It was really the perfect thing to watch at this time, given my revived interest in Southern Gothic (Harry Crews’ A Feast of Snakes notwithstanding; I just need to find better examples of Southern Gothic to read, and every once in a while I’m going to come across something I don’t like; it’s just the odds, really).
But Ozark hit all the right notes, and combining great writing and storytelling with stunning cinematography, terrific acting in complex, multi-layered characters, and complicated relationships between those characters, and you get an amazing show. Ozark is just that; and I do hope it will be renewed.
Ozark is the latest in a series of television programs focusing on people who could be your friends or neighbors and are actually criminals. There were times when it reminded me of Weeds; I’ve heard other comparisons, like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos as well. Marty Byrde, our main character, played perfectly by Jason Bateman (and back in the 80’s, who thought Jason Bateman would be the biggest star in that family?), is a numbers guy; he’s a partner in a very successful Chicago financial investment firm; he’s more of a look at the numbers and do the math kind of guy, while his partner is more of a dude bro salesguy; he makes the sales, but Marty is the one who takes care of the clients’ money and investments. In the very first episode, a Mexican drug lord, Dell, shows up with guns and goons, takes everyone in the firm hostage, and starts threatening them for stealing; everyone is killed–but Marty thinks quickly, promises to replace the money that was stolen, and launder it all; he decides to leave Chicago and set up shop at Lake of the Ozarks. His wife, played by the SUPERB Laura Linney (who makes everything better by just showing up), is having an affair and isn’t sure she wants to escape with Marty. Of course, Dell is having her watched as well–and alerts Marty to the fact she’s emptied their accounts and headed over to her lover’s apartment…the end result is her lover is thrown off the high balcony, literally landing at Marty’s feet when he arrives, and the Byrdes flee to Missouri to set up a money laundering business for the drug cartel in Lake of the Ozarks.
The writing is so crisp, the dialogue so real, and the characters are beautifully rendered and portrayed by the cast. Once they are at the lake, the Byrdes run afoul of some locals–the morally challenged Langmores, headed by teenaged Ruth; a star-making role for her portrayer, Julia Garner. Ruth is smart, battered by life, and mean–she wants to get her and her family out of the trailers they live in and into a better life; the developing relationship between her, her cousins, and the Byrdes is one of the strongest prongs of the show. There’s also a gay FBI agent, whose partner was also his partner in their private life but they are no longer together, which makes working together for them a challenge; Agent Roy Petty is one of the more unlikable characters on the show, and it’s very interesting to see such a developed, unlikable gay character on television. He’s also part of one of the most clever and original gay subplots I’ve ever seen; but saying any more than that would give away spoilers.
The plot is so intricate, there are so many twists and turns, ups and downs, changes in direction that you cannot stop watching, nor can you let your mind wander–something small and seemingly insignificant in one episode can turn out to be really important later.
And the cinematography! Lake of the Ozarks, the surrounding forests and topography, are lovingly shot; and it’s also shot through a slightly darker lens, to make it all more beautiful and brooding.
I loved this show, was sorry to see the end of the first season, and can’t wait for it to come back.