TV Party: “Ozark”

All in the family. From left to right: Skylar Gaertner as Jonah Byrde, Jason Bateman as Martin “Marty” Byrde, Sofia Hublitz as Charlotte Byrde, and Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde in the Netflix series, “Ozark”

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” — Timothy 6:10

Now that Disney is going after Netflix’s audience share with their acquisition of the Fox empire (well, part of it anyway), it stands to reason that Netflix would focus more on original programming rather than do licensing deals with distributors. I believe on the whole this is good news for Netflix. Hollywood is generally a risk-averse town in greenlighting projects because they don’t meet the metric of being “bankable.” Netflix doesn’t have the tyranny of box office returns for metrics on a film’s success or failure. Rather, their users have supplied them with more useful data:  views.  How many, how often, and where. They certainly have more datasets they can draw upon to decide if a film, TV show or series does well — which seems to allow them more leeway to take risks on certain shows. And this is most likely why more and more producers turn to them to fund their projects.  The result has been an interesting mix of shows that illustrate when it comes to the creative part of the project, Netflix is hands off. This allows writers and filmmakers to take risks in terms of storytelling and style.

Case in point is “Ozark.” Jason Bateman stars as Martin Byrde, a financial planner from Chicago whose business partner is in deep with a Mexican drug cartel for money laundering. Through a series of events that gives Martin a second chance, he relocates his family to the Ozarks in Missouri to launder money for the cartel in exchange for his life — and the lives of his family members.

The show is a very dark exploration of the moral quandaries engendered by the love of money and power. What lengths will people go to improve their lot in life?  And what depths will they descend to keep what they have from threats to their lives and livelihoods? Explorations of the dark soul of humanity are often compelling because while many of us like to think of ourselves as good people, we are fascinated by how seemingly good people can unveil their lust for power by doing horrific things. “Ozark” is a show that has few sympathetic characters at the outset, but slowly discloses the vulnerabilities the main characters have as they are aware of the dark road they are walking down won’t lead to a good conclusion — even though there’s hope it will. At the center of the conflict between Marty and the Mexican drug cartel are a couple of heroin producers (Jacob and Darlene Snell), and 19-year-old Ruth Langmore — who is trying to learn from Marty about money laundering while vowing to kill him as well.

Marty’s marriage to Wendy is on the rocks after Marty hires a private detective to spy on her — revealing she’s having an affair. However, their relationship has moments of reconciliation after they move to Missouri and have to work together to keep their family from being killed by either Mexican drug lords, or the local crime family. Adding to that drama is the FBI tracking Marty after he left Chicago so quickly. The Feds are interested in Marty’s ties the Mexican cartel in the aftermath of his partner and many associates being butchered in the first episode. So, there’s a lot of conflicts driving this drama — with the specter of death always hovering. Jason Bateman is in good form here, as is Laura Linney. They have to navigate their troubled marriage and the dangers that lurk in the Ozarks in ways that require them to publicly suppress the stresses that go with the choices they have made. Other outstanding performances go to Julia Garner who plays Ruth. Her introduction was a little boilerplate, but her character evolved from a Machiavellian girl, to conflicted and sympathetic. Overall, “Ozark” makes for a very compelling drama. If you don’t mind a dark narrative where the characters just keep digging themselves deeper into a hole, then “Ozark” should be added to your Netflix queue.

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