Shortly after my rave review of McMafia eight weeks ago, I got a long message from an old friend chastising me for being so horribly wrong. Could I not see that the series was boring, convoluted and badly acted? Was I aware of how many better series there had been on Amazon and Netflix recently because, if I wasn’t, she could give me a few recommendations…
Several other people wrote to me in a similar vein and I felt terrible. Life is short and TV production is so voluminous these days that now more than ever we need critics to sift the bullion from the dross. Sure, reviews are a snap judgment, usually based on just one episode and written under pressure. Even so, if you can’t be trusted to get it right, say, 90 per cent of the time, that makes you a critical fail.
But on this occasion I’d say my friend was wrong and I was right. Yes, I know McMafia lost a good half of its audience during its run: some because they found it too complicated, others because they weren’t gripped or because they were irritated by the way James Norton’s hero remained so opaque (or, as they’d prefer to mischaracterise it, ‘cardboard’) throughout. I, however, stand by my original verdict: McMafia was a must-see artistic triumph.
Because I want save sufficient space to savage the new David Hare detective drama, I’ll give you just one example of the nuance, intelligence and sophistication that made McMafia so special: the baddie, Vadim (Merab Ninidze). Vadim could so easily have just been a malign force of vengeful brutality, with all the interior life of a cat-stroking Bond villain — or, indeed, of Richard Onslow in Le Carré’s The Night Manager.