Ozark: Season 1 Review

Ozark is a Netflix original family crime drama that has been heavily likened to Breaking Bad and although there are similarities, it’s clearly an individual series that should be reviewed on its own merits, so let’s get into it.

The first episode introduces the Byrde family, consisting of Marty (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Laura Linney), their daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), an everyday family who have their lives turned upside down in the blink of an eye. Marty co-runs an accountancy firm that works with the Mexican drug cartel, laundering money. When the cartel boss discovers Marty’s partner and others are skimming off of the profits, he executes everyone involved in stealing from him, all except Marty, who manages to convince him that he will get all his money back and more by moving to the Ozark Lake in Missouri where opportunities are plentiful to “clean” his money. All this is crammed into the beginning twenty minutes and every second is palpable.

From the moment the family arrive in the Ozarks, nothing goes to plan. Not only has Marty got to protect and launder eight million in cash but his promised investment opportunities are clearly few and far between. Juggling this, along with keeping his children safe and emotions at bay from his unfaithful wife, made the first two episodes awe inspiring. Along the way, new and interesting, if somewhat clichéd, characters are introduced and story arcs are expanded but most notable is the dialog, which is intellectual, thought provoking and might make one question their ethics.

The characters and dialog are really what holds the audience’s attention for the next episode, the story is standard but we’ll get to that soon. Predominantly focusing on the Byrde family, each member is given adequate attention, depicting how they’re individually dealing with the difficult circumstances. The dynamic between Marty and his wife is especially interesting. The performance by Jason Bateman is nothing you’ve not seen from his movies (which is by no means a bad thing), however his character is fantastic; he is a broken man, desperate yet determined, he doesn’t give in to drama and his dialog is rightfully authentic, but shouldn’t make the audience feel they need a degree in business and finance to follow on.

The Snell family consisting of Jacob and Darlene, the local crime lords, were convincing as villains and still have an air of mystery surrounding them. It would’ve been refreshing to see these characters look past their tropes and make an impact matching the actor’s performances but what’s delivered is more than adequate. The Langmores, another criminal family with the big cheese locked away in prison, stole most scenes they were in and are easily the most memorable. These characters did in fact turn the redneck cliché on its head, they were intelligent, ambitious and dare it be said, logical. Ruth, the Langmore daughter is played beautifully by Julia Garner; she compliments everyone she interacts with, fighting her family loyalty against her human instincts and decency. Del (Esai Morales), the Mexican crime lord, makes a huge impact, his appearances are few but every time he is on screen you know he means business, all in he is superb.

The remaining supporting cast all play their respective roles well, and were integrated into the story nicely, but frankly they only served to bulk out the setting. If they were removed, little would be missed about them…well, except for Buddy, the Byrde’s tenant; the mystery surrounding this character is rage-inducing in the best possible way.

The story offers nothing unique; it amalgamates crime drama tropes and expectations and often relies too heavily upon them. The premise is set up perfectly throughout the first two episodes, but it takes a nose dive, replacing promising story arcs with less interesting elements and then taking too long to explain itself. Breaking Bad will no doubt pop into your mind throughout; there are many similarities, a man trying to protect his family from drug lords while laundering money is practically the same premise for them both, yet each executed very differently. The story closes out well, leaving nothing overly open ended; it warrants a sequel but if you never get one at least it’s reasonably tidy.

Ozark is a must-watch for fans of crime drama; it’s smart, engaging and thought provoking. It’s not easily bingeable, the lack of cliff hangers don’t promote immediate next-episode, must-watch mentality, and frankly some episodes make you feel as though a break is a necessity. Nevertheless, the narrative perfectly intertwines characters throughout, effectively creating an atmosphere of fear, dread and excitement. If season two brings much of the same then we’re in for another thrill ride.

One final note … the baby … WTF!

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