McMafia: Season 1 – Review

McMafia premieres on February 26th, 10pm on AMC.

By Matthew Stanford

Yes, McMafia is based on the book McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld by Misha Glenny. However, whomever decided to name the show McMafia didn’t do it any favors. The title comes across as a reality show or something of that genre. This is about as far from a reality show as you can get.

The setup is one that we’ve now seen many times: Possibly good guy does possibly bad things for possibly good reason—or maybe not. There are definitely some barriers to entry for this one. About 15% of the dialogue is in Russian (English subtitles provided). The pacing is extremely slow and the lead is, well, kind of a boring dude. I would imagine the show runner would describe him as “mysterious,” but I’m not sure if it was written to be this way or if it’s cultural, but his emotions are motionless.

Prior to watching McMafia, I had heard that it was similar to The Night Manager, which I loved. It, unfortunately, is not. I believe a more realistic comp is the FX show, Tyrant. There are many moving parts, beautiful locations and decent characters, but none of it locks into place quick enough.

I think its biggest flaw is that I don’t care what happens to any of the characters and they continually introduce more and more. Additionally, the female characters have no depth and are merely there to move along the plot in most spots. If you don’t mind subtitles I recommend checking out Gomorrah on Netflix. That Italian mob show, which is in Italian, does a much better job with a similar criminal underground.

With that being said, McMafia is shot extremely well, the acting is good and clearly a lot of effort and money was put in to making it. The show is also grounded and the situations presented seem to be plausible. If this show was released in the early 2000s, it might be considered groundbreaking in its scope, but it now seems like a rehash of many other shows.

In the age of Peak TV, this is a hard show to recommend. The show moves at a glacial pace and is good, sometimes great. But there are so many similar shows, and I don’t believe that the juice is worth the squeeze. I’m hopeful that if they receive a second season that they can tweak the show and make it even better. Limiting the amount of secondary characters and fleshing out the ones that remain would be a perfect start.

I give McMafia a C.