Roush Review: HBO’s Addictive ‘McMillion$’ Docuseries
It unfolds like a giddy big-screen caper, or the greatest Scorsese film yet to be made. McMillion$ is absolutely true, and as this six-part docuseries vividly unravels a multi-million-dollar fraud targeting the popular McDonald’s Monopoly promotional game from 1989 to 2001, you soon realize there’s no improving on these real-life characters.
Especially the hilariously hyper FBI Special Agent Doug Mathews, then a rookie when his field office in Jacksonville, Florida, got an anonymous tip in 2001 that threatened to seriously tarnish the golden arches. “Bored to death” by the “health-care garbage” he was assigned to, Mathews’ “fun meter” lit up when he caught wind of the Monopoly scheme. His sense of unabashed excitement, as he argues to be allowed to go undercover, is infectious and fuels the entire series.
His superiors are, understandably, more cautious as they investigate the trail they hope will lead them to an insider known only as “Uncle Jerry,” who has managed to isolate and steal big-money game pieces and sell them to friends and family—and eventually to a mobster also named Jerry. (That’s when things get really messy.) As the feds look into the depth of the fraud, and wonder how to bring McDonald’s into the investigation without compromising the case, they also must contend with the live wire that is Mathews, who shows up at the first meeting with McDonald’s execs wearing a flashy gold suit.
“McDonald’s knew it had a ticking bomb,” Mathews says. “I wanted to burn down the criminal enterprise.” Their method: forming a fake production company, and with the help of in-house marketing exec Amy Murray, shooting fake commercials with $1 million winners, who inevitably and sometimes nervously overshare.
In later chapters, focusing on several of the winners caught up in the scheme, the filmmakers show empathy toward these dupes caught in an elaborate web of organized crime. For Gloria Brown, a single mom in Jacksonville who had to create a false background for herself in Charleston, S.C. to become a winner, she felt more victim than collaborator—and that’s before the FBI came calling.
I mean it as a compliment when I say you’ll devour McMillion$ faster than a large order of fries.
McMillion$, Series Premiere, Monday, February 3, 10/9c, HBO