McMillions is the HBO Original six-part documentary series that offers a detailed account of the McDonald’s Monopoly game scam. The details of the scam are retold by various participants in the case, including the prize winners, and the FBI agents on the case. The first episode, titled “McMillions” details the start of the case the FBI began to build after being tipped off about the contest and its lack of legitimacy.
One of the biggest indicators that something was awry was the fact so many previous million-dollar winners were related. As the agents in the documentary are quick to point out, in a contest such as McDonald’s Monopoly game, the chance of multiple people who are related winning is slim to none. You are more likely to be hit by lightning in the state of Florida. Saying the term “slim to none” is hard to quantify but the documentary and the agents speaking brilliantly map out just how daunting the chances really are. And while it became abundantly clear they had a case, it was difficult to determine just how far up the chain in McDonald’s the fraud went.
As Mark Devereaux, an attorney working with the FBI, explains, they had no way of knowing whether someone in the corporate office was pulling the strings, a factory working making the fry boxes, a delivery worker dropping off the boxes at various McDonald’s establishments or a restaurant employee.
After making the decision to go ahead and contact McDonald’s, investigators worked with the restaurant chain’s security team. During McDonald’s Monopoly’s lifespan, McDonald’s would see a 40 percent increase in business when the game was running. Despite this, McDonald’s wanted to shut the game down completely and initially fought investigators’ decision to still run the game that upcoming year. During this time, McDonald’s was struggling with an image problem thanks to the outbreak of mad cow disease in the UK.
McMillions’ first episode does not get into the nitty-gritty of the investigation and the majority of its runtime is spent explaining the logistics of the game itself. One of the most interesting aspects of the episode was hearing Richard White of Simon Marketing explain why and how the game was created. McDonald’s, like many major corporations, outsource their larger marketing campaigns. By explaining the rules and logistics of the game, the documentary cuts in with investigators who are quick to point out where fraud can occur.
Unfortunately, because “McMillions” spends so much time setting up the case and not exploring it, the episode feels longer than it is. While still incredibly interesting just because of the nature of the case itself, the pacing is slow. Many of the interviews with the FBI agents feel unnecessary. This is best seen in most of the commentary from Special Agent Doug Mathews. Mathews, despite being a federal agent, is quite the character, because of this a lot of his commentary is played for laughs. While entertaining, the reason I watch a true-crime documentary isn’t to laugh. The case itself is bizarre and interesting enough without the added comedic flare that most of the time just makes Mathews come off as obtuse.
Despite all of this, once the episode gets to the crux of the investigation and the pacing picks up, it excels. Overall, McMillions is off to a decent start and I look forward to how the series continues to play out. Fans of true crime and documentaries, in general, should absolutely press play.
McMillions is streaming now on HBO with new episodes dropping Mondays at 10:00 pm EST.
McMillions Episode 1 - "McMillions"
Overall, McMillions is off to a decent start and I look forward to how the series continues to play out. Fans of true crime and documentaries, in general, should absolutely press play.