Title: Ozark: Season 1
Directed by: Jason Bateman, Daniel Sackheim, Andrew Bernstein & Ellen Kuras
Written by: Bill Dubuque, Mark Williams, Ryan Farley, Paul Kolsby, Matin Zimmerman, Whit Anderson, Alyson Feltes, Chris Mundy
Starring: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner, Lise Emery, Charlie Tahan & Jordana Spiro with Others
Produced by: Jason Bateman, Chris Mundy, Bill Dubuque & Mark Williams
Reel Talk - Ozark: Season 1 (2017)
Ozark is an innovative and original twist on classic television tropes with excellent performances and strong writing. Where most other crime thrillers/dramas will focus primarily on either the crime or the drama, Ozark strikes a delicate balance, weaving the two elements together in a perfect marriage.
Jason Bateman portrays Martin “Marty” Byrde, an accountant for a Mexican drug cartel. When his existing arrangement with the Navarro cartel gets disrupted, he is forced to uproot his family and move to the Ozarks.
The crime drama genre of television has produced some great shows—from the ground-breaking-cum-schtick Criminal Minds to the almost-arthouse True Detective. Carving out some space and finding a new and original story to tell in this always crowded category of television is no small feat for show creators Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams but they manage to do so with Ozark. You won’t find a Mexican drug cartel bumping up against a backwater heroine kingpin much anywhere else. But it’s still the unique blending of personal drama and dirty business that makes this show so original.
Certainly, we’ve seen crime dramas that have been heavy in the drama department—The Sopranos, Peaky Blinders and Sons of Anarchy come to mind. We’ve even seen the fish-out-of-water bit recently in the crime drama genre in Breaking Bad. Audiences and critics are most likely to compare Jason Bateman’s outing in Ozark to Bryan Cranston’s towering and resurgent performance as Walter White. Indeed, the entire series is most likely to be compared to Breaking Bad. But, while the similarities in premise are undeniable, they end there.
The show-writers built metaphor into the foundation of this show with Martin Byrde stuck in two “difficult” marriages—one to his wife and the other to a drug cartel. They mirrored the action of the exterior drug world with the tensions and trials within the Byrde family, thereby creating an inextricable bond between the crime and the drama.
“Blending together the worst elements of a Stepford wife and Lady Macbeth…”
It is this distinctive narrative style coupled with exceptional character writing that sets Ozark apart from its genre-kin. Plus, if shows like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy were too slow for you then look no further than Ozark—the series ratchets up the tension from the very beginning and never lets up. The world-building in the first few episodes is done with bodies for bricks and blood for mortar.
Martin “Marty” Byrde is Jason Bateman’s most impressive dramatic role to date. Bateman displays a range that we haven’t seen from him while his proven comedy chops are deployed to devastating dramatic effect, expressing emotions like pain, anger, frustration, fear and hate with caustic sarcasm and pointed silence.
Not to be outdone, Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde is sumptuous. If audiences will compare Jason Bateman as Martin Byrde to Bryan Cranston as Walter White, then Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde will be compared to Robin Wright as Claire Underwood in House of Cards. Blending together the worst elements of a Stepford wife and Lady Macbeth, Linney creates a character who is powerful and, above all else, a compelling show-stealer. Very much like we all are, Wendy Byrde is a complicated and intricate web of contradictions that Linney navigates with small gestures and acute changes in facial expression.
Nevertheless, there is a feeling of “potential” throughout the first season of the show, as if the characters and the story are waiting just beneath the surface of the lake… waiting for what, I don’t know. Still, Ozark has a tendency towards the bold and operatic that could, were it not for the performances of Jason Bateman and Laura Linney, pull you out the show’s murky lake waters. Fortunately, the water is more than nice enough to go for a season-long binge swim in Lake Ozark.