Dark and Stranger Things

I recently finished watching Netflix’s “Dark”, knowing that it was drawing lots of comparisons to “Stranger Things”. After watching the show, I am reminded of the comparisons people made between IT (2017) and “Stranger Things”. Both involve kids, and both took place in the 1980s. That was pretty much it for the comparisons and that was enough for people to throw out words like “rip-off”.

With “Dark” and “Stranger Things”, both shows involve a missing kid and sci-fi elements. That is it for comparisons. The cast is mostly comprised of adults and teenagers, with a teenaged main character (as opposed to kids). There aren’t any sci-fi monsters in “Dark”, and the time travel theme is a far cry from what we got in “Stranger Things”.

If we always reduce a show or movie to its most basic elements, it is easy to compare just about any film to another one e.g. you can reduce The Dark Knight to a story about a man who lost his parents. Then you can compare it to a lot of other films that are actually nowhere near close. Although we have so much information available online people either don’t come across facts, or aren’t bothered to look up facts that clear up their ignorance. For example, all of the IT trailers (if I’m not mistaken) advertised the film as a Stephen King adaptation. Yet you still get idiots that said IT was inspired by “Stranger Things”, when in fact it is the other way around. Pacific Rim got compared to Transformers simply because they both have robots, even though the plots are actually very different, and the inspiration for Pacific Rim came from a 1958 anime called Tetsujin 28.

“Dark” is a strong show, with a somewhat unsatisfactory ending, that is a victim of the online sound chamber: People who parrot the criticisms that they hear online, refusing to think for themselves and viewing their entertainment through a lens that someone else placed on them. Any issues I have with “Dark”, have nothing to do with comparisons to “Stranger Things” or any other show.

Black Mirror: USS Callister-Bullied Becomes The Bully

Note: Happy New Year everyone.

The past week has been a dead zone with the holidays, but I am happy to return to this blog in 2018. As always, there are New Year’s Resolutions, but I intend to stick to these ones. I refuse to be like the horde of people who swarm the gym in January and February, before disappearing in March. Two of my biggest writing goals are to have something published in 2018, whether it’s an article or a poetry piece. The second is to complete my fourth book, Alive: Part II. I have already tried to get all of my previous works published but I realize now that it will likely be easier to get smaller pieces published, and use those to gain some traction for attempting to publish my novels.

Without further ado, I present some thoughts on Episode 4.1 of Black Mirror.

*******

I would be lying if I said that Black Mirror won me over instantly. While I was still enthralled by most of the first episode, the ending could have been a breaking point. I understood the purpose of the ending and the rationale but I could not help but be repulsed by it. Then again, that was the show’s intention. Black Mirror is this generation’s Twilight Zone and it would be a disservice to stop watching because it makes you squirm. At the most basic level, the show analyzes how technology affects the way we interact with each other. From my least favourite, The Waldo Moment (that stupid voice really got on my nerves) to Shut Up and Dance or White Christmas, technology is central to the stories.

Season 4 continues the trend with an episode that is dark but also lighter than many of the others. “USS Callister” is a story about wish fulfilment and escapism gone wrong, and those are the elements that I wanted to focus on in this piece. I wasn’t interested in doing a review, although I will say that the performances were great and that I loved the homage to Star Trek. The ending is meant to be happy but I can’t help but wonder if an infinity surrounded by online trolls is truly happiness.

I think anyone who has ever been bullied or ostracized could initially empathize with Daly. Of course, forcing the female members of Space Fleet to kiss him at the end of every game was undeniably creepy and I’m not going to defend that. What I could relate to more was a fantasy where you are a hero to your bullies. That is why I found it interesting that Daly is unquestionably a villain by the end.

In a sense, Daly’s escapism prevents him from asserting himself in real life. He hides behind technology to avoid confrontation. Many people do this, with the mentality that it is easier or more polite. Ghosting is just one of the many anti-social and spineless methods people now use in an attempt to avoid uncomfortable situations. However, uncomfortable situations are a part of life and it is impossible to mature without them. Instead of being more assertive in real-life, Daly goes to the other extreme in his modified version of Infinity. He goes from a pushover to a tyrant, when what he needed to become in the real-world was something in between.

His rejection by his peers guides him further away from them, and further into Infinity. As part of the vicious cycle, this only makes him more off-putting. The staring that causes Shania Lowry to avoid Daly, is implied to be part of his vetting process. He analyzes his potential subjects to see what objects he can steal in order to add them to his game. Of course, his staring is also a part of his fantasizing and the literal possessiveness that we see play out in Infinity. 

