Much of the curiosity on my end regarding Apple TV+’s The Mosquito Coast involved whether it could justify being remade (or rebooted, or relaunched, or whatever term you wanna use). The 1986 film (based upon Paul Theroux’s 1981 novel) starring Harrison Ford turned out to be a box-office non-entity, which is telling, considering that Ford should have been a huge draw at the time after the original Star Wars trilogy and the first Indiana Jones movie. Here, too, he played a renegade type, Allie Fox, albeit in a role that pushed hard against his charismatic rogue characters. His Fox was a brilliant and idealistic but paranoid and frighteningly erratic inventor, a guy who railed against everything that America stood for but arguably became the embodiment of what we now know as the Ugly American stereotype. In retrospect, the film’s an interesting character study; and I imagine that a series could have been an intriguing project, had it committed to exploring an even deeper emotional terrain with its extended runtime. Worth stressing: this is brought to the small screen by, you know, the same conglomerate that pushes out different iPhones almost every year.
In a way, the timing of the series starring Justin Theroux is awkward. It’s (unintentionally) releasing almost immediately after consumers saw the star player of the most recent Apple event — the purple edition iPhone that is visually stunning (like this show) but kind-of has no reason to exist other than to entice people to trade in older phones. To Apple’s credit, they’ve got a serious recycling policy, but there’s no denying that the company’s frequent phone upgrades encourage the rabid consumerism that’s tackled in Paul Theroux’s novel and the faithful Ford film. Hell, I would have been interested to see how Apple would put up a worthwhile exploration about an eccentric, overbearing, and eventually psychotic patriarch who drags his family to Mexico as a grand statement against the evils of consumerism. Yet the series resembles the film in set-up only. Actually, it bizarrely feels like the show doesn’t wish to remake the film or reimagine Paul Theroux’s book nearly as much as it wants to be the next Breaking Bad.
More like Breaking Worst. I know: worst joke ever, but the reason why this show chose that direction is confusing, considering that star Justin Theroux is the nephew of Paul Theroux, so presumably, this series was a labor of love. Both are executive producing, too, so they must have wanted the pseudo-Walter White thing to happen. Unfortunately, the show omits the element that made Heisenberg compelling and downright irresistible: Walt began as a character that viewers could identify with. Never, even for a moment, is Justin Theroux’s Allie Fox someone that people can relate to or feel sympathy for or even comprehend, especially since his ultimate cause remains a mystery. So, it’s hard to care about Allie at all. In fact, it’s very easy to despise him.
Worst adventure ever, Dad.
Granted, there are worse approaches out there than aiming for the Breaking Bad mold. Ozark has successfully done so without appearing too derivative, but The Mosquito Coast TV series feels derivative of both shows. And that might not have been an issue, either (the family-man-turned-criminal-to-provide-for-his-family template’s one that viewers enjoy), but the fatal problem is that the show does not successfully pull a Walter White with Allie Fox. As with the film, Fox remains unlikeable overall, but the film portrayed an incrementally deteriorating mental state, whereas the series starts Allie off as balls-out, wild-eyed crazy. He’s profoundly unsympathetic from the beginning. This tweaked-up Allie seems to exist so that Justin Theroux can be, like, the edgiest character ever. So unhinged, so insufferable, yet so magnetic! Yes, Justin Theroux can’t help but bring a magnetic presence to any project, but dude, it’s too much here.
I could not warm up to this new Allie Fox, which crushes the whole point of a Walter White character, given that the Vince Gilligan-created series began with an objectively good man whose initial goal — to deal with his cancer-stricken state by raising some cash and doing exactly what the show title suggested — was, if not honorable, at least semi-understandable. Walt’s transformation into ruthless meth kingpin felt so incremental that the end result worked, and the audience couldn’t help but root (at least a little bit) for Heisenberg. Whereas Allie Fox is the type of character that I want to shove into an elevator shaft. There’s nothing likable about this guy, and it’s impossible to guess the process by which his wife, Margot (Melissa George), fell under his spell to the degree that she conceded that it’s feasible to push their kids, Dina (Logan Polish) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman), though a never-ending nightmare that will f*ck them up for life.
More to the point: why on earth are the NSA and drug cartels after Allie? Why must his family live this existence? No one seems to know, or at least, no one will clarify a thing. It’s frustrating to sit through countless chase scenes, brutal action layups, and perpetually suffering family members, along with the absence of any real character development. There should have been plenty of time for that in seven hours to add texture. Instead, the family members seem shell-shocked and numb with Theroux’s madman popping wheelies around them. It’s exhausting to witness.
The Mosquito Coast turns out to be an uncomfortable watch. For seven interminable installments, we watch these poor teens receive zero relief as they’re pulled along on an unwanted “adventure” (that word’s from the Apple TV+ synopsis) with Dad and Mom. Granted, it’s not unexpected for a show that wants to be prestige TV to claim some epic-style adventure-approach. Yet Allie practically terrorizes his family, and what they go through most certainly qualifies as abuse, starting with being uprooted for a mystery reason, and suddenly, dad’s hanging with cartels and coyotes. And my goodness, this show looks expensive, yet it feels like, despite the often-gorgeous surroundings, an anti-ASMR show, even as background noise. Fox’s delusions grow to the point where it’s sometimes hard to believe what’s happening, and it makes less of a statement about consumerism and the dangers of a free market than it, as I said already, does the Walter White thing in a misfired manner. It’s a stressful series to behold, and that’s probably not the vibe that both Paul and Justin Theroux were aiming to achieve here.
Apple TV+’s ‘The Mosquito Coast’ debuts on April 30.