The new Netflix Original television series, Ozark, which stars Jason Bateman, is a Breaking Bad-esque prestige drama about a money launderer working in the employ of a drug cartel who relocates his family to the Missouri Ozarks. Forced to launder eight million dollars in a matter of months, Marty Byrde (Bateman) scrambles to insinuate himself into a backwater town and keep his neck while also dealing with some heavy family drama. His wife Wendy (Laura Linney), teenage daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz), and young son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) do their best to adjust to their new environment but inevitable complications arise. In his mission to complete his Sisyphean task and keep his family out of harm’s way, Marty ruffles the feathers of small town criminals including Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), the de facto matriarch of the lowlife Langmore clan, and Jacob Sneed (Peter Mullan), a local poppy farmer and drug kingpin. Meanwhile, rogue FBI agent Petty (Jason Butler Harner) aims to net Marty and topple his cartel boss, the suave Camino Del Rio (Esai Morales).
In the slick, serious style of other popular television thrillers, Ozark is awash in tinted lighting, murky shadows, moody sound design, and filled with intensely violent, lurid characters. Marty is a pretty standard anti-hero—clever, driven, and conflicted—but Bateman is not quite believable as a true criminal genius who can match wits with more dangerous forces around him, although he does do better playing the family man. The rest of the cast is also rather lacking in impact (save for the knock-out Garner), although it is more a problem with the show’s writing than with the acting: Ozark focuses less on characters and more on keeping up a thrilling pace. Each of the ten episodes is chock-full of exciting developments as secrets are spilled and exploited almost immediately, breaking the show out of the standard, slow-burn rate of most dramas. The tense pace is punctuated by unflinching violence perpetrated by the cartel and other powerfully evil figures as characters that normally would have the potential for several episodes (or even seasons) are taken out with shocking, refreshing abruptness.
Another point in the pro column is Ozark’s smart and realistic use of technology; something most television shows tend to forget exists in order to generate more drama. When a character has a question or a doubt, the problem is easily (and amusingly) waved away with a quick Google search or a phone call. Bigger conflicts arise from the vast number of characters and back-stories introduced, some of which do not add to the main story or are axed fairly quickly. Many supplemental characters (usually business owners who stand in the way of Marty’s laundering schemes) provide shallow conflicts before being bought or muscled out of their work by the Marty and Wendy (working together as a modern-day Macbeth and Lady Macbeth). Marty’s two children function mainly as uninteresting filler plot and are far too accepting of their family’s criminal ties to be realistic characters. There is a lot of gratuitous nudity and violence, as if the show is not confident enough to be a subtle, layered drama, and occasionally the dialogue is clunky and exposition-heavy, which also detracts from Ozark’s true prestige aspirations. However, the show is plenty entertaining and comes close to filling the void that shows like Breaking Bad left behind while also tiding viewers over until the next season of Narcos.
Ratings (out of 5):
Overall Average: 3.8