What I have always liked about Black Mirror and science-fiction as a whole is that it can use outlandish concepts to mask or examine relevant truths. “Hated in the Nation” attacks online mobs, “Men Against Fire” attacks prejudice and propaganda, “San Junipero” and “USS Callister” examine virtual realities.  Daly is no different than the online trolls who abuse others in order to feel a sense of power they likely don’t have in the real world, the supposed “Kings of Space”. As technology evolves, these trolls will evolve too. People will retreat further from the real, avoiding confrontation and the truth to hide deeper in their fantasies.

The Punisher Review

After introducing the character in season 2 of Daredevil, Netflix was kind enough to give us a series dedicated to war veteran Frank Castle. The Punisher was my favourite part of Daredevil‘s second season, with the script and Jon Bernthal’s performance helping to humanize the character while also showing how deadly he is.

Before I can review the series itself I have to mention one aspect of this Punisher’s origin that I had a problem with when it was first explained in season 2 of Daredevil. Depending on the line of comics, Frank Castle’s family is either murdered by the mob because they happened to witness a mob hit (e.g. Year One) or because they were collateral damage from a shootout between rival gangs in Central Park (e.g 2004 Punisher Max).

Daredevil reimagined their deaths as collateral damage that was due to a shootout, but a shootout that was the result of a failed sting by District Attorney Samantha Reyes. Frank’s story then became tied to a government cover-up that dominated the plot.

This season continues with more government cover ups, making the plot line seem somewhat stale in comparison to all the material that myself and other comic readers were hoping to see on screen. There are references or nods to characters and arcs from the Max and Year One comics, and we even get a version of Agent William Rawlins from the comics as well. However, anyone hoping for more than that may be disappointed. This is another rendition of The Punisher where the villains are tied intimately to his past, instead of offering a new threat. Now, on with the show.

After killing all of the gang members tied to the Central Park Massacre, Castle fashions a simple new life as construction worker, Pete Castiglione. Frank burns his Punisher vest early in the first episode, symbolizing the end of his war, but it is obvious something will drag him back in. The Punisher’s re-emergence is a short, but bloody and glorious fight that is enhanced with the accompanying music. Speaking of music, Tyler Bates did a masterful job for the show’s soundtrack and the show’s opening is narrowly beaten out by Daredevil’s in my opinion.

Like the first season, this season further explores Frank’s mental state and his view on the world. Like the comics, I am happy to see the show didn’t shy away from being political at times. Some people on YouTube, the bastion of online intellectual discourse, are complaining that the show should “stick to entertainment”. Firstly, these people don’t realize that all shows aren’t obligated to be mindless entertainment. Secondly, the “stay away from politics” talk is usually code for “don’t express views I disagree with”. Final point, people who complain about The Punisher being too political have clearly not read any of the comics.

Frank was a former soldier and the military does play a part in many of the 2004 Max comics. While Frank respects veterans as a whole for their service and sacrifice, he does not respect the institution of the military.

“Fighting for the people who run the world gets you stabbed in the back. You fight the wars they start and feed. You kill the monsters they create…. I’m not going back to war so colt can sell another million M-16s.”

Frank Castle- Punisher Max, Issue #4.

If you think this is a “liberal talking point” as someone else put it, then the character isn’t for you.

The season deals with issues ranging from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the US involvement in Afghanistan, just like some of the comics do. While Frank re-emerges as the Punisher, Homeland Agent Dinah Madani also begins digging into Frank Castle’s past as a way to investigate the death of a policeman she worked with while stationed in Afghanistan. “Agent Orange” also develops an interest in Castle since Castle was involved in an illegal military operation that a mysterious hacker named “Micro” has video evidence of.

Jon Bernthal joins the Marvel stable of actors who excel in their character’s skin. He is joined by a capable cast, with Micro (Ebon-Moss-Bachrach) being the standout since the relationship between the two forms the backbone of the story. In this continuity, Micro’s family is still alive but Micro was forced to fake his own death after being framed by Homeland Security. When Micro attempts to reach out to Frank, Frank finds Micro’s family as a way to gain leverage on him. The interactions between Frank and Micro’s wife, Sarah (Jaime Ray Newman) were interesting at first, since they both lost loved ones and bonded over that. Then the interactions continued, and included more screen-time from Sarah’s bratty son who is also one of the weakest actors in the show. A love triangle quickly developed and this entire subplot was one of my biggest gripes about the show. The chemistry on display between Frank and Karen Page was far better and didn’t leave me wanting to skip certain scenes.

