When it was originally on: 2017-present
Original network: Netflix
Where you can stream it now: Netflix
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: A financial adviser drags his family from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks, where he must launder money to appease a drug boss.
Why I picked it: I always love diving into shows that seem to be kind of a big deal within critics/awards circles but not a big deal in mainstream pop culture. I mean really, does anyone know ANYONE who actually watches Ozark? And yet this show won Emmys for Outstanding Directing and Best Supporting Actress. I also don’t often get the opportunity to go into a pilot with pretty much zero knowledge of the show’s premise, and Ozark presented me with such an opportunity.
What I liked: The underlying premise for this show doesn’t suck. A relatively boring financial advisor has to launder money for a drug cartel? I’m interested based on that sentence. In fact, the premise could just as easily lend itself to a funny sitcom as it does to a dark drama.
I also like what they’ve done with the whole catch-22 of whether or not Jason Bateman should divorce Laura Linney. He knows she’s cheating. She knows he’s laundering money. Neither character is trustworthy, but can they really afford not to trust each other. I wish they would’ve done even more with this couple’s dynamic than they did and hopefully they dig deeper in future episodes.
What I didn’t like: Ozark is the kind of show you get when you just look at what’s trending in the rest of television and try to distill it into a single show. I wish it felt like there was some interesting creative vision here and a team of talented artists felt compelled to follow that vision and that’s how the show happened. Instead, it feels like a team of suits at Netflix sat in a board room together and said “okay, so the focus groups are really into family men who are doing illegal shit on the side and muted color palettes. Let’s go from there.” To be clear, I’m not trying to say that the team behind Ozark ISN’T talented or competent, because that’s not the case. I’m just saying that I don’t feel like the genesis of this show started with an artist who had a burning desire to tell a story, rather a company’s burning desire to win awards.
Ozark makes a somewhat common mistake in believing that thrusting a character into an interesting situation is the equivalent of writing an interesting character. Take away the fact that Jason Bateman is laundering money for a drug cartel and what the hell is he? What do we learn about him? What kind of a human being is he? We know he’s good at his job and has money. His wife cheated on him. He misses sex. He’s the stock photo “boring middle aged man” that we’ve seen 1,000 times before. And that might be fine if say his wife or the villain or anyone else in this show was interesting, but no. I literally know nothing about anyone.
Imagine if we looked at say Season 3 of Breaking Bad and tried to make the same kinds of conflicts happen in a pilot. Anyone who’s familiar with the show knows that’s crazy. They know the genius of Breaking Bad lies is in its ability to take an average man whom we sympathize with and slowly transition him into more devious crime lord. The context makes it work, and Ozark doesn’t give us enough context to pull the story off. There’s nothing about this family that I find charming or interesting, so frankly I don’t really care what happens to them.
I also think shows that deal with convoluted professions such as financial planning give themselves a higher mountain to climb in that most audiences don’t really understand these professions. Ozark didn’t scale that summit. I have no freaking clue how Jason Bateman is going to make 500 million dollars in 5 years. I don’t have the background knowledge to tell if he was just bullshitting the cartel and is going to get caught later, or if this is a legitimate plan. If it is a legitimate plan, I have no real way of knowing how hard the plan will be to pull off. I don’t think I’m unique in this respect either. Breaking Bad holds your hand and walks you through what ingredients are needed to cook meth, how to build distribution, etc. But because Ozark doesn’t really have an equivalent to the Jesse Pinkman character you don’t get that here.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Not really. I really don’t watch too much “prestige tv” anyway, and I know if I wanted to, I could find a show with characters I find more interesting.