The television miniseries called The Mosquito Coast that premiered on 30 April on Apple TV+ has so little in common with the bestselling 1981 novel of that name that comparison doesn’t get you far. This is true even though the novelist, Paul Theroux, is an executive producer of the show and his nephew Justin Theroux is the star.
There are, in very broad outline, a few points of contact. The main character, Allie Fox, is still an underemployed genius and a crackpot inventor, who on the spur of the moment transports his family to Latin America. People die as a result of this decision. There are vultures, a farmer named Polski and a box that makes ice using fire rather than electricity.
But in the hands of Neil Cross, the writer and producer best known for the cult-favourite British cop show Luther, this Mosquito Coast is a new beast entirely. What began life as an allegorical adventure-fantasy about American exceptionalism and decline — and stayed that way in the 1986 film starring Harrison Ford — is now an action thriller of the slowly unfolding, tastefully photographed variety. The story, through the first season’s seven episodes, is a Mexico-set narco-noir in the foreground and a deep-state American conspiracy puzzler in the background, closer in spirit to Robert Stone than to Paul Theroux.
The biggest change is in Allie. Instead of the charismatic, cranky and increasingly crazy visionary who voluntarily uproots his family in search of a paradise in the Honduran jungle, we get something more TV-ordinary — a mystery man, hiding from the government, whose past remains murky (facilitating possible future seasons). Forced to flee the country with his wife and two teenage children, this new Allie exhibits can-do MacGyver-like practical skills, though they are significantly reduced from the book, as are his ruthlessness and his propensity for “the world is going to hell” rants. As played, with an affable low-key intensity, by Justin Theroux, he has the affect of a slightly sociopathic soccer dad.
If you haven’t read or didn’t…