Fortunately, this season also gives us some more memorable villians such as Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) and Lewis Wilson (Daniel Webber). Barnes’s role in Westworld showed that he can play a smug douche pretty well but he gets to do more with the script here, playing a friend turned foe who has profited off his evils.

The action itself integrates good hand-to-hand choreography (looking at you Iron Fist), gunfights and stealth kills that would make Batman proud. The fights weren’t actually that plentiful but the show does a great job of building the tension between the bursts of action (minus the Lieberman house visits).

Overall, I will rank the punisher third among all the Marvel Netfix seasons, behind Jessica Jones and Daredevil Season 1.

Current Ranking.

  1. Daredevil
  2. Jessica Jones
  3. The Punisher
  4. Daredevil Season 2
  5. The Defenders
  6. Luke Cage
  7. Iron Fist

Stranger Things Season 2 Review

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Following up on my YouTube review, it’s time to share a more in depth review of Stranger Things‘s second season.

Season 2 picks up almost a year after the first. The lab and the upside down are still active. The gang (almost called them the Losers Club) are moving on in the absence of Eleven, although Mike is still struggling with the concept. Will is still haunted by visions of the Upside Down and it soon becomes clear that his visions aren’t all in his head. Meanwhile, Eleven has returned but is confined to one of Hopper’s cabins, for her own safety.

As with season one, the performances are one of the show’s most consistent and powerful redeeming qualities. Winona Ryder and our new Hellboy, David Harbour, return stronger than ever but the kids (or teenagers) continue to shine here. Millie Bobby Brown deservedly gets a lot of attention for her role as Eleven in season 1. Although her lines were limited she was still able to convey great emotion.

In season 2, Hopper has been teaching Eleven more english so the character gets to be more verbally expressive. We still have the facial expressions and other cues from season 1 combined with a character arc that sees Eleven acting on her desire to be free. She has gone from a system with no freedom (the lab), to more freedom with friends, and now she must try to adjust to Hopper as a parental figure who is trying to protect her from men who still want to find her. The relationship between Hopper and Eleven is actually one of my favourite parts of this season and their fight in episode four is one of my favourite moments. It is a conflict where you can empathize with both characters. Eleven understands why she must be kept hidden but after almost a year she is wondering when she will finally be free, and vague declarations of “soon” start to wear thin. Meanwhile, Hopper realizes the danger she places them in by leaving the cabin. His attempts to discipline her are met with pushback that makes you realize how dangerous Eleven could be without a conscience.

 

Despite my love for Eleven, Noah Schapp steals the show here as Will. Although the first season revolved around Will’s disappearance, Will had few lines and relatively little screen time. Here, Will is truly part of the group. For lack of a better term, Will is possessed and his conflict with the monster inside him is a lynchpin of the plot but also allows him to shine. I don’t think people are exaggerating when they say he deserves an Emmy nomination.

Let’s move on to some of the show’s weaker points.

Episode seven, which focuses on Eight and her gang, gets a lot of hate and I can understand why. The episode comes after a cliffhanger in the previous episode, serving as a full 40 minute cutaway that takes us away from Hawkins and the approaching demo-dogs. Due to its timing, the episode can almost come across as filler. Filler is exactly what made me stop watching The Walking Dead. 

I don’t consider episode seven filler, but I must say that it would likely have been better received if Eight was mentioned or referenced a few more times before episodes six and seven. We see Eight in episode one and then she is pretty much MIA until episode seven. I liked the episode itself since it offered a great view of what Eleven could have become. Eight never found the same type of friends and family Eleven did. Eight found other outcasts who stay on the fringes of society, sticking to a limited circle either out of choice or necessity. Eight is guided purely by vengeance, while Eleven’s search was about finding family and getting closure.

Aside from the lesson of the episode I found the episode itself entertaining. I will say that Eight’s gang wasn’t as interesting as Eleven’s. Of course I could be biased since we don’t get as much time with them, but even for an episode the characterization seemed paper thin e.g. the big one, the crazy one etc.

