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.