Welcome to Next, a column that gives you an overview of the latest television. This week Valerie Ettenhofer is reviewing The Mosquito Coast, an Apple TV + adaptation of an award-winning adventure novel.
The world has changed significantly since Paul Theroux’s award-winning adventure novel The mosquito coast Hit the shelves in 1981, and the same goes for Peter Weir’s adaptation, starring Harrison Ford, released five years later. Fortunately, the latest telling of the story – a limited-edition series streamed on Apple TV + based on the book – has also been changed significantly to keep up with the times. However, one thing has not changed. The main character’s executive is still a deep-seated disgust for American consumerism.
Developed by Luther Schöpfer Neil Cross and journalist Tom Bissellfollows the new adaptation Allie Fox (Justin Theroux), a man who is manically committed to a life outside the grid. He takes his son Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) Cooking fat used to siphon on day trips, which can be converted into biofuel, and calls it the homeschool version of a PE class. He hurries into the room of his teenage daughter Dina (Logan Polish) wrestle a secret cell phone from their hands. He’s not just an avid environmentalist. There’s another, more seedy, reason he wants his family out of the government’s crosshairs.
At the end of the first episode of The Mosquito Coast, Allie uprooted his family, including their two children and his wife Margot (Melissa George). He insists they go on an adventure even if they are on their way to Mexico with two seemingly US officials. On the surface, it’s the story of an idealistic environmentalist leading his family to a new land, but as the foxes dig deeper into uncharted territory, the series sets off culturally intricate moments that rub against the simplified initial characterizations.
Allie may be an idealist, but he’s also a pushy and intentionally unlikely character – almost everyone he meets calls him an asshole. And his proclaimed views often directly contradict his actions. In fact, the first few episodes of the series are powerful and forced, and full of nervous, apolitical speeches about American corruption and waste. But they’re also full of action, so viewers can easily sail through the tightly-planned series until it evolves from a no-nonsense drama to an ironically ironic allegory. In the end, these preaching early monologues will appear as part of the show design.
The Mosquito Coast is purposeful and relentless, full of stunning imagery and enough action to keep viewers busy despite some early missteps. The Foxes’ journey is infinitely dangerous and keeps getting gloomy, even as Allie continues to treat it as an educational family vacation. The series may not have the slightest narrative touch, but it’s an adventure show full of obstacles for the family, from wild snakes to mummified bodies to desert shootings.
The Mosquito Coast balances between a cleverly confident allegory and a misguided cultural commentary. Much of the action takes place in and around a version of Mexico in which cartel members rule over opulent mansions and dirt-covered street kids sell everyone for junk. These are tired cultural tropes, but they could also be a fitting setting for a story about modern American hypocrisy and self-centeredness. At the beginning of their journey, the foxes take water and weapons from the corpses of migrants, and this desolate moment sets the tone for a series about a group of people who, despite their self-proclaimed aversion to capitalism, cannot stop taking what they have think they are owed.
As the series falls into a groove, its thematic originality is tempered by a familiar family dynamic. Sometimes the Mosquito Coast acts like a clone of Netflix’s Ozark, complete with an eye-catching older daughter and a quietly disturbed younger son. Depending on what the scene demands, Margot is either a self-sacrificing mother who primarily dreams of normalcy or the mastermind behind every dangerous decision. Allie is a cross-border demeanor, and Theroux plays him with wide-eyed intensity that fits his uncomfortable personality perfectly.
Fans of the novel or the 1986 film adaptation will find little resemblance between these versions and this one. Crucially, the Foxes’ central catalyst has changed – the series constantly references something that one or both parents did in the past that motivated them to hide from the government, despite the details of those circumstances can only be explained in half. The new impulse is all about the family, which makes the chaos the foxes wreak on their journey and the blistered ending – also changed from the book – more personal and less sociopolitical.
The Mosquito Coast is not without its problems, including a jumbled backstory and a tendency to rely on overused cultural stereotypes. Overall, the show undoubtedly does something bold, adding a fast-moving action-adventure story with the kind of multilayered, capitalist-critical commentary that is seldom explored to this extent.