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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

‘McMillions’: HBO’s intriguing look at a scam


No matter what you think of it, the Netflix Original series "Tiger King" brought attention to the one viewing experience that is becoming the basis of what many viewers binge-watch: the limited miniseries.

In a single season of anywhere from four to 10 episodes, such miniseries tell a story that a single documentary would have trouble covering. Imagine ESPN's 10-part "The Last Dance" as a single 90-minute show. It wouldn't have been half as informative — or entertaining.

Not that all limited miniseries need to be as long as "The Last Dance," which itself could have been a couple of episodes shorter. But some feel just right.

That, at least, was the feeling that I had after watching the six-episode HBO miniseries "MicMillions." Co-directed by James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte, "McMillions" — which debuted on HBO in February and can be found now as part of the premium channel's library — focuses on the ongoing cheating that affected the McDonald's infamous Monopoly game between the years 1989 and 2001.

In the hands of Hernandez and Lazarte, who managed to get unbelievable access not only to FBI agents and federal prosecutors but also to several of the scam insiders as well, "McMillions" works as a slow reveal. From an insider's tip to the eventual arrest and conviction of most everyone involves, "McMillions" is a true-crime story that feels like a scintillating work of fiction.

And, yes, while at the half way point I began to think the filmmakers were padding things, with their habit of melding re-enacted scenes involving actors with talking-head interviews featuring the real-life principals, I quickly realized that I wanted even more than what they were giving me. More of the quick-smiling FBI agent Doug Mathews, more of the colorful Robin Colombo and unapologetic A.J. Glomb.

I came late to "McMillions," having been unaware of the previous podcast. But that's the great thing about having access to streaming libraries such as HBO's. The material is there when you want it.

And during these days of quarantine, we need it more than ever.

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