In The Sopranos review, I was unfortunately only able to appraise the full package instead of by series by series. Lucky for you, dear reader, I’ll be doing it chronologically for Ozark. However, the only danger is that I stumble upon something I don’t want to see later on in the show – commonly know as SPOILERS. If you don’t like them either, don’t read this review.
Picture this. You – an extremely good businessman with a forensic ability for numbers – decide to act on your unfaithful and depressed wive’s suggestion to be ‘more spontaneous’. So much so that when a valuable, life changing opportunity comes up, you decide to take it. The only problem is, this valuable, life changing opportunity is coming from the Mexican cartel, who gouge people’s eyes out for safe keeping and will kill you, friends and family if you slip up, so you agree to launder their money, hiding from the IRS and FBI. What could possibly go wrong?
Yes, that is the principal idea of Ozark. Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) is forced into moving his life and family down to Missouri, but, as always, nothing is simple, and he faces countless obstacles.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Is that Jason Bateman? As in, star of Arrested Development Jason Bateman? It is indeed. He’s been in the business for 41 years, which is… a long time, playing James Cooper Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie in the early 80s, and a later he had another role as Derek Taylor in Silver Spoons.
After leaving the show, the network promised him his next big break – a spinoff of the character that had made him famous, but unable to gain the rights to Derek Taylor, they had to change a few details and a new show was born: It’s Your Move. It only lasted a season.
He dabbled around in a few other not-so-successful sitcoms, till his big break – Arrested Development. Now, if you haven’t watched this, go on to Netflix right now and do yourself a favour, but that’s a whole ‘nother story in itself. Arrested Development is what separated him from the pack, and offered Bateman the opportunity to pursue a film career. But, it didn’t quite go to plan. It was the classic history of the the child in a Hollywood bubble – everything seemed to come too easy for this everyman. Was it a lack of charm? Perhaps even a certain smugness? Whatever it was, the audience struggled to empathise, or even like, him or his characters.
He returned to Arrested Development for two final seasons, which were not as successful as the first three. Where to go next for Bateman?
I’ll tell you where. Ozark. It was really something that came out of the blue and startled me how good it was. Similar to some of the best ever shows, this first season has been a bit of a slow burner, so hopefully I expect the next one to kick off. It has placed all the foundations for it to happen – the characters are really interesting, and the plot line endless with possibilities.
Bateman feels perfect for this role. Who knew he had it in him? The character feels so real and relatable, it is almost as if – and this is the biggest compliment you can give – that he isn’t acting. Impressively, he also directs a number of episodes, and his talent behind the camera is almost as well reflected as his performance in front of it.
How has Marty Byrde’s life suddenly been destroyed? Complacency. Money laundering comes too easy for him. Just like financial advising before it, a mundane part of suburban life delivered on autopilot, so had the crimes. He knew he had nothing to fear because he would never go to the police or steal or do something stupid. But he doesn’t consider external factors. So when it becomes second nature, he focuses more and more on his wife’s infidelity, even going to the extent on hiring a private detective. And the impossible happens. He loses sight of the numbers. And the slow, steady drop of $8 million in the money. He suddenly realises his partner is stealing from the cartel. Too late to save him, Marty must flee to the Ozarks to salvage his own skin and launder more money than ever before.
It’s interesting looking at the antagonists of the story and how they develop throughout. Del is seen as the dangerous one who will end their lives, (SPOILER!!!) but he says one word and his head’s blown off? Not so dangerous anymore. Although Roy Petty (Jason Butler Harner) is the aggressive, unstable police detective trying to catch Marty, he doesn’t really feel like villain, per se. It goes from Del, probably to Ruth, who ends up being hired by Marty for his business and attempting to kill him. Ruth is a very interesting character. She’s brash, intelligent and decisive, but still swayed by emotions, so much so that she goes from wanting to kill Marty to killing her two uncles to save his life.
It does feel like it is the three different families pitting themselves against each other. First, the Byrdes, a dysfunctional home with a loveless marriage and a dying man living in the basement. Then, the Langmores, to which Ruth belongs to. They are the typical Southerners, led by young Ruth, the only female surrounded by foolish, embittered and irrational men. And the final family? The Snells.
These are the final villains introduced in series 1, and someone Marty looks like he may be partnering with. They consist of Jacob (Peter Mullen) and Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery), and they are a dangerous force who don’t fancy being messed with. They run the heroine farm distributed throughout the town, only for Marty to come along and ruin the operation. One battle I am looking forward to is certainly the Snells versus the cartel. One, a multi billion dollar industry, and the other two hillbillies living in the Ozarks. I still fancy the Snells. Darlene is crazy and a little trigger happy, I think it’s fair to say. One to watch out for.
Praise must go to Ozark for the strong female characters. As the two I mentioned above – Darlene and Ruth – are certainly very intense, power-hungry people who cross limits to dangerous territory where no man would venture. Even Wendy (Laura Linney), Marty’s wife, seems unpredictable. She’s a really well written character; going to much greater depths than a Carmela Soprano or Skyler White. Wendy perhaps debunks the theory that we often dislike our main antiheroes wives because they seem to be getting in the way of their success, although I haven’t watched the whole show yet. I think Wendy Byrde is exactly what Vince Gilligan set out to achieve with Skyler, but it is done far better in Ozark than Breaking Bad.
Damn, it’s disturbing though. I love it – whether it would be Marty having his toenails pulled off, or Pastor Mason Young (Michael Mosley) submerging his recently motherless baby under the water, thinking that he is going to kill him, only to pull it up and baptise Zeke.
I am really enjoying it, and will definitely be reviewing the second one soon. Also, there’s great news for Ozark fans because a fourth series is coming. Which hopefully means these ratings will continue to rise.
Best character: Marty would be the main contender, but I don’t like going for the main character, so it will be Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), who, unlike lots of character’s children in these series, doesn’t feel underdeveloped. There’s a lot going for Jonah. If not him, then Buddy Dieker (Harris Yulin), the terminally ill, but sharp, old man living in the Byrde basement.
Least favourite character: I didn’t like Wendy Byrde at the start, but throughout the series I warmed to her. She’s a great actress, and I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of Wendy yet, linking back to the dangerous female point.
Best episode: The pilot was excellent once we meet Del (Esai Morales) and the penultimate episode – Coffee, Black – is also brilliant but the finale – The Toll – has to be the best. Throughout the series, we know the threat of death, but we never really see it. In this, we come in touching distance of it.
Best scene: Oof. The death of Del.
Ozark (Series 1) – 8 out of 10