After the phenomenon that was Breaking Bad, Western T.V has been lacking a cutthroat, no nonsense, narco based television series. Ozark, starring Jason Bateman seemingly has the potential to fulfill the big shoes left by Walter White in future seasons.

The producers and showrunners behind Ozark clearly had a business model in mind. And that business model revolves around one of the most infamous anti heroes; Walter White, from one of the most notorious shows of all time-Breaking Bad. Ozark’s antihero, Marty Byrde(played by a snarky Jason Bateman), checks all of the boxes for a malcontent suburban dad, and as with Walter White, his dissatisfaction is created from becoming complacent with their own lives. The series (created by Bill Dubuque), who wrote films such as The Accountant and The Judge —  finds some of it’s most compelling moments,  thanks in large part to the layered and complex performances from the lynchpin characters of the show, Bateman, who also directed four of the episodes, and Laura Linney, who plays Wendy; Marty’s wife-turned-business partner.

Ozark begins in a modern day Chicago, where Marty works as a financial advisor living the american dream with one dirty little secret: having a side hustle which pertains to laundering cash for a Mexican drug cartel. When Del (played by the menacing Esai Morales), one of the cartel’s shakedown artists strolls by to collect money he’s owed thanks to bad decisions made by Marty’s partner, Marty talks his way out of getting murdered by promising Del that he can make even more money by moving the cash-cleaning operation to the Ozarks, a vacation retreat located in Missouri which has the potential to be an absolute goldmine for the cartel. Marty is faced with a daunting task of dissolving his firm, sell his house, withdraw all of his money and move himself and his family (his wife and their two kids (Sofia Hublitz and Skylar Gaertner)) to Missouri within a couple of days, shortly after the unexplained disappearance of his partner. You could already tell where this is going.

The scenes in which Bateman and Linney attempt to delegate and work on their very unique situation(to say the least) are among the best in the series, including an explosive ongoing subplot that revolve around their marital issues. Marty’s Type-A personality traits shine through as his stubborn belief in which he believes he could make the impossible work and his ability to negotiate with some of the more irrational individuals like a defense attorney. All of Byrde’s third dimensional personality traits help elevate Bateman’s strengths as an actor whilst hiding his flaws. Where he shines strongest as an actor are the moments where Marty shows vulnerability, showing his true emotions to the audience and to himself whilst hiding it from his loved ones.  One of the standout scenes of Ozark is when Marty pulls over the van so he can allegedly run into the woods to pee, but really, it’s so he can have an emotional breakdown out of his family’s sight. Scenes that forgo Marty’s cutthroat business deals and focus on character development remind audiences that we’re dealing with a father before anything and  his decision-making continues to put everyone he loves at risk.

Linney’s portrayal as the money-launderer’s partner as Wendy could’ve made or break the show, but she finds the perfect balance between transforming into her own businesswoman and being a mother. Wendy is used as a way to ground the show in reality, providing the most humane and personal relationship with the audience, often evoking emotion. An underrated and often overlooked aspect of the character of Wendy is her life pre-motherhood, when she worked as a political consultant,  ad we get a sense of the warmth and vibrancy that once existed in a larger than life woman,before life and the desperation of her current circumstances sucked it out of her.

But Ozark being the bleak show that it is,their problem only begin with their marital issues and one of the biggest Mexican cartel’s.  Like hyenas, one by one another problem arises, including an FBI agent (Jason Butler Harner) who’s following the suspicious acts of Marty, issues with the businesses Marty is trying to run his cash through, including a resort Marty  in which he clashes with lodge owner Rachel (Jordana Spiro) and the threatening proprietor of the local strip club, a local pastor (Michael Mosley), the region’s established kingpin (Peter Mullan) who is reminiscent of a dictator with an affinity for drugs and a family of petty criminals lead by 19-year-old Ruth (Julia Garner) as if it were a cult who see Marty and his family as an opportunity to make a big score.

The supporting cast that makes up the weird, dystopian world of Ozark, Missouri all have the potential to be teeth-numbingly sweet characters, as each represent different social classes that make up the entirety of America. From the wholesome priest, the troubled FBI agent and the troubled family it seems as if the writers intentionally tried to create an alternate universe of what America would be under different circumstances. Out of the sea of side characters, Julia Garner’s performance as the troubled youth garners serious award consideration. Her chemistry with Bateman as the show progresses in the latter half of the season is some of the best on television in 2018. Garner’s performance makes Ruth the only character in Ozark that is one of a kind and never seen before, a mixture of misapplied cunning,vulnerability, deeply inseure and scarred while being mature well beyond her years.

When Ozark Season 1 is firing on all cylinders, in particular the first five episodes Ozark acts like the successor to the “good father turned FBI most wanted” genre that television has been sorely lacking since the departure of Breaking Bad, but as the show progresses to the latter half of the season the producers are preoccupied with several intersecting storylines and makes it seem as if it were an intricate spider web, leading to lackluster payoffs for several subplots.  With so much momentum and storylines, some seem to be sacrificed for others. Long stretches go by in which the  showrunners and producers seem to forget about three or four major characters and longer periods in which the certain level of urgency and paranoia they were once instilled with making the show so great, dwindles away and lacks the character development that is integral to completing a successful storyline arc.

Not only are some of the characters lackluster due to the accidental mystery around them (Del, Rachel), the Lake of the Ozark feels as if their is more to be desired. Ozark does very little with fleshing out the deep, dark, murky waters the Ozarks are portrayed as and their is no real explanation  why it’s such a good (or bad) place to explore the manipulation of the law in order to launder dirty money into real  wealth in an increasingly deregulated nation.

Although Ozark season one has its very clear flaws, the immense potential that Netflix see’s in this show is undeniable. With a supporting cast begging to come to the forefront and the myriad of possibilities that season one can only excite you for the future of the show.

Grade: B

Ananth Para
paramana@mcmaster.ca

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