How the FBI Busted the Most Nineties Scam Ever
Streaming on HBO Go | 2020 | TV-MA | 1 Season, 6 episodes
Genre: True-Crime Documentary Series Why We Watched: I let my partner Michael pick this one without knowing anything about it. Twenty minutes into episode one and we were hooked. The cast of real-life characters is so ridiculously cinematic, setting so 1990s, and story so stupidly Florida,* it was impossible to turn away.
You Might Also Like: Treat yourself to Logan Lucky (on Amazon), starring an inimitable cast that includes Riley Keough, Adam Driver, Katie Holmes, Channing Tatum, and Daniel Craig (in order of importance). In a nutshell, it's Ocean's 11 but with NASCAR—what's not to like? Directed by Steven Soderbergh and previously reviewed by Grace, add it to your weekend what-to-watch-on-your-laptop-in-bed list. *I say this lovingly as a Georgia native
The number one thing that this show has going for it is its source material. The true story that the McDonald's Monopoly game was fully rigged, a charismatic rookie detective who led the undercover operation, a wannabe gangster from Jacksonville who goes by Uncle Jerry, his widow, the string of gullible and desperate perps they rope into their scheme—it's truly wild stuff. For those of you who don't know, McDonald's Monopoly was the fast-food chain's most beloved promotion throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Players would collect the peel-off pieces to place on their game board as "properties" or find instant winners. But those instant winners all turned out to be connected... Cue the start of McMillion$. The FBI investigation begins when a rookie agent named Doug Matthews notices a sticky note that reads "McDonald's Monopoly Fraud" on his colleague's computer. Matthews is made for television: unnervingly charismatic, enthusiastic, and fearless—part Fox Mulder, part Agent Cooper. Fresh out of the academy, he pitches to the Jacksonville Bureau that they create a fake production company, interview all of the "winners," and get them to lie about their wins on camera. The footage of those interviews is the best visual part of the whole series. (Meanwhile, the B-role footage of McDonald's franchises is the worst.) And watching those people lie is at times bizarre, entertaining, and cringe-worthy. The well-known scam is ludicrous: No spoilers, but an insider known as "Uncle Jerry" grabbed the million-dollar winning game pieces and passed them around—to friends, family, acquaintances—all for the low, low price of $25,000–$100,000. Documentary is an ethically weird genre, and true-crime documentary can often give me the heebie-jeebies. There are victims, and their stories are now here for our entertainment. McMillion$ is weird because McDonald's is technically the "victim" but we feel bad for the "perps" too. I think Margaret Lyons from the New York Times put it really well when she wrote, "Genuine victimhood here is hard to nail down; weep not for the integrity of fast-food tie-ins. I feel bad for the woman who mortgaged her house to buy into the scheme, but also, that seems like an easy enough thing to avoid. And so McMillion$ is a fun oasis from misery, a comforting remote world where cheaters are caught and prosecuted."
This show is really fun, quirky, and bizarre. There are still two episodes left to air, but I have high hopes for a fun resolution. What else can I say? I'm lovin' it. Liz