Review: ‘Ozark’ Season One: It’s Time For Jason Bateman To “Break Bad”

Nowadays, everyone loved a good old-fashioned antihero story.  Fans of Tony Soprano, Vick Mackey and Walter White like the idea of a likable bad guy who despite doing reprehensible things, has so much charisma that you can’t help but root for them, even when they are utterly setting fire to everything they touch.

That’s what we get for Netflix’s newest series Ozark.  The show follows Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman detouring from his usual comedic performances and also serving as actor, producer, and director), a Chicago financial planner, who after it is revealed that his firm has been skimming money from a Mexican drug cartel has to pay a substantial debt.  It’s either that, or end up found in a drum of his own dissolved body parts.  Lucky for Marty, he’s a master of his craft and he promises to help clean their money.  Rather than doing it in Chicago, where the Feds (and a bulk of the Cartel is located), he comes up with the idea off the cuff to head to small town Missouri where there isn’t a giant Cartel or federal presence.

In a rush, he uproots his family along for the trip.  His wife Wendy (Laura Linney) just happened to be in the midst of an extra-marital affair while all this was going on.  His kids (Sofia Hublitz and Skylar Gaertner) were enjoying their sweet suburban life.  Now the four of them have to get uprooted to what they consider a backward area without any real explanation from their parents.

After cleaning out all his savings accounts and getting out of dodge, the Brydes now have to go to the lake of Ozarks and assimilate themselves in their new surroundings.  With a strict deadline from the Cartel boss Del (Esai Morales), Marty has to not only has to make good on the offer of washing the money, but he also has to do it under the watchful eye of FBI agent Roy Petty (Jason Butler) who has a very unorthodox way of going undercover to get to the truth.  He has the cartel money in hand, but he also has to figure out a way to spend it (cash only) and get a substantial return on investment.  Making $8 million get washed in a small lake town isn’t as easy as one would imagine.

Of course, he’s not the only name in town when it comes to crime.  There’s already a seedy world existing right under the surface of lake parties and tourism.  He has to deal with the Langmore family, a group of grifters who quickly realize that Marty has money, and they want in on the action.  The one we spend the most time with is Ruth (Julia Garner) who realizes that their best course of action isn’t to kill and rob Marty (which would lead the Cartel after them), but instead to cozy up to him and learn the trade of laundering money herself.  She also cannot stop saying the F-word, let’s just call her the “Al Swearengen” of the show.  She quickly earns Marty’s trust and becomes the manager of a strip club he swindles from a local owner and is his de facto partner in crime.  She has a troubled past as well, from her father in jail to her closeted uncle (“but not queer”) Russ (Marc Menchaca) that wants the money and is impulsive in how to get it.  Russ also has an interesting arc with FBI agent Petty who knows he’s secretly gay and exploits him sexually to try and turn.

The Langmore family although big, are small time crooks.  The big foil for Marty (in addition to the Cartel) are the Snells.  Husband and wife Jacob (Peter Mullan) and Darlene (Lisa Emery) pretty much run things on the lakes.  With Marty coming into town, their livelihood is at stake, and they will stop at nothing to ensure that they either get Marty to play ball, or take him down.  Later on in the season, things get very heated when Marty and the Snell family both angle a lakefront preacher for their own nefarious means.  Marty isn’t clean for his goals, and the Snells most certainly aren’t.  It’s a contest to see who is more ruthless in trying to achieve their goals and at the same time, leave as few bodies for the local police and FBI to follow.

Bateman is more known for his comedic chops, but completely sinks into his role.  This show is almost a continuation of many of the Breaking Bad themes as Marty goes from a simple banker, to full-fledged money man for the Cartel, to getting ready to set up his own criminal enterprise by breaking deals all across the Missouri underworld.  Like Walter White, he’s doing it for his family, but he also really enjoys it.  His wife Wendy allows actress Laura Linney a chance to shine.  The two start off the season as an estranged couple that before everything hit the fan would have either divorced or killed each other.  Nothing like life-changing trauma to bring a couple together in times of need.  Harris Yulin also appears as Buddy, a dying old racist (and downright disgusting) man who agrees to rent his house to Marty’s family and has many clever moments throughout the season.  Besides Bateman, Julia Garner really gets a chance to shine as Ruth Langmore, Marty’s criminal in training.  At first, she’s trying to play a long con game against him, but the two develop a strong friendship throughout the season.

Even though the show will get many comparisons to Breaking Bad, it does its own thing.  Marty doesn’t go full on Walter White, not yet at least, there’s still a second season to look forward to.  He does have many humanizing attempts throughout the show.  But there’s always the new found fire hiding right beneath the surface ready to come out and bring him to the dark side.  Overall, this is a very interesting and dynamic show and if Netflix is smart, they will have already started planning for a second and third season of the show.

Rating: 4 out of 5