I remember watching season 1’s sensory deprivation scene and thinking that Barb’s death was somewhat glossed over, “gone”. It was great to see the impact her death continues to have on Nancy and Barb’s parents. Barb’s death also provides the plot lynchpin for the group to attack the lab publicly, without having to mention the upside down or anything else that might make them look insane.

For the people who hated that Nancy and Steve stayed together at the end of season one, your prayers were answered this season. I was actually happy that Nancy and Steve were still together at the start of this season. It would have been far too cliched for Nancy to switch that quickly from the jock to the quiet, nerdy guy the jock picked on. Steve was a tool at times in season 1 but he proved himself to be a good person by the end of it. Season 2 gives Steve more heartbreak but also lets his character develop more. Like Will, he is one of the biggest benefactors of this season.

An even weaker point of this season?

Now, the Duffer Bros. said they wanted to introduce a new human villain who wasn’t connected to the lab. Okay, but I think this kind of conflict works best if it also drives the plot forward. For example, perhaps Eleven could have come across someone who begins to threaten her anonymity. Max and Billy’s actors are competent enough, but their impact on the plot is miniscule. The love triangle that started early on in the season between Max, Dustin and Lucas fizzled out pretty early. Billy’s conflict with Steve culminates in the fight at the house, and the ultimate outcome of that fight is that Steve is forced to escort the kids into the tunnels. Steve could have been forced into this some other way. Originally I thought that Max and Billy may be Soviet spies, since Cold War conflict was hinted at throughout the season. If season 3 offers no further revelations about their characters then it seems like their characters were truly random editions.

Their screen time also detracts from more screen time for other characters. Lucas was defined by his relationship with Max this season and it would have been nice to see more of the group together helping Will.

The climax wasn’t boring but I would actually argue that it wasn’t the season’s most exciting point. No main characters died throughout the show’s run so it was clear that Sean Astin’s Bob would likely be a red shirt. Sorry superhero.

Thankfully, Barb’s death was enough to get the lab shut down.

Although Joyce Byers has her boys back, looks like she still needs some luck with men.

Watching Hopper mow down demo-dogs was pretty awesome and Eleven’s brief moment of “flying” made me wonder if she’ll go full Neo in season 3.

We’ll see I guess.

While Max and Billy are proof that more is not always better, season 2 delivers for the most part. It builds on threads from the previous season, develops characters more, answers more questions, raises more questions, and offers more thrills.

1922

It’s a good year for the King. The Dark Tower wasn’t an auspicious start but IT and Gerald’s Game have provided better follow ups. 1922, released on October 20th, also provides a strong follow up that also has a stronger ending than Gerald’s Game.

Based on Stephen King’s 2010 novella, published in “Full Dark, No Stars, 1922 follows Wilfred James (Thomas Jane) and his plot to kill his wife so that she will be unable to sell neighbouring farmland she has inherited. Arlette James (Molly Parker) wishes to sell her 100 inherited acres and move the family to Omaha. Since James wishes to stay in Hemingford Home he manipulates his son, Henry (Dylan Schmid) into helping him kill Arlette. The death happens pretty early on in the film, and the rest of the film focuses on James’s eventual retribution. We watch him lose the other people who are close to him, one way or another, and slowly descend into insanity.

Wilfred is played with a pretty thick accent, which took some getting used to. However, I was immersed in Jane’s performance quickly, watching him disappear into the role. Jane is also supported well by Parker and Schmid, who have the vast majority of the screentime for the film’s first half hour. Most of the film takes place on the James’s farm, adding to the feeling of isolation and claustrophobia that Arlette feels living in Hemingford Home.

The conflict between James and Arlette is introduced quickly, and another element that comes somewhat quickly is James’s manipulation of Henry. Editing makes the manipulation appear faster, but we get to see James building to it slowly. By this point in the story it is already clear that Henry has a stronger bond with his father than his mother. Wilfred first tells Henry that his mom has to leave their home and return to hers in order for them to stay together. Arlette becomes the figure trying to tear the family apart and we slowly see Henry drifting further away from her, until James is able to convince him there is no other way.

The murder scene itself is simple, but also gruesome. The director holds back on music during the scene, letting us focus on the sound of Molly’s screams instead. One of my biggest gripes with horror movies is that they sometimes rely on music or lack thereof too much, with the music becoming a giveaway for a jump scare or some other scene that is meant to scare us. There are times when the music in the background comes across as outright distracting but the murder scene and most of them are handled well. 1922 is more of a thriller than a horror movie, but it does have some creepy imagery that lingers in my mind. Like Gerald’s Game or It Comes at Night, if you don’t expect a monster movie, you will likely enjoy it.

