Screenshot from Netflix's Ozark
Here is another installment of the Clipper’s entertainment column, Quarantine Curator, devoted to finding entertainment to consume while stuck self-quarantining at home.
“Ozark” is about money. The Netflix original crime drama opens with financial advisor and protagonist Marty Byrde giving a monologue on what he believes money really is- the measure of a man. If he’s right, then the cartel that Byrde launders money for must be quite the men indeed. Forced to relocate his family after his business partner skims money from their nefarious employers, Byrde must launder $8 million in three months from the “Redneck Riviera” in the Lake of The Ozarks.
The pilot episode of “Ozark” sets up not only this plot, but also the dark and tense tone of the series. The screen is dominated by soft, dreamy hues of blue and green; an ominous soundtrack swells and bursts in the background, working with the content of the story to transform that dream into a nightmare, which is exactly what it must feel like: to have one’s business partner and his wife shot and dissolved in vats of acid. Byrde has worked for the cartel for years, but it is clear that he has never seen up close how the blood gets on the money that he washes. It’s this sort of nightmarish quality and unique color scheme that separates “Ozark”, at least the first season, from other popular crime dramas like “Breaking Bad,” which it has often been compared to.
Another thing setting it apart from “Breaking Bad” is the presence of Byrde’s family. Marty’s wife, Wendy, has as big of a presence in the business as her husband, especially in the second season onward; their kids Charlotte, 15 and Jonah, 13, already know what their father does for a living by the end of the second episode. The corrosive effect that money laundering has on their family is a source of major tension throughout the series as the children inevitably become involved as accomplices in the family business . It’s a far cry from the way Walter White’s family reacted to his drug dealing.
The Byrdes have not moved into an empty town. An entire network of shady folks are active on the Redneck Riviera, including the Langmore family: a clan of petty thieves and criminals who live in a trailer park on the lake. This is where my personal favorite character, Ruth Langmore, comes into play; she becomes entangled with the Byrdes after stealing some of their cash. Bold and cunning, she quickly becomes an essential ally to Byrde and her conflicting loyalties lead to great drama.
In the later seasons, I felt the show lost some of it’s dark and tense atmosphere that made the earlier seasons compelling. Fortunately, rising stakes and constant twists and narrative developments keep the viewer hooked and interested in the series.
“Ozark” is a wonderful, atmospheric crime drama that draws many comparisons to Breaking Bad, but stands on its own terms. A nightmarish atmosphere, complex characters with multi-faceted motivations, and great pacing come together to produce gripping and binge-worthy television. . Marty Byrde is every bit the protagonist as Walter White is- maybe more.