The Mosquito Coast (2021) (Apple TV+) TV Show Review

"Do you want to know how you can make ice from fire?"

by Casimir Harlow

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Justin Theroux heads the charge in this adaptation of what was rumoured to be his own grandad's exploits, as fictionalised in Paul Theroux's original novel, putting a modern spin on the classic tale and making for another solid quality Apple TV+ production.

Attempting to buck the trend in terms of diminishing returns when it comes to remakes, the Theroux family fight against the current to afford this classic tale some contemporary relevance, expanding on it with a brand new backstory that is more in line with what you would have come to expect from Netflix's Ozark than anything from the 80s Harrison Ford drama.

 

... the Theroux family fight against the current to afford this classic tale some contemporary relevance  

Allie Fox and his family live completely off the grid - no TVs, no mobile phones, no nothing - with Allie struggling to pay the bills with his minimum wage job, all the while trying desperately to get his brilliant inventions off the ground, only to find that nobody is interested in them. After all, it's amazing that he can make ice from fire without any source of electricity, but in an age of refrigerators nobody gives a damn. When his world starts to implode, the bank foreclosing on his property and the authorities closing in for some dark past secret, he is forced to take his loved ones on a dangerous run across the Mexican border, with the promise of a new life ahead of them.

The Mosquito Coast (2021)
Got a bit carried away with the Gucci camo face-paint

The Mosquito Coast Season 1 comes to the UK on Apple TV+, in 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos too, framed in 2.00:1 widescreen and looking just about as stunning as almost all Apple product has become known for. In fact it's at times almost jarring when some clever CG wizardry is randomly employed to show the creation of an ice cube, or the breadth of piping being worked on at an industrial site. These flourishes don't always give it the Big Budget scope they were obviously shooting for, although they do speak to the production value behind the scenes which is clearly immense and impeccable as ever. Locations are impressive, cinematography is gorgeous and - if the credits are anything to go by - it's only going to get even more jaw-dropping when we hit the water.

 

... they've set the stage well with this pair of tense introductory episodes, let's hope they capitalise upon them 

With only two episodes released on launch (Apple TV+ usually drop three on release day, but perhaps the fact that this was a shorter 7-episode season rather than their usual 10 episode runs, they figured two would suffice), it's somewhat difficult to judge The Mosquito Coast other than to say that it's a very well acted, well put-together, stylish and impressively conceived production which absolutely brims with palpable tension from one scene to another. Despite being unlikely subject matter for it, this has the "24" feels about it right from the get-go, with Allie quite the MacGuyver when it comes to improvising his way out of almost every situation, and - wow - there are a LOT of situations this family have to get themselves out of in just the first episode alone. It's moderately contrived, and there is a certain element of think-too-hard-about-it-and-it-falls-apart when it comes to some of the situations, as ultimately you know these guys have to hit the water before the wheels really start coming off, so this initial spat of suspense is almost like a prequel story to a tale you already know the premise of. Nonetheless, there are some great moments, whether from the clashes with the authorities or the trouble at the border, and The Mosquito Coast clearly has a whole bunch of tricks up its sleeve which will undoubtedly be slow-burn revealed over the rest of the duration. So far so good.

Justin Theroux enjoyed a tremendous run on The Leftovers, and really commits to the obsessive, arguably insane in a kind-of "he's got a point" way, character, which must have been deeply personal for him to undertake given it comes directly from his own family. Melissa George is a little more elusive as the wife, and it's hard to read from her (at least in these first two episodes) what exactly brought her to this point as both a wife and a mother - and indeed a daughter. However, it is solid groundwork, with even the teen daughter far from as irritating as Kim Bauer, for example, despite her initial manoeuvres.

Developed by Luther's Neil Cross, with the opening two episodes directed by Rise of the Planet of the Apes' Rupert Wyatt, The Mosquito Coast has a lot to overcome really to justify its existence. The Ford adaptation felt pretty definitive. The story felt pretty entrenched in the period they adopted in the movie too, a million miles away from today. And the idea of 'padding it out' to a TV series length? Well, all of these should set alarm bells off. But it does well to get around them, giving us insight into a world where maybe you shouldn't be an instant pariah if you choose to eschew consumerism and 'live off the land' more progressively, and where there is an alternative to the routes that society pre-determines for us and our children (it's interesting that Apple TV+, Disney+ and Netflix are all dipping their toes in some tangentially common territory here, what with both Netflix's excellent The Mitchells vs. The Machines and Disney's acclaimed Nomadland also taking some very different looks at tech, consumerism, and alternative lifestyles).

Yes, The Mosquito Coast was always a bit of a cautionary tale in the other direction, highlighting the risks that accompany such unchecked idealism, and this new production does throw in some criminality which unfortunately - if unexplained - may only dilute the more interesting study of a man whose unacknowledged brilliance feels like it could tragically lead to his own downfall, but they've set the stage pretty well with this pair of tense introductory episodes, and let's hope they capitalise upon them for the arduous journey that is to come.

The Mosquito Coast is available in 4K Dolby Vision with Dolby Atmos, weekly on Apple TV+ with the first two episodes released 30th April 2021.


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