One Arlette is removed from the story, its focus shifts to Henry and Wilfred, who are now united by the sin they’ve taken part in. This section of the film is actually my favourite, since Schmid is deftly able to play a character whose inner conflict starts to drive him further away from his family. The film is a tale about retribution and Wilfred receives his in spades. Unlike Gerald’s Game, 1922 also has a strong ending that complements everything that came before it.

Gerald’s Game

I watched Gerald’s Game about two weeks and uploaded a small review to my Instagram account, @moviegrapevine. However, I feel like this film deserves a proper review.

Gerald’s Game is based on Stephen King’s 1992 novel of the same name, following Gerald and Jessie Burlingame, a couple who retreat to a cabin in the hopes of reinvigorating their sex life. Although Jessie is initially open to bondage, she becomes uncomfortable when Gerald begins enacting a rape fantasy. After an argument Gerald suffers a heart attack, leaving Jessie handcuffed to the bed.

I was intrigued when I heard about the film at work and Stephen King’s name made seeing this film a priority (Sorry Hemlock Grove). Stephen King adaptations can definitely go wrong but I was interested to see what King’s writing could bring to the concept.

Firstly, the director sets the stage well. Jessie’s thoughts are personified by a stronger, more assertive version of herself and the more cynical side represented by Gerald. The majority of the film takes place in the bedroom, with Jessie either alone or talking to the other versions of herself. From what I have read about the book, this film differs in the number of voices in Jessie’s head and the figures that she sees.

I have to give Gerald’s Game credit for being the first film in a while to force me to look away from the screen. One particularly gruesome is likely to stick with you, but Gerald’s Game has more to offer.

Gugino and Greenwood’s performances anchor the film, and truly help to breathe live into the script. As a side note, I hope I am as ripped as Bruce Greenwood when I’m 61.

Jessie’s voices also bring another element of intrigue and conflict, breaking down all the misogyny and unhappiness that Jessie tried to ignore in her marriage. These voices bring up repressed memories going all the way back to Jessie’s childhood, unearthing a traumatic event that led her to being handcuffed to a bed by a husband with rape fantasies. Although one character is the focus of the film, we learn a lot more about Gerald and Jessie as the film progresses.

I have heard some people complain that the film was boring but I honestly think this may be a case of different expectations, similar to It Comes At Night. If you expected a monster film instead of a survival one, It Comes at Night could definitely be considered boring. Gerald’s Game is not an action-packed horror film, it is a tense thriller about survival. If you expect anything different, then this film will be boring.

One of my biggest, and only criticisms comes from one element of the plot introduced later in the film. As Jessie becomes dehydrated her mind starts playing tricks on her, and we are introduced to a more supernatural element of the story. I didn’t have a problem with this element itself, since Gerald previously warned Jessie that she might see nightmarish visions before she died. It is the end of this arc that left me unsatisfied. The last ten minutes of the film as a whole are the weakest part, a small stain on an otherwise perfect canvas.

Regardless, Gerald’s Game is a Netflix gem and this review will likely be followed by a review of another King adaptation, 1922.

Binge Missions

As I start my weekend I was sitting in front of my tv, with Netflix up, wondering what show to watch. In a way, I felt like Don Jon: so many choices making it hard or near impossible to pick something.

Pictured above: Me, but with clothes, I guess.

I have been meaning to finish season seven of Suits for months now, along with season five of Bates Motel. Then I got sidetracked by season (or series) 3 of Luther, which I finished watching this week. Now the question is do I move onto four or try to find more time for all the other shows I have already started, such as season 2 of Attack on Titan.

Not to mention the ones I have been meaning to start for a while now, such as Rick and Morty, because all my friends talk about it. Or Hemlock Grove because of Bill Skarsgard, who nailed his role as Pennywise the Clown in It. 

Let’s not forget all the movies I want to watch as well. My appetite for horror has increased after It and I now want to see Sinister and The Strangers.

All of these shows and movies only scratch the surface. I accept that this is a first world problem at it’s finest. I also accept that I simply can’t, or shouldn’t, make enough time to see all of them.

