As I finished my final episode of Being Mary Jane, an unfamiliar graphic flooded my Netflix screen. “Watch Ozark” it prompted me, the font all brooding caps lock. Ozark, I thought: The word pulled up images of the almost fictional land of the Missouri Ozarks, Southern twangs, and alligators (I’ve never been, so there’s a good chance I just described Florida).
After hearing rave reviews from my like-minded mother, I tuned into this unfamiliar Netflix Original, and I’m so glad I did.
The series, which launched on the streaming platform in late July, stars Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as a Chicago couple forced to relocate with their two children after business dealings with a Mexican drug cartel go South (pun intended).
In one of many desperate attempts to recruit Ozark fans, I recently tried describing this premise to my friends. “Dirty business with a cartel? How original,” was the gist of their response—and I must say, it was a valid one. Since Breaking Bad cemented the rise of the wayward anti-hero, illegal operations seem like the main source of conflict in almost all the serial dramas I've seen.
That said, Ozark masters its worn genre.
Jason Bateman reveals a new dimension of his talent as Marty Byrde, a shrewd financial adviser who, in an effort to save himself and his family, vows to move to the “cash rich” Lake of the Ozarks and launder money for the cartel he’s found himself entangled with—promising their leader $500 million in five years.
Marty, with his 15-year-old daughter, 13-year-old son, and estranged wife in tow, manages to encounter trouble as soon as he sets foot in his new home, a fresh set of obstacles littering his path to freedom.
Every time a new problem arises, it’s inherently stressful for everyone involved (and by everyone, I mean the audience, aka me), but there’s a comfort in trusting Marty to find a way out. The anchoring lead is so smart and quick-witted that the pangs of anxiety that result from the show's high-stakes setup are made to feel both authentic and wholly surmountable.
Ozark’s villains are many, but their dynamics aren’t as black and white as drug lord or man who’ll “do anything” for his family. In addition to the series’ initial conflict, Marty also finds himself at odds with the Langmore family, a criminal clan led by a vulnerable yet cunning 19-year-old girl (Julia Garner), as well as the many other business-minded locals whose territory he’s impeding.
Ozark isn’t an easy watch. The series is grotesquely violent from its first episode, and it continues in such a manner through its season finale.
But this is precisely why Ozark is at the very top of its game: It’s terrifyingly real. The show spares no detail in its reality—the violence is authentic, the realm jarring, and the people complicated (not to mention completely devoid of any Hollywood glamor).
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Ozark thrives in its ability to paint a vivid picture within a well-known trope but in a way that elevates the form. Everything about the series, from the strength of its characters to the broad scope of its timeline, makes for a riveting first season and an exciting new addition to the league of Netflix Originals.
Or, if you want the TL; DR version of this article: WATCH. THIS. SHOW.