IS it just me, or is McMafia (BBC1, Sunday) a bit of a McMuddle?
At first that title caused a misunderstanding: was this going to be a Scottish crime drama of some sort? Ah, no. The ‘Mc’ is from McDonald’s and is intended to suggest the way in which Russian gangsters franchise out their operations.
The drama series is based on Misha Glenny’s factual account of how the break-up of the Soviet bloc led to global pillage (capitalism’s brutal cousin). I haven’t read the book, so cannot comment on where this drama began; but where it’s ended up is a different manner.
Now I have tried to be thrilled by McMafia, but the trouble is that it’s just not very thrilling. Whisper it quietly, but it’s oddly dull. It’s taken all those episodes to admit as much. At first, I was swept up in the hype that this was going to be The Night Manager all over again. But it isn’t at all.
The Night Manager was based on a John le Carré novel and so came supplied with a dramatic structure and a plot that sort of made sense. McMafia does attempt a similar global sweep, and even as late as last Sunday, I found myself saying out loud: “I quite like the way this moves all over the place.”
But an inner heckler – front row on the sofa, Sunday night glass of wine needing a refill – was grumbling away…
“But it’s so boring, nothing seems to make sense, and James Norton looks like he’s just back from the dentist with a frozen mouth. In fact, they all look like they’re just back from the dentist with a frozen mouth. The whole drama seems to be immobile. It does try with the action, but mostly everything passes in a sterile blur
“Oh, look are we in Mumbai again? What are we doing here? Oh, look, it’s back to James Norton’s fund manager staring at figures on the screen. Dodgy figures, dodgy money and, ahem, dodgy drama, as figures on a screen don’t exactly excite.
“You know, Norton was good as that sexually compromised crime-solving vicar Sidney in Granchester, and he was amazing as the Tommy Lee Royce, the unsavoury baddie in Happy Valley. And he was top-notch in War And Peace, too.
“But this, dear me. He doesn’t look very happy in this toothache role. And that girlfriend of his (Juliet Rylance). Well, she’s spent five episodes smiling and simpering while being an ethical sort of high-flying banker – I know, hard to believe, but this is a drama, so we’ll grant them that one – without clocking until episode five that her man is behaving oddly.
“Isn’t that just, well, unbelievably dim of her?
“The Russians are OK, and the dad has something about him, although he does seem to have recovered quickly from throwing himself out of the window and into his girlfriend’s bed; or did that happen the other way around?
“Oh, look, we’re in the desert again and bearded men who may be bad Israelis or bad Arabs or bad Indians are passing drug sausages through a wire fence again. Oh, and now it’s back to the guy with the menacing goatee, the politest baddie in the world. Goatee man is played by David Strathairn who is, for my hijacked licence fee, the best thing about McMafia.
“Oh, what’s going on now; and is it too late for another glass?”
As this is Saturday morning, rather than Sunday evening, that’s a metaphorical glass, and I’m guessing it’ll be half-full, and anyway I am off to McWork.
Whatever that inner heckler says, I’ll probably watch to the end now, but McMafia is proving a disappointment.