Review: Netflix’s OZARK – the dirty business of cleaning money.

Ah, Netflix. You always bring us the best stuff.

When you watch the trailer for Ozark, it comes across as yet another dreary, melodramatic, terse crime story with no real flavor beyond – “THIS IS DARK AND DRAMATIC!” Ozark goes beyond that cliché and into something more idiosyncratic and engaging than other shows in the same genre.

Synopsis: “A Chicago-based financial advisor secretly relocates his family to the Missouri Ozarks when his dealings with a drug cartel go awry.”

For those of you who don’t know, the Ozarks is an odd mish-mash of rich tourists, spring break partiers and the locals who keep the tourism meat grinder cranking along. Imagine a more “Americana” version of the Hamptons and you’ll have an idea of what we’re getting into.

Martin Byrde (Jason Bateman) gets caught up in some cartel drama and talks his way out of certain death by convincing his boss, Del (Esai Morales doing a damn good “respectable criminal”) that he can clean a metric fuck-ton of money if he relocates to the Ozarks. This is a scrambling, last ditch effort by Marty to save himself and his family – but Del reluctantly agrees out of sheer curiosity.

The crux of the story, beyond Marty attempting to navigate the bizarre sub-culture of the Ozarks, is that he recently found out that his wife Wendy (Laura Linney. I mean, it’s Laura Linney – of course she’s great!) had been cheating on him.

So on top of all this “clean an ungodly amount of money in 3 months or you and your family are dead” drama, he’s also still emotionally processing the fact that his wife has been unfaithful to him.

As a great man once said, “Shit gets deeper. You get the picture?”

Already you’re probably thinking, “Seen this before. Drama, drama, drama – the husband and wife fight all the time. Backstabbing, betrayal, melodrama. No thanks.”

While that is a more-than-reasonable assumption to make about this story, it’s way off-base. Ozark actually side-steps a lot of the archetypes associated with this style of show and hones in on a more realistic, nuanced version of family dynamics after finding out that daddy is cleaning drug money for the second largest cartel in Mexico. Characters aren’t flung into annoying dramatics at every turn ***coughsSkylarBreakingBadcoughs*** or made completely unlikable by their morally reprehensible actions. It downplays the melodrama and in doing so makes the show more engaging.

We’re so used to characters flying off the handle and behaving in a rash manner to shock the audience that it’s become rote at this point. The bad guy threatens the good guy’s family. The good guy make some speech about how “don’t you ever threaten my family” and then seethes, just waiting for the right opportunity to strike back.

Seen it a million times before.

Marty Byrde isn’t an exceptional man (aside from being a good accountant). He’s not a hero or a villain. He doesn’t magically acquire the ability to remorselessly murder people or hatch some long-running evil plan for vengeance. All he can do is what he knows – cleaning the money. At every turn, in the face of every obstacle – every drugged-out hillbilly, every greedy strip club owner, every overly-ambitious FBI agent – Marty. Byrde. Cleans. Money.

That’s his superpower. He finds a way to approach every snake-fuckingly-bizarre thing happening around him with the same attitude he would an error in his cable bill. The downside is that is paralleled in his relationship with his wife and kids as well, but it proves to be a perfect obstacle for this character to grapple with. It is from that grounded characterization that Ozark grows a mesmeric sprint towards Byrde meeting his deadline.

As previously stated, this show isn’t overly dramatic. As much as Bateman (who acts his ass off in this one) tones down his natural charm, it still shines through when he’s talking about numbers or a new venture by which to clean the cartel’s money. The cast of weirdos he’s in bed with really rounds out the cast and makes the pace of the show hum right along with no filler.

Most notably is Ruth Langmore (a show-stealer of a character portrayed by Julia Garner). If the Ozarks had a Boyd Crowder (Justified), Ruth would be it. She’s not at the top of the food chain, but everyone who hears her name knows she’s trouble and one with whom you do not fuck. Honestly, this character could have her own damn show because she is that cool.

To really go into too much more detail would be giving away some of the finer points of the show, but it will definitely reel you in if you’re a fan of shows like Breaking Bad or Justified (though, like I said, Ozark really dials back the melodrama and is a much easier show to binge – I wasn’t sure I’d like this show, but after watching the first episode I finished the whole season in two days). Ozark is another example of Netflix’s penchant for delivering off-beat shows that other networks might be gun-shy about taking on.

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