Netflix’s original drama, Ozark, is a dark, gripping tale from start to finish.
Ozark is about Marty Byrd a brilliant accountant with a good poker face and a silver tongue, that he mostly uses when he is in desperate situations (which is often). He is a money launderer who is forced to uproot his family from Chicago and move to the Lake of the Ozarks to wash $8 million in order to save his family from a drug cartel he went into business with 10 years ago.
His previous business partner Bruce, might have painted too idyllic of a picture of Missouri, because he finds more crime bosses in Missouri than we ever see in Chicago. Marty is constantly on the cusp of getting killed or threatened in their new home, and his mile a minute plans and speeches are impressive, if not over-used in the season. His family has to accept their precarious new life on the edge of the knife.
Ozark is very smart in their casting. I would venture to say that Jason Bateman is at his career best, or at least at his most “against type” role to date. Yes, Marty is a smart,smug asshole, but Bateman brings out a humanity in the otherwise calculating character with is tangible desperation to keep his family alive. Bateman directed quite of few episodes of Ozark, and his style is as dark as his sense of humor. Bateman is very good as Byrd, but at times I wish that he wouldn’t always be stressed or always be exasperated. Laura Linney, extremely over-qualified to play a “wife” role, plays Wendy Byrd. Ozark does give her some impressive storylines that attempt to create another character outside of just being Marty’s wife, but its not perfect. Linney handles what she is give with the confidence of a seasoned pro. Wendy is an incredibly strong woman with a stare-down that could melt steel, and she holds her family together by sheer force of will. Her children, Jonah(Skylar Gaertner) as their young troubled, loner son and Charlotte( Sofia Hublitz) as their impulsive, but naive daughter round out the Byrd family.
Ozark is very grim in all the ways that it can be; muted color scheme and cinematography, physical violence or graphic threats of violence, and its dark themes of death and drugs. Needless to say I was not thinking about the Bluth family while watching the equally crazy antics of the Byrd family. The first few episodes introduce the family, but it is only once we get to know the seedy underbelly of the Ozarks, that you really get hooked. The clear stand-out performance is that of Julia Garner ( you might recognize her as Kimmy from The Americans). Garner is Ruth Langmore and she is so, so good as the 19-year-old matriarch of a local crime family. She is cunning –– more than any of the petty criminals in her family –– and vicious, but she is also deeply vulnerable in ways she tries to push away. The scenes between Marty and Ruth are some of my favorite in the entire season. They have a chemistry between them reminiscent of other teacher, pupil relationships like Walter White and Jesse or even Marshall Cogburn and Mattie Ross. I definitely expect big things from Ruth Langmore as her complicated family issues meld with her partnership with Marty Byrd.
Ozark definitely takes some theme cues from Top of the Lake, the cinematography, sense of mystery, and maddening questions. Also largely in part due to a shared actor playing a similar menacing homeowner with a curious penchant for lost property. Peter Mullan sheds his natural accent for a Missoura drawl, but he is just as dangerous. Ozark does have it’s pitfalls, notably in the fact that every problem Marty seems to fix creates more, and it is a constant flow from safe to life in danger again in every episode. Additionally some of the b-plots could use some work, I would love to either not see the FBI agents or at least make me root for them a little bit more, the only characters I really care about at the end are the Byrd family and Ruth. And being honest, they are all awful people. Poor Rachel at the Blue Cat Lodge is about the only redeemable character, but even she has ethical blindspots. The finale of Ozark sets itself up for a natural segue to season 2 with broken trust, murder, lies and possibly a little bit of reconciliation. I will be looking forward to seeing Ozark in a sophomore season.