fraud and theft were being perpetrated with the McDonald’s Monopoly game, which had been a promotion happening every year since 1987. People who bought products at any McDonald’s restaurant could get game pieces that allowed them to win cash money or other prizes. Prizes included single monetary wins of a million dollars. Literally, a person could find a game piece that gave them exactly one million dollars. Those pieces were supposed to be sent out randomly to places all over the country for people. However, it was revealed that someone was stealing those high-value game pieces and manipulating people in order to give those millions to himself or to members of his family. Documentary filmmakers James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte talk to the people involved on both the law enforcement side and on the perpetrator’s side in order to recount what led up to the news breaking of this story.
The FBI are the ones leading in the storytelling. The first FBI agent that we see is probably the one who becomes the most memorable and hands-down is the one with whom we fall in love. His name is Special Agent Doug Mathews. He works at the FBI field office in Jacksonville, Florida. Unlike most fictionalized, FBI agents that we see in prime-time or network TV, FBI agents in real-life are rather dry and stick-to-the-facts people who are often square and following protocol. They’re federal cops, but not like regular cops who patrol the streets. They mostly seem more like buttoned-up, conservative types.
This is why when we get to know Doug Mathews, we almost immediately sense that we’re lucky to have him be the one who is telling this story for the most part. He is perhaps the most charming, FBI agent that one will probably ever see who wasn’t a fictionalized version. He’s fun and funny. He’s bright and lively, animated and engaging in a way that no one else is. He’s also handsome, practically adorable, with a warmth and a way about him that is very appealing. If he weren’t a FBI agent and didn’t have a passion for crime-fighting, it’s obvious that he would be an actor, one who would be bound and perfectly at home on Broadway. He certainly has that actor’s creative, right-brain where he thinks out of the box and almost artistically. He’s very colorful and theatrical. As I typically say when it comes to documentaries, the subject or the person on camera has to be interesting and compelling. That is exactly what Doug Mathews is.
Chris Graham is the other FBI agent who tells a large chuck of the story here. He’s the former squad supervisor at the FBI office in Jacksonville. He’s Mathews’ boss. He’s the counterpoint to Mathews. The way the documentary bounces between the two, providing context or contrast for Mathews’ behavior or ideas, is great. Yet, Mathews is tame, compared to the other colorful characters involved on the other side of the law, those involved with the McDonald’s Monopoly scam. Yes, some are theatrical, but it never really feels like any of it is artifice or not genuine.
If you know nothing about the details of this story, then the structure that Hernandez and Lazarte create is one that has mystery or suspense at the end of each episode. Some might think that it jazzes up the stakes to almost life-and-death consequences when in reality, this is just white-collar crime that isn’t that dangerous or serious. However, the series is driven with questions like who is behind the McDonald’s scam and how did he pull it off. We’re led step-by-step as Mathews and the FBI figured it out bit-by-bit. What we also learn at the same time is that there was also a lot of drama and domestic issues occurring within the family linked to the scam. While it’s not life-and-death per se, there is a mobster or mafia connection that perhaps puts things a little on edge, making this feel a tad more thrilling than it otherwise would be.
With that aspect there, it’s not surprising this series is on HBO because the comparisons to The Sopranos are naturally present. Instead of Tony Soprano, the man in question is Jerry Colombo. It’s also perfect because James Gandolfini who played Tony Soprano looks like Jerry Colombo whom was at the center of the McDonald’s scam. If Gandolfini were alive, he would no doubt be cast to play Colombo in the fictional adaptation. Colombo wasn’t running around killing people or whacking them. Colombo was more in the press for his attempt to get his veritable strip-club, Fuzzy Bunny off the ground.
Yet, the character who dominates on that side of the law is actually Robin Colombo, the wife to Jerry. Her ins and outs with the Colombo family could fill a whole separate docu-series. Her part in all of this underscores the greater point that a lot of regular people got caught up in this scheme. Some people acted out of sheer greed. Others acted out of desperation. There are no moral judgments, except against the ultimate perpetrator. It also underscores that these white-collar crimes aren’t just victimless crimes. There are wide-ranging effects and this series excellently shows us the various ripples in the water.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 6 eps.
Available on HBO.