Ozark (Netflix, 2017-21)
When I first saw Ozark float across the Netflix screen, my instant thought was 'So, Breaking Bad then?' I loved that show, and was desolate when it ended after a mere five seasons, so I was delighted to think that something new in a similar vein was available.
Ozark is up to three seasons so far, with a fourth and final season coming in January 2022.
Financial adviser Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) is on the way to middle age and his life is imploding nicely along the way. His wife Wendy (Laura Linney) is falling in love with her regular bit on the side, and his kids Charlotte and Jonah are like all teenagers: they have nothing whatsoever to say to either of their parents.
The only bright side is that Marty is loaded, but even that is about to be taken away from him as his business partner has been skimming off funds from the money their business launders for the Navarro drugs cartel. The cartel's enforcers arrive to demand an explanation in their own unique style, and with the partner and his girlfriend dissolving in a vat of acid, Marty is forced to think quickly.
Marty's promise to launder even more money for Navarro, and questions from the FBI about what has been happening, lead the Byrdes to flee to the Ozarks, a series of lakes in rural Missouri. They attempt to fit in as inconspicuously as possible while simultaneously buying up locals businesses to use as fronts for their money laundering.
Given the tight-knit nature of communities in places such as the Ozarks, Marty and Wendy are surprisingly successful. Very soon local restaurants, strip joints and casinos are washing the drug dollars clean.
I was quickly drawn in by the premise of Ozark, which developed nicely across seasons one and two. Into season three the narrative became more about the disintegrating relationship between Marty and Wendy.
Each has very different notions of how the business should develop, with Marty wanting out as soon as possible and Wendy seeking to persuade Navarro that going legit through increasing their investments of the casino business is a more sustainable business model for the long term.
Season three felt uneven at times with Marty and Wendy working together when needed and then spatting again, sometimes in the same episode. This wasn't as enjoyable as the first two seasons where they tended to be on the same page about the business but struggled to rebuild their marriage after Wendy's affair.
The making of season three for me came with the introduction of two new characters. Navarro is complex and intriguing, and it was great to see the movement up from the second in command and get a glimpse into this character's family life.
The arrival of his legal attack dog (Janet MacTeer) from Chicago to keep Marty and Wendy in line was also fascinating. I've previously seen MacTeer in English costume dramas and murder mysteries of the Miss Marple persuasion, so it was great to see her doing something radically different.
The locations were amazing, even though they were filmed in Georgia rather than Missouri. Many of the shots involve lakeside and on-the-water locations and, at various times of day, these were truly stunning. The directors made the most of the locales with plenty of outdoors shots. Local small-time criminal family the Langmores exist out of doors all summer long, lolling around on sofas strewn around outside their mobile homes.
Higher up the food chain are Darlene and Jacob Snell, who grow opium poppies on their farm, and the woodland and field shots of their home were amazing. The small shops and businesses, hotels and diners peppering the side of the lakes gave a very genuine feel to the shots. It's fair to say that no opportunity to film outside was passed up. I liked this. I really felt like it grounded the action.
Ozark had a big cast, but the standout performances for me came from Julia Garner as Ruth Langmore and Lisa Emery as Darlene Snell. I hadn't seen either actor before but each delivered a nuanced performance, often violent and angry but also tempered into sincere emotion and with fully developed backstories to deepen the characterisation.
I really got into Ozark and happily binge watched the whole thing every time a new season arrived on Netflix. It is probably right that season four will be the last one, since Breaking Bad established that short and sweet is the order of the day for this sub-genre of crime thriller. The end of season three saw Darlene and Ruth align themselves against the Byrdes after much fluidity of loyalty during season three from all the main characters. I'm looking forward to seeing whether anyone is still standing by the final episode.
Thank you so much for reading my review of Ozark. My next post is on Wednesday. In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov here.