Bill Dubuque is best known for his acclaimed screenplays for The Accountant and The Judge, and with OZARK he makes a seamless transition to television. Directed by star Jason Bateman, the taut 10-part Netflix drama sits somewhere in the murky waters between Breaking Bad, Narcos and Bloodline. It might also be one of the most bingeable shows of the year.
Financial planner Marty Byrde (Bateman) thought his life was at a dead-end, with his biggest problem being the discovery of his wife Wendy’s (Laura Linney) infidelity. After getting mixed up with some bad cartel hombres, he must suddenly relocate his wife and children (Sofia Hublitz and Skylar Gaertner) from the Chicago suburbs to the Missouri Ozarks. Forced to launder millions of dollars through the shoreline business, he finds isn’t the only game in town, and literally everybody comes with an agenda. As one lie begets the next, Marty watches his carefully controlled life spin out of control.
Audiences are forever fascinated with everyday people getting in over their heads, and the rapid descent in OZARK is lined with slippery twists from the first episode. Playing with the theme of consequences and the chaos theory, so eloquently articulated in Jurassic Park, there isn’t a single small moment on screen that doesn’t lead to a larger plot point later on. Indeed, the eighth episode of the season is entirely about those small actions, taking us back to 2007 to show which butterfly wings caused the hurricane.
Bateman directs with an understated tension, a cool intimacy that is more observational than judgmental. His last directorial outing was The Family Fang, and as star and executive producer as well, his creative fingerprints are all over the work. This is a sophisticated work, one that allows time for detail but never gets mired in them. OZARK may not be overtly gruesome until the final episodes, but it holds you in its grip for the duration.
The ensemble cast is nothing short of stunning, and all of them get a rounded arc. For Bateman’s part, he’s taken all the pathos and frustration of Michael Bluth in Arrested Development and given that hapless reality deadly consequences. The formidable Linney has the real star turn, going from a freak-out over pistachio ice cream early in the season to handily negotiating deathly deals in the climax.
Julia Garner gives a star-making turn as Ruth, a trailer park local with ambitions on the big leagues. He manipulative skills extend beyond her character’s interactions, as the audience allegiances are bound to keep changing in relation to her throughout the series. Harris Yulin has a small role as the wonderfully cantankerous owner/tenant of the Byrde’s new home.
As OZARK builds to a satisfying conclusion that wraps up many of the show’s threads, it also leaves us with many more. Just as the series started, the Byrdes have an even slipperier slide to climb up should the show come back for a second year. If you are still lamenting the end of Bloodline, and you like your family dramas especially dark, then this might be the show for you.
OZARK is released on Netflix from 21 July 2017.