The Punisher

Daredevil’s second season was met with a more mixed reception than the first. There was criticism levied at the plot, which brought in more of the mystical elements from the comics, in contrast to a first season that was more realistic (realistic is relative with comic book adaptations). I personally detested the love story between Karen and Matt, which there was absolutely no indication of in the first season. One thing that many people loved, and probably wanted more of, was The Punisher.

The anti-hero featured heavily in the marketing and Jon Bernthal nailed his performance, before becoming more scarce in the latter half of the season. With the success (ratings wise) of DD season 2 and the reception for The Punisher it was obvious that he would likely get his own spinoff.

Today we got our first trailer for the show, a short but sweet teaser of what is to come. In short, I can’t wait for this show to come out and I am somewhat annoyed that Netflix has yet to reveal the exact release date. Fortunately, there isn’t that much time left in 2017 so it is coming out sooner, rather than later.

Firstly, this trailer doesn’t give away too much of the plot. DD season 2 introduced us to the conspiracy that Frank is a part of, a plan by government agencies to kill him so that certain secrets remain buried. As much as I am looking forward to Frank taking on the government, like some of the arcs in Punisher Max, I have to say this conspiracy is the one part of the Netflix punisher mythos I didn’t like. In the series, District Attorney Reyes admits that they were conducting a sting on a gang meeting in Central Park. Reyes chose not to clear the area in order to avoid tipping off criminals and this ultimately impacted Castle when the gangs caught on to the ruse.

The comics I’ve read so far that detail Frank’s origin, from Year One to the Max series (2004 and 2010), depict his family’s death as a simple issue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His family stumbles across a mob hit and the mob decides to eliminate witnesses. This sense of randomness and chaos is what made his family’s death so tragic. I think Frank’s vendetta against criminals as a whole makes more sense if he lost his family to something much more senseless than a sting gone wrong. However, Frank’s battles against other government agencies (from the looks of this trailer) could lead to some interesting overlap from the Punisher Max (2004) comics, which are gems for Punisher comics and comics as a whole.

With that said, the costume is actually my only other negative on display in this trailer. It doesn’t look terrible, and still gets the skull right, but I feel like the suit would look better with a different design for the vest itself. However, this is a relatively minor complaint since the show will hopefully have more to offer than a great wardrobe.

While Kevin Feige says the MCU films will never be dark, the Netflix shows have been a different story. The Punisher looks to continue that trend with the brutal headshots crammed into the two minutes of footage. I found some of the hand-to-hand fight scenes lacking in Iron Fist and Defenders, even for the characters who are supposed to be skilled martial artists. The choreography was weak and I’m hoping Frank’s style of combat will lend itself to some entertaining shootouts and some hand-to-hand fights as well. He is not as skilled a fighter as Daredevil but his fists are still deadly.

This trailer shows us a glimpse of Karen Page, who I feel has way more chemistry with Frank than she has with Daredevil.

Some of the most interesting subplots in the Punisher Max (2004) series was how the police reacted to Frank’s Killings. It is implied local police implicitly supported his actions, by never making serious moves to bring him in. Although they detested what he did on principle, they knew he was an unmatched deterrent against crime. The last scenes in the trailer, focusing on a group of detectives, makes me wonder if this series will also explore Frank’s actions from the other side.

Overall, this series is my most anticipated for the rest of the year and I have high hopes that it will deliver and possibly surpass Daredevil Season 1 as my favourite Marvel Netflix show.

Ozark Review

Anyone who’s on Netflix regularly knows that the site has pretty aggressive advertising for its newest series. Maybe you’ll just get the banner on the top of the site when you log in, or maybe you get a trailer up there too. Point being, that is how I was introduced to Ozark. I didn’t see any of the trailers prior to logging in to finally finish House of Cards but Jason Bateman’s more serious turn and a plot involving money laundering was enough to make me interested.

Firstly, the show draws a lot of comparisons to Breaking Bad. In reality, there aren’t that any similarities but people don’t need perfect comparisons to throw their own out. In Breaking Bad, a high school chemistry teacher (Walter White) is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and starts manufacturing crystal meth in order to make enough money to leave behind for his family.

Ozark follows Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman), a financial advisor and money launderer, who runs afoul of a Mexican cartel after his partner steals from them. Marty is able to convince the cartel boss, Camino Del Rio (Esai Morales) that he can launder the money to repay his debt. Without further ado, Marty moves his family to the cash-rich, tourist-rich area of Ozark, Missouri.

