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TV Review: Ozark

SYNOPSIS:  A Chicago financial advisor, who has been quietly laundering money for a drug kingpin, must quickly uproot his family and move the operation to The Ozarks, after his partner is caught cheating the business. There, he bumps heads with a both a local drug dealer whose business he inadvertently interrupts, and a clan of ruffians, led by their 19-year-old niece, who want his money, all the while avoiding the eye of a tenacious FBI agent. He must complete his laundering, to save the life of his family, as they struggle to find their own path in this seemingly foreign way of life.

Ozark, TV Review, Netflix, Drama, Esai Morales, Laura Linney, Crime, Drugs, Jason Bateman

REVIEW: There has been a pretty gaping hole on television since the end of Breaking Bad and Justified. While we have seen stellar TV series like Better Call Saul and Fargo satiate our desire for criminally focused drama, there has not been a worthy successor to either Timothy Olyphant's Raylan Givens nor Bryan Cranston's iconic Walter White. Netflix will attempt to fill that gap with their new series Ozark which debuts it's first ten episode season on the streaming network on July 21st. While it is not quite up to par with either of those cable series, Ozark does offer up a very entertaining and complex narrative that has a lot of potential. Anchored by Jason Bateman, who also helmed almost half of the first season, Ozark is supported by a cast that includes Laura Linney, Esai Morales, Harris Yulin, Julia Garner and Peter Mullan. Not as flashy as some of Netflix's other original series, Ozark is tonally closer to the similarly themed series Bloodline, which itself is very underrated.

Now, I know what you are thinking: with Jason Bateman in the lead, the show has to be pretty funny. Well, it is and it isn't. Bateman, who directed both of the first two episodes, keeps the tone very melancholy and subdued. The visual feel of Ozark starts out very cold and the lack of an instrumental score underlies the very pared down feel of the series. The opening title cards appear to be placeholders using generic fonts but I wouldn't be surprised if that is what makes it to air. After the opening teaser scene, each episode of Ozark displays a black screen with a white O filled with four glyphs. Eagle-eyed viewers will be able to find what these basic images tie into within the plot of each chapter. Is this meant to be mysterious and edgy? I have yet to figure out the significance of this unique creative decision. Nevertheless, like those four glyphs, each hour of Ozark is full of a multitude of storylines that will keep you glued to your devices. This is a series well suited to binging.

Set in Southern Missouri, Ozark brings viewers to a setting not often seen on televison. Like Justified, Ozark does not glorify the redneck populated region of the United States but does use it to exemplify the fish out of water Byrds who have spent their lives in the metropolis of Chicago. Regional conversations about the Cubs and Cardinals, downtown Chicago, and other Illinois and Missouri regional eccentricities will surely keep Midwestern audiences tuned in but everyone else will be checking out the abundance of nudity and violence. This is definitely not a tame basic cable series but rather a drama that is not afraid to show you everything from disembowelings to melted human remains. Ozark is dark, brooding and very dangerous. I do commend Jason Bateman as a director for tackling material very different than his feature films BAD WORDS and THE FAMILY FANG, but he doesn't utilize his own deadpan comic timing as well as he could have. Bateman is a serviceable surrogate for Walter White in that this series presents what Breaking Bad could have become should Walter have told his family what he was doing from the very beginning. Here, we meet the characters already stooped in their criminal acts and it is the desperate grab for survival that brings them to the narrative of this show.

But the best aspect of Ozark has to be the supporting cast. Like Justified, Ozark had to present a believable and realistic portrayal of a rural, poor region of the United States. There are, of course, your dumbass hillbilly characters, but it is the females that really make this show work so well. Julia Garner (FX's The Americans) is brilliant in a potential star-making turn as the thieving Ruth who befirends Bateman's Marty Byrd and tries to learn how to launder money. Equally good is Jordana Spiro as the proprietor of a local resort who gets close to Marty. Both of these women evoke a realistic edge while also layering their performances with some truly great acting. Laura Linney is fantastic as Wendy, the adulterous wife of Marty, who is both protective of her family while also trying to find a way to make the less than luxurious living conditons work for her. 

Ozark, TV Review, Netflix, Drama, Esai Morales, Laura Linney, Crime, Drugs, Jason Bateman

Written by Bill Dubuque (THE ACCOUNTANT), Ozark turns a mild-mannered financial planner into a surprising criminal but he is not one without flaws. For the first half of the season, you are left on edge wondering just how the hell Marty will get his family out of the mess he has fallen into with the Mexican cartel. Esai Morales plays a pretty scary druglord but as the series progresses, we soon learn that American criminal empires can be just as dangerous. Embodied by Scottish actor Peter Mullan, the Ozarks have their own money laundering needs that butt up against Marty's schemes. The results are never boring but viewers may find themselves trying to keep track of everything that is going on. Through the ten episodes I watched, I barely came up for air which definitely speaks to the quality of the material, but I was often left wondering what happened to characters or stories introduced hours before. Ozark can be frustrating in that ten episodes both feels like too much and not enough.

If there is one problem with Ozark it is that the show has trouble sticking with a consistent feel. Both the opening and fourth episodes of the show open with a voiceover and soundtrack selection that owes a great deal to the films of Martin Scorsese while the other episodes feel like they have too many characters to keep track of. There is so much going on in every hour that I would be stunned if the show didn't have enougn material for at least two or three more seasons. But, with Netflix really needing their original series to land big numbers, the odds may be against Ozark. I would not bet against the potential for this series to grow into one of the best dramas on television, especially if they give Bateman a little more room to use his comedic chops to enhance the darkness of the story. Ozark is bound to be another sleeper hit for Netflix and one you should definitely add to your watch list.

Netflix debuts all 10 episodes of the first season of Ozark on July 21st.

Source: JoBlo.com

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