Greetings, Glancers! When was the last time I did one of these? From my perspective, it’s a little odd that I do so few Television posts versus Music and Movies considering I probably spend at least the same amount of time (if not more) watching TV as I do watching Movies or listening to Music. In the time since my last Sh*t I Watch post, I’ve completely finished a bunch of TV shows so I may as well bore you by talking about them.
One of my first TV posts was my thoughts on Breaking Bad. The short version of that post is that I liked Breaking Bad well enough, but I was in no ways a super fan and it was never going to become a personal favourite. Unlike most viewers, I never got pulled into the story or cared much about any of the characters. It was just a thing to watch, mainly because so many people gave it so much acclaim. Flashforward and my wife says to me one night that she’s heard good things about Ozark. I was a little apprehensive because everything I’d heard about the show made it sound like a watered down, less interesting, less acclaimed version of Breaking Bad. Why would I want to watch Breaking Bad Junior, if I wasn’t a big fan of daddy?
Turns out that I enjoyed Ozark a hell of a lot more than Breaking Bad. Is it a better show? What comes first tends to be highlighted as the superior show, but I think Ozark took elements of the template which Breaking Bad laid out, and improved upon it; the drama, the story, the characters, the tension, the humour, the violence. From a story perspective, it starts out in a similar place; an intelligent, somewhat devious man finds himself in a tight spot, and finding no alternative willingly doubles down to a life of crime while trying to hide his other life from his family. From there, the comparisons end because before long his family both finds out about his life, and willingly gets involved in it too.
Jason Bateman seems from the outside like an unusual choice as Marty Byrde. He has just the right amount of everyman appearance, anger, cynicism, futility, and humour to make the role work. Joining as his wife is Laura Linney – a woman with many secrets of her own, their teenage kids with their own problems, and a bunch of Cartel killers on their heels. Early in the show, the family is forced to move from the big city to The Ozarks which Marty thinks is an untapped haven for drugs and money laundering. Almost immediately, he finds that The Ozarks is more of a hive of scum and villainy with drug lords and minor crooks a visible presence. There’s Peter Mullan and Lisa Emery as the murderous heroin farmers with connection to local politicians, Julia Garner and Charlie Tahan as cousins within the infamous petty criminal Langmore family, and a couple of FBI agents in tow. Poor old Marty has a lot of money to make with all of these eyes on him – because if he doesn’t, the lads from Mexico will be knocking on his door with a few bullets ready for him, his wife, and his kids.
Throughout its four season run, Ozark has several twists and turns meaning that the Byrds find themselves sucked even deeper into crime and danger while plotting their escape from it all. It seems that every time they have an escape route, some new group or individual comes along and burns it down if it isn’t done by their own mistakes or ego. This may be frustrating for the viewer as it leads to questions of contrivance for the sake of keeping the show going. There’s a point in the second season when things are turning rosy and it seems like the family has a way out – but someone makes a decision that is somewhat out of left field and buggers things up completely, setting up the final two seasons.
But this is one of the recurring draws of the show – it’s a fine example of shit always going wrong, always getting worse. Whether it’s the business, or the feds, or the kids, or some random mishap, there is always a new and stressful situation for Marty to puzzle and talk his way out of. While there is plenty of talking in the sharp script, the show doesn’t shy away from both the threat and actuality of violence – there are plenty of sudden and gruesome deaths throughout the series. Knowing that many of the characters are both highly protective of their families and their business, while also being a tad psychotic, it lends that constant tension over anyone being knocked off at any moment.
At the end of the day, it’s the characters, the performances, and the emotions which drew me in most over the likes of Breaking Bad. Julia Garner’s Ruth Langmore is the MVP, her drawling cynicism and hick wiles being a counterpoint to the usual trend of high-powered, highly intelligent or utterly useless foils we tend to see. As mentioned above, she cares deeply about her family, conflicted as she is, and is always looking for a way to get rich and get free. As abusive as the world she contributes to is, she thrives within it and uses and is used by the Byrds and the Business.
If you enjoy crime shows, indeed if you enjoyed Breaking Bad, then Ozark seems like a logical recommendation. It has similar humour, similar conflicts, and similar tension while being set in a similar world, but the locations and voices are different. It’s definitely worth your time. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
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