By Darwyn Carson — The new Netflix noir, Ozark, begs to be as luscious and tranquil as the shoreline on which the series title is based. And, to my knowledge, we haven’t had a streaming primetimer set in that terrain (Correct please, if I’m wrong) and that’s good. Because in a world filled with the highest quality, ready access, viewing ever in the history of television, it’s becoming nigh on impossible to stand out in the throng.
Cuz, let’s be real, if noir be your thing, most of what’s being presented is delectably chilling entertainment. Netflix, for one, is shooting out original product faster than a day trip from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen.
Ozark, streaming now, falls smack dab in the middle of that category and, while it is good, there’s something a bit familiar about the setup. It’s inevitable that it will butt up against Walter White comparisons. Probably, more than once. And yet… and yet… don’t let that cause a pause to click through. Because Ozark does work and like any noir-treat, the deeper you go, the better the experience.
Here are the bones…
Our hero Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) is normal times three; a financial advisor who appears to practice what he preaches to his clients. A family man wed twenty-two years, he is dedicated to providing Wendy (Laura Linney) and their two kids (girl, fifteen—boy, twelve), with that Dream long-held by most Americans—however overburdened it may have become.
There’s a structured paradigm to his life: he obeys traffic laws, invests wisely, doesn’t overspend and doesn’t zigzag on the highway in his sensible Toyota.
So how does Byrde end up with business partner Bruce Liddell (Josh Randall) who is his exact opposite? And what possessed Mr. True Flight to engage, with Bruce, in laundering the ill-gotten gains of drug lord Camino Del Rio (a devil-iciously subdued Esai Morales)?
In one scene Marty makes his nightly rounds of the kids after they’ve gone to bed. It’s been a tuff day. He’s weary from mentally processing some life changing information he’s discovered about Wendy. He checks in on son Jonah, (Skylar Gaertner) first; tucks in his dangling arm. Entering daughter Charlotte’s room, he pulls the covers up to her shoulders. Mere hours earlier at the dinner table, she’d been wholly disrespectful to her parents and exited the room in a churlish mood. Now, she appears peaceful, nearly childlike.
He places a gentle kiss on her forehead and whispers “Who loves his little girl?” This is a regular ritual. “You do, daddy.” Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) mumbles softly while in sleep mode.
Why is Marty doing what he does? Family. That thing we care, most, about. Our wives, husbands, daughters and sons. Mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. What won’t we do, “to make the world better for” those we love, is at the heart of what makes Marty run. A good man who stepped out of his lane with his big toe. Probably thought he’d get away with it… that he’d be able to control Bruce. He was wrong. To infinity and beyond.
Del Rio (aka Del) strong arms city man Marty Byrde into putting his house on the market, packing up and transporting his loved ones to a place they’ve never even visited during a family vacation; where he will resume his money laundering business in order to survive.
This is not a good guy who, once gone bad, finds he harbors an untapped capacity to execute acts of malice and evil. He wants to make things right again. For his kids, if not for Wendy; his spouse seems incapable of not betraying him given a chance.
Marty’s entire existence is viewed through the prism of family; he is unable to take in the far reaching effects of cleaning dirty money. Confronted with this, by his twelve-year-old, his concern is whether his son is going to be forever scarred; he never addresses Jonah’s accusations. When his world begins to dissolve under a mountain of incremental betrayals and mismoves, he transforms into a fixer, but his transformation is malleable.
His arrival in the Lakes of the Ozarks is also bumpy. He runs into a bubble-bubble and toil which is as sticky as what was brewin’ in Chicago only this is regional-based. And here is where the Walt White comparisons should start to fade away into so much dust.
Interacting with the Byrdes are:
The Langmores, a local petty-crime family whose leader, nineteen-year-old Ruth, has an amoral core yearning to jump into big league crime and she has the smarts to do it (abetted by Cade, her behind bars father (Trevor Long). Everything about Julia Garner’s (Kimmy from The Americans) portrayal rings true. There are some choice one on one face offs between her and Bateman.
An odd duck of an FBI agent, Roy Petty (Jason Butler) — who had Bruce (Marty’s partner) in his pay-pocket as a would-be snitch — is obsessed with bringing Marty to heel in order to snag Del and the Drug Cartel Overlord, Omar Navarro. He wrangles a transfer to the Lakes to set up an undercover sting operation.
There’s Rachel Garrison (Jordana Spiro) owner of the Blue Cat Lodge and mother to a slightly challenged young man named Tuck. Spiro has an intelligent, easy charm about her and, also, butts up against Ruth. Two strong-willed women keeping fire in their hearths, while carving out their own enterprises.
There’s a feel to Garrison and Byrde’s interplay that speaks to something more happening between them. He’s never cheated once in his 22-year marriage, but Wendy’s actions have not engendered a case for constancy. Watch this space.
What’s more, Ozark is replete with behind the camera talent: Bateman, not only stars, he serves as one of the executive producers and directed the first two and the last two episodes of the 10-episode series.
Directors, Daniel Sackheim, Ellen Kuras and Andrew Bernstein took charge of the six in between.
Joining Bateman in the Exec Producer chair is showrunner Chris Mundy, (Criminal Minds, Low Winter Sun and Hell on Wheels) and show creators Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams (The Judge, The Accountant) The organic feel to the lives, settings and scenarios of the province is rooted in Dubuque’s personal experience having had a cabin on The Lake of the Ozarks for some 25 years.
By the time our family ends up on the shores of the deep placid lake, the sensation that things are just getting started is palpable. Will Ozark stand out in a crowd of so many great choices? The enfolding players are superb and the connect-a-dot storytelling is rich and absorbing. That and a fresh location are a triage of elements that make Ozark a TVolution recommended Summer Watch.
Add it to your List. Click HERE for more summer suggestions.
The Ozark Cast: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner, Jordana Spiro, Jason Butler Harner, Esai Morales, Peter Mullan, Lisa Emery.
Ozark — Streaming Now on Netflix