AMC’s ‘McMafia’ Is A Crawling And Sprawling Crime Drama That (Mostly) Works

02.26.18 5 Comments


We’ll discuss AMC’s new limited series McMafia in a second, but first, a question: Did you watch The Night Manager? You remember The Night Manager, right? It was the AMC limited series — based on a John le Carré novel — that starred a mid-Hiddleswift Tom Hiddleston as a reluctant fighter of crime and Hugh Laurie as a pastel-clad arms dealer who spent most of his time in a secluded hilltop mansion in Mallorca. It was globetrotting and dense and very European, and it was all a great deal of duplicitous fun all the way up until its entirely too tidy and unsatisfying conclusion.

I bring this up because there’s a short version and a long version of this McMafia review, and if we can get you out of here in 200 words instead of 800-1000, I see no reason we shouldn’t do that. The short version goes something like this: If you liked The Night Manager, there’s a pretty solid chance you’ll like McMafia. A lot of the beats are the same. McMafia is also a globetrotting and dense AMC limited series that takes place in Europe. It has a reluctant protagonist, too, who is also drawn into the underworld by a combination of duty and revenge and is played by an actor who is in the running to be the next James Bond. It even has a mysterious international criminal figure played by a recognizable actor, although now instead of Hugh Laurie in pastels in a Mallorca compound we get David Strathairn in a very tiny European bathing suit in an Israeli compound. The Night Manager was not as dark as McMafia (in color scheme and subject matter) and its plot was a little less sprawling, but yeah. This is the short version. Feel free to skip out now if you’re satisfied, one way or the other.

The longer version, on the other hand, goes a little more like this: McMafia is a new AMC limited series created by Hossein Amini and James Watkins, based on a nonfiction book of the same name. It stars James Norton as a wealthy investment banker named Alex Godman who was born in Russia but raised in London after his mob boss father and uncle were chased out of their homeland by a rival. When we first meet Alex, he is squeaky clean and very respectable, with a wife who works for an organization that specializes in “ethical capitalism.” But as anyone who has seen The Godfather knows, squeaky clean children of mob bosses rarely stay that way very long, and before you can say “This one time I’ll let you ask me about my affairs,” bingo bango, Alex is neck deep in international crime.

And it’s all… fine. It’s fine. It’s probably better than fine. I’ll go as high as “pretty good.” I’m enjoying the show quite a bit through four episodes. The trick here is going to be your tolerance for two things that appear at odds: One, the show moves at its own pace, and that pace is not all that quick; and two, there is a lot going on here, possibly too much.

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