Netflix, the most popular streaming service, is spending more than six billion dollars on original content, with quantity often beating quality. But there’s always a few shows that every year stun the critics with their picture, screenwriting and acting talent.
This year, there’s one that hit the mark: “Ozark”. It premiered in the summer, but it’s still underrated.
Martyn Byrd, a financial planner from Chicago, finds out his business partner and best friend has been stealing money from the Mexican cartel that he was laundering money for. He must go down south in the middle of nowhere in Missouri to pay the mobster back and prove his own laundering skills. Why? the cartel boss will murder his family if he won’t comply. In the meantime, he discovers that his wife was cheating on him for months.
Still not enough: he’ll soon have the local cops and the FBI on his back. That’s just the first episode.
The crime drama is set in a specific and unusual location, which gives the name to the show: The Lake of the Ozarks, a rural area between the U.S. states of Missouri and Arkansas. The place is known for “Party Cove”, where thousands of wild and rowdy college students celebrate the spring break partying on boats, featured in the show as well.
The man in charge is Jason Bateman, who plays Byrd and not only displays amazing acting skills, but also produces the show and directed four episodes.
The way he portrays Byrd’s feelings is crisp, you can see crystal clear in the characters’ mind. The dialogues he has to perform to bring Byrd alive are challenging, as they get into the technicalities of finance and economics, but he confidently delivers.
“There are no tricks to it,” Bateman told the New York Times. “It’s going to rely on our ability to make it feel authentic and raw, and to get the audience into that vicarious place”, he added.
Laura Linney, who plays Byrd’s wife, also evokes powerful and genuine emotions in the spectator, without stepping on Bateman’s lead.
The filming is quite basic, though there is a quest to highlight cold colors, particularly turquoise green, olive green and light blue. This points to the dark themes explored, but also helps the viewer to submerge in the humid and muddy location of the Ozarks.
Netflix marketed the series as “the new Breaking Bad”, which was an overstatement of course. It’s not nearly as artistic, original and complex as Gilligan’s masterpiece. Yet, just like the AMC show, it stands from the pack and will hook you straight away with twists and turns. The themes are similar too: killings, drugs, and a protagonist whose psyche slowly and subtly morphs from “just a dad” to finally become a ruthless thug, as the money and power keep coming.
In Breaking Bad it was the focal point, an escalation that stunned the viewer, that brought us to root for an evil genius. It was a more refined process, that lasted for several seasons. Other shows, like Dexter, establish it from the beginning: your hero is a serial killer, you must be on his side. The success of both proved how well this concept works.
Here, it seems a bit rushed, as the writers didn’t know if the show was going to be renewed, but it did carry the story forward, so much so that a second season was ordered just a couple weeks later from the pilot’s premiere. The plot slips and gets banal towards the last episodes, but finds its ammunition again and fires strong in the season finale, leaving you on the edge of your couch.
Why you must watch it: Wild, anything goes type of entertainment. You’ll forget you have work the day after.