While Walter White started out as a moral man who initially engaged in crime out of economic desperation, Marty Byrde is a man whose greed and arrogance led him to believe he could engage in money laundering without any blowback.  As Bateman says, “Marty is not as smart as he thinks he is.” Marty doesn’t become more assertive as the season progresses, he is quickly established as an intelligent, if somewhat quiet person, who becomes a fast-talker when he needs to work himself out of a situation. His involvement in crime doesn’t change who he is.

Of course, there are some similarities but I believe that anyone who gives the show a chance will see there is plenty to differentiate it as well.

One great similarity is that the performances are outstanding. Bateman truly excels in the first non-comedic role I have seen him in. Of course, I was familiar with his relatively serious roles in comedies but here we see a stylistically unrecognizable Bateman who commands every scene. Bateman is also assisted well by Laura Linney (Wendy Byrde) and Skylar Gaertner (Jonah Byrde). Esai Morales is also a truly terrifying villain who owes a lot to the writing. His threat is established quickly and the actor is still able to exude charm and charisma that belies the acts of savagery he is capable of carrying out. Peter Mullan and Lisa Emery also have a memorable turn as the Snells, an Ozark crime family that Marty meet soon after the move. The list goes on and without spoiling too much of the plot, I will say that the story doesn’t have a slow start and genuinely didn’t have any moments that felt like they dragged. Even parts that I initially thought were unnecessary subplots all wound together well at the end. With maybe one exception.

Before I even finished watching the series, I had to vent about Charlotte Byrde, the worst character on the show. The character isn’t bad because she isn’t a good person. Very few of the main characters are truly good people. I was worried that as usual, the youngest character, would be the most annoying. Instead 13- year-old Jonah is played masterfully by Gaertner, best known as young Matt Murdock from Daredevil. His character development is also treated with a sensitivity that Charlotte does not get.

15-year-old Charlotte is small screen cancer. She is a stock character, the bratty teen who rebels and treats her family like garbage a lot of the time just because that is what older teenagers are supposed to do. Obviously a character may be upset that they have to leave their home, their friends etc. but Charlotte takes this to a whole other level. Minor spoiler, at one point she nearly boards a bus back to Chicago, without her parent’s knowledge. What stops her? Her mom finding out. It becomes hard to care for a character who repeatedly puts herself in dangerous situations and doesn’t seem to learn from her mistakes.  I can’t blame the actress too much since she does alright with what she’s given, but she is still the weakest out of the lot. Her character single-handedly brings the whole show down.

The only other complaint I truly have is that the death of a certain character came across as anti-climactic and an unfitting end. Aside from that, I can genuinely say that Ozark was engaging and well-written throughout.

Ozark and Charlotte Byrde

After finishing The Defenders I planned to set my sights on wrapping up Game of Thrones and finally finishing season 5 of Bates Motel. However, I was confronted by the same issues that led to me preferring to view shows readily available on Netflix. Friends I have spoken to have assured me that I am not alone in having trouble with Kodi. Either streams don’t load at all or they buffer like it’s going out of style. Sometimes I feel like I might as well be watching a slide show instead of a tv show.

Netflix however, loads just fine. A friend recommended Ozark and I am glad I took her suggestion. The series follows Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) as a financial planner who is forced to move his family to the Ozarks in Missouri after his partner attempts to launder money from a Mexican drug lord. Bryde must now launder or “clean” $8 million for the drug lord by the end of summer or face death.  I am only halfway through the series at the moment and it looks like I made a good decision. I saw the ads for the show pop up whenever I opened Netflix, and was intrigued to see Bateman in a serious role. I know he’s done serious roles before but until now, I’ve only seen him play the serious character or “straight man” in comedies.  Bateman’s performance is the best thing about the series so far. I could almost say that the writing and acting as a whole is great, but then we have Charlotte.

I will discuss my distaste for this character more in the review next week, but I have to vent about this brat. I can’t blame the actress since she is pretty good at portraying what the script asks of her. My issue is with the character itself. Charlotte is just the typical attitude-laden teen we see far too often in family comedies or dramas. She constantly insults her brother, her parents and even started calling them by their first names at one point because she was upset with them. In a show that offers inventive storytelling in so many other areas, it stands out more when we pretty much get a stock character taking up a decent chunk of screen time.

I’ll reserve more judgment until I finish the series, but I hope I’m not alone with how I feel here.