Strong performances from Justin Theroux and Melissa George can’t save “The Mosquito Coast,” that’s trying too hard to become Apple’s “Breaking Bad.”
The Mosquito Coast seems to be Apple TV+’s stab at a tense prestige adventure series, in the tradition of Breaking Bad and Ozark. The show features a family of Americans traveling through the Southwest and eventually to Central America for what start off as mysterious reasons. The tension of the show comes from both the adventures along the way, and the question of what, exactly, is going on.
Holding out for so long would seems to add a level of tension to the proceedings, as if the audience is meant to ask itself whether the protagonist is a hero or antihero, and whether he’s a crackpot, or really the sanest one of all.
But, the show doesn’t do a particularly great job juggling those different types of tension.
The Mosquito Coast, which debuts the first two of its seven episodes on Apple TV+ April 30, is an adaptation of the 1981 novel by Paul Theroux. The book was previously made into a movie with Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren as the leads, and isn’t well-regarded.
In 2021, Justin Theroux — who happens to be the author’s nephew — steps into the part of Allie Fox, while Melissa George is his wife, Margot. Both Theroux men are among the show’s executive producers.
Neil Cross, best known for creating the popular British show Luther, is the showrunner, and he also developed The Mosquito Coast series along with Tom Bissell. Rupert Wyatt, best known for directing the movie “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” directed the first two episodes.
The Mosquito Coast is the story of Allie, an inventor who is as idealistic as he is intense. He pontificates about the soullessness of consumerism while hawking his invention, a type of contraption that’s supposed to make ice out of fire. Having rejected the consumerism of the United States, Allie uproots his family and takes them South of the border.
The family also happens to be on the run from the feds (played by Kimberly Elise and James Le Gros), and indications are they have been running for quite some time, while using various identities. But the show is very deliberate about the way it parcels out information, in a way that’s very much to its detriment. On Breaking Bad, we know what’s going on, and what the stakes are, right away, but that’s not the case here.
“This is the girl”
Most of the better things about the show come from the first-rate cast. Justin Theroux is in his first star TV turn since his run in the lead of one of the great TV series of the last decade, The Leftovers. He successfully carries this show, while selling dialogue that’s silly at best and smug nonsense at worst.
Melissa George, while not as much of a household name, has been on all sorts of TV shows over the years, and her performance is right there with that of Theroux, as another character with plenty of mystery to her. The project represents a reunion for Theroux and George, who previously both appeared in the 2001 David Lynch movie “Mulholland Drive.” Gabriel Bateman and Logan Polish, meanwhile, are more than capable as their two kids.
This type of show often has kids that get in the way of the storytelling, but that’s not the case here. Polish, in particular, looks like someone who could absolutely be the daughter of Justin Theroux and Melissa George.
One of the more significant weakness to The Mosquito Coast, is that it moves very, very slowly, and not enough happens in the early going to grab the viewer. It’s a very deliberate journey, one that doesn’t feature much of the stakes and tension that were associated with the best moments of the shows it’s clearly trying to emulate. It can be hard to be invested when we don’t know why these people are being chased, and the agents’ motivations in chasing them. And the intensity of a scene late in the second episode is somewhat negated by our knowledge that it’s the second episode out of seven, and we know the main characters are going to survive.
It’s also a bit incongruous for Apple, of all companies, to put out a show about a guy who so thoroughly rejects consumerism, although that also means there’s a lot fewer iPhones on screen than in a typical contemporary Apple TV+ show. Allie at one point even tells his daughter she can’t have a phone.
Even though it’s based on a single book, The Mosquito Coast isn’t being advertised as a limited series, although there’s been no announcement of Apple picking up a second season, as the company has often done with new shows. (“That’s up to Apple,” Melissa George said of that question in her recent interview with AppleInsider.) What that says about Apple’s confidence in the show is another question entirely.
The show is far from the best or most inventive show of its kind, and the slow pace is certainly a concern. But the fine performances by the strong cast serve to make The Mosquito Coast more worthwhile than it otherwise would have been.