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REVIEW: I should've watched the great 'Ozark' earlier

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#100. Ozark

A scene from Netflix’s “Ozark.”

For those wondering what is happening with “Ozark,” the Jason Bateman, Laura Linney fronted crime drama about a financial advisor who moves from Chicago to the Ozarks with his family so he can continue to “clean money” for a Mexican drug cartel, worry no more. Netflix released a teaser trailer that tells its audience it will return in 2022. The fourth and final season will be in two parts, with its 14 episodes split into seven-episode blocks.

I don’t know why I was late to the party on “Ozark,” but I was. Netflix had suggested that I watch the Bill Dubuque/Mark Williams created series many times, but despite my adoration for Bateman, I always passed it over. Why I watched it, and got hooked on it recently, I don’t remember. Suffice it to say, it’s compelling, intense, and sometimes emotionally draining. It’s also one of the most consistently solid shows out there. Very well written, directed, and acted; a masterclass on how to do TV very well.

“Ozark” is easily one of my Top 10 favorite TV shows, ranking up there with “Breaking Bad,” “Justified,” “Deadwood,” “The Killing,” “Game of Thrones,” “Dexter” (first five seasons), “The Promised Neverland” (anime)/tied with “Attack on Titan” (anime), “Doom Patrol” and “The Sinner.”

During the first season of Ozark, Marty Byrde (Bateman) and his fast-and-loose business partner are kidnapped and interrogated by Del (Esai Morales), a lieutenant of sorts for Mexican drug kingpin, Navarro. Someone has been stealing money — $8 million, I think — from the cartel, and Del wants answers. After all is said and done, and everyone around him has been executed, fast-talking Marty survives, by promising to clean even more money than before. The only catch is that he needs to do it somewhere else.

He chooses this “hillbilly Riviera,” because he can capitalize on the surging tourist money and stay out of the spotlight of big city authorities. Reluctantly, Del acquiesces. The Byrde family — Wendy (Linney), daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz), and son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) — pack as fast as they can and move. Unfortunately for them, a relentless and morally bankrupt FBI agent, Roy Petty (Jason Butler Harner), is closing in.

If I ever wanted to visit the Ozarks, this show has ruined any possible desire. In this universe, the place is overflowing with dangerous and violent hillbillies, including the poppy growing/heroin manufacturing Snells (Peter Mullan and Lisa Emery), and the “cursed” in and out of jail Langmore family — Ruth (Julia Garner), her father Cade (Trevor Long), her uncles Russ (Marc Menchaca) and Boyd (Christopher James Baker), and her cousins Three (Carson Holmes), and Wyatt (Charlie Tahan). Even though he’s supposed to be the “good guy,” FBI Agent Petty is just as unhinged and dangerous as everyone else. Later on, we meet Navarro’s lawyer, Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer), who is a psychopath ready to “fix” any problem that arises. (And nothing “fixes” things better than waterboarding and murder.)

If this Iron Lady shows up at your door, your buttocks tighten. After a few seasons, the head of the Kansas City mob, Frank Cosgrove (John Bedford Lloyd), joins the throng with his entitled unpredictable son (Joseph Sikora). Clearly, there weren’t already enough cutthroat maniacs walking around.

One of the characters that I really came to enjoy seeing was Buddy Dieker a.k.a. Jimmy Smalls (Harris Yulin), the terminal owner of the house into which the Byrdes moved. Back in the day, he was a troublemaking, feisty Detroit union man; now, because of a “bad ticker,” he’s on oxygen and winding down his clock in his basement apartment. Despite being sick, he can still be found skinny dipping in the lake, teaching Jonah how to shoot, and, sometimes, even saving the day. Yulin has been around Hollywood for a LONG time, but this has to be his most memorable role.

It’s difficult to single out any one actor for praise, because everyone in “Ozark” is exceptional. The charismatic and boyish Bateman, of course, was the draw, but the series doesn’t focus on his character exclusively. This is truly an ensemble piece with each one getting fleshed out and having their own conflicts. And boy does everyone have a surfeit of baggage and damage! The Snells are particularly terrifying. Their families have lived in the Ozarks for decades, but their land was stolen and flooded by the Electric Company. Driven by vengeance, and maybe too much isolation, they are formidable foes. Scottish actor Mullan puts on a thick Southern drawl for Jacob, a frequently Bible quoting merciless viper; but it’s his wife, Darlene, played with terrifying perfection by Lisa Emery, who is the one to beware.

Just when you think everything’s OK, she sticks you in the neck with a heroin-filled syringe and watches you die. (She does even worse than this.) She’s a black-eyed, cold monster.

Although he was only in one season — season three — Wendy’s bipolar brother, Ben Davis (Tom Pelphrey) was another standout. When we meet him, he’s in front of a classroom, trying to teach math. Within a split second, he’s angrily snatching away every students’ cell phones, throwing them into a trash can, and then chucking them, angrily, into a wood chipper. It shouldn’t surprise you, that he’s fired, and not long after he shows up on his sister’s doorstep, he’s like a wrecking ball to everything and everyone around him. He also serves as a brief love interest for Ruth, who, herself is a fascinating character. The only female living in the testosterone trailer park of Langmores, she appears strong, capable, tough, and very clever, but most of this is a façade, as she’s endured a lot of trauma in her 20-something years.

What I like about Ozark is that characters are complicated; ethically challenged, let’s say. No one is completely bad, and they definitely aren’t “good.” There is a lot of moral grey area. Why did Marty, who is maybe the most “ethical” character, agree to work with a cartel? One might think it would be the potential for earning a lot of money, but in fact, his ability to work the numbers and game the system is savant-like, and the challenge was what hooked him. Whereas he’s methodical and hyperfocused — probably neurodivergent — his wife, who worked on Obama’s Chicago campaign, is a manipulative, quick thinking woman fueled by power and ego. She’s much more dangerous and chaotic. Their daughter is like Wendy; their son, like Marty. Even seemingly likeable, morally neutral characters end up being problematic. The show is like a modern Shakespearean tragedy. Everyone is driven by forces that lead them further and further down a dark path, from which there seems no escape. And yet, they always find a way to rationalize their horrible behavior and bad decisions.

“Ozark” is definitely binge-worthy, but as each episode averages an hour, it’s difficult to watch more than a few at a sitting. Also, as I said, it’s emotionally draining. Every episode involves serious conflict and terrible consequences/repercussions. This isn’t a “light” drama. It is, in many ways, like “Breaking Bad,” which I found revolutionary when it debuted. Both series focus on characters you “enjoy” hanging out with, but who provoke deep and profound philosophical conversations. (A person could easily write a PhD dissertation on “Ozark.”) They rarely do anything praiseworthy, and you cringe at what they do and say, but you still hope they survive.

Season three ended on a violent note — an out-of-left field shocking cliffhanger, and once I had recovered from it, I realized I had to wait for who knew how long to see things being resolved. Waiting until 2022 seems like punishment, but thankfully the Bill Pullman helmed crime drama, “The Sinner,” begins its final season on Oct. 13, and “Doom Patrol” is back, although it’s been a bit of a disappointment.

If you have Netflix, and want to watch an all-around phenomenal TV series, check out “Ozark.” Just make sure you have someone with whom you can discuss the show, because you will want to do that after every episode. There is always a LOT to discuss.


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