When I heard Netflix was producing a dark thriller set in the Lake of the Ozarks with Jason Bateman breaking bad as a Mexican Cartel money laundering everyman, I was intrigued.
Ozark doesn't provide the viewer with much they haven't seen before on the small or big screen, but thrives due to a few intangibles.
After all, producing a riveting television series depends on a few things: a trusting lead actor to get your attention, a few shocking moments that push the boundaries, and a breakout actor that turns your head.
I mean, let's be honest. Netflix is producing so many accessible treats these days that every single week looks like Halloween for entertainment fans wanting a different spin on the well-known every week with a good face in front of it.
People aren't comparing Ozark to Breaking Bad for nothing; the comparison sticks like honey to the finger tips. An investment advisor (Bateman) with a suburban family and quiet life secretly laundering money for a powerful drug cartel who has to reset his entire life due to his partner in crime skimming money from the boss (Esai Morales).
Bateman's Marty Byrd is spared his life due to the fact that he can think quickly on his feet with a gun pointed at his head, so after Morales' Del shoots everyone else connected to his Chicago based operation, Byrd convinces him to launder money in one of the best kept secret hot spots in the United States: The Ozarks during the summer season. All Byrd has to do is deal with a cheating wife (Laura Linney) and disgruntled children before washing eight million dollars in three months.
Bateman is the trusted lead actor here who keeps you riveted throughout the entire series. He's a trustworthy face. Byrd isn't a fighter or a lover, he's a survivor who will do whatever it takes to keep his family safe. His greatest tool is his mind and ability to not lose it during moments of stress (especially when a head is blown off right next to him), and Bateman really knows how to tap into that.
He's an actor who established himself in Hollywood through comedic spiced roles such as Arrested Development and Horrible Bosses. What he's also done under the radar is show a dramatic side in films like Disconnect, This Is Where I Leave You, and The Gift. He blends those two things together to show a guy who isn't good or bad, yet uses his desperation to fuel whatever morality that is required for a given situation.
Byrd runs into several obstacles once he lands in Missouri, the least of which being seemingly the largest trial: scheming local businesses into selling to him in order for his millions to be laundered undetected. Chief among the problems are the Snell family, with Jacob (the great Peter Mullan from Cinemax's Quarry) throwing all kinds of shade Marty's way. They are the local redneck drug family who uses a poppyseed farm as a cover for heroin distribution. They want a piece of the action and bend Marty's plan in a number of ways, creating trouble.
Enter the Langmores, another family of thieves and nit-wits with one goal in life: make money no matter what it takes. Low-level criminals who don't care about their reputations. Unlike the Snells, the Langmores have no leverage over local law enforcement, but keep getting stuck in the crosshairs of Marty's operation.
The breakout actress in this series is Julia Garner, playing the most notorious Langmore, Ruth. A tiny woman with pale skin, bleach blonde hair, and conniving ways, Ruth connects herself to Byrd early and Garner's trick is keeping us on the edge of our seats wondering if she is going to be the log to jam up his plan or the secret recipe that helps see it through. She's the classic case of "looks aren't everything, but sure get the mind started" type of character. Garner hasn't done anything this substantial before, so she's like the Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) of 2017.
Let's not forget about Darlene Snell, played to the tilt by Lisa Emery, who is so creepy that IMDB doesn't even have a picture of the actress. While Jacob is the ringleader of the Ozark drug circuit, Darlene is the executioner you won't take your eyes off.
There's also a wise old man who assists the Byrd family (Harris Yulin), the unnerving Byrd son with uncomfortable obsessions, the rebellious Byrd daughter, and a clingy FBI Agent (Jason Butler Harner) hellbent on stopping Marty. Jordana Spiro is the local business owner who has too much of a conscience to swallow the Byrd Family's plan.
Ozark produces shocking moments that don't want to leave the mind in a hurry. A man literally smacking into the pavement in front of Marty along with the number of character shootings fuel the pilot. A woman literally catches a bus in the street and while it's not shown on the screen, a pregnant woman most likely suffers a terrible death. Oh, there's also a near baby drowning near the end.
Here's what I think went into showrunner Chad Mundy, Bateman, and writer Bill Dubuque's head when drawing up this series? Let's get an actor most know by his comedic roles playing a criminally embedded everyman and sprinkle the familiar setup with eye opening moments that help band the series together.
Without doing much original in the plot department, Ozark holds your attention with a great lead, a breakout supporter, and a number of chilling moments that stick to you. And that's fine. Ozark won't go down as an all time Netflix great like Stranger Things, but like its lead character's morals, it is flexible enough to serve a number of purposes.
The wrap-up isn't mind blowing. People die, others live, and a few just hang around. There are a few threads that are left untied so the recently announced second season can start to connect. The finale has entertaining yet predictable moments, with the final scene rolling in like a thunderstorm the weathermen predicted days ago.
Linney acquits herself as an imperfect woman who agrees to do more imperfect things so her family doesn't get killed, but I was more impressed by Bateman, Garner, and Emery's work.
Ozark is like bacon. Netflix owners will devour it before they realize how much grease is going into their system, but the allure was too much to pass up upon first glance, and in the end the satisfaction will barely outrun the regret.
Come for Bateman, stay for the thrills, and remember Garner.