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Review: Netflix's 'Ozark' Is the Latest Example of Stress-Watching TV

By Dustin Rowles | Streaming | July 26, 2017 |

By Dustin Rowles | Streaming | July 26, 2017 |

Netflix’s new series Ozark is a fine show that seems tailored made for the binge-viewing model. It’s another in a trend of dramatic series that I like to think of as “stress watching” TV, or heart-attack television. It’s not designed to entertain so much as it exists to generate incredible amounts of tension, compelling viewers to watch until the end, where hopefully that tension will be relieved. It’s something that the first season of Bloodline perfected, that the second season reproduced with lesser success, and that the third season shat the bed on. Ozark is closer to the second season of Bloodline.

Also, like Amazon’s Patriot (minus the dark sense of humor and the excellently drawn characters, seriously that show is so good), Ozark puts its central character into the shit and asks him to crawl out of it as the writers continue piling more layers of shit on top of the heap. Here, Jason Bateman plays Marty Byrd, an accountant and a reasonably good guy who sort of stumbles backwards into a job money-laundering for the second largest drug cartel in Mexico. That is, until his partner (Josh Randall from Ed!) gets caught skimming and the cartel’s crime lord, Del (Esai Morales), murders him, his fiancée, and his co-conspirators.

Marty avoids murder by employing some fast-talking improvisation: He convinces Del that a small resort town in the Ozarks is swimming with cash and that Marty can take his family to Missouri and clean $8 million in three months. Del reluctantly agrees to the plan, but says that if Marty can’t launder the $8 million by the end of the summer, Del will kill him and his family. Del is not fucking around.

So, Marty liquidates all of his money, packs up his family — including his wife, Wendy (Laura Linney), who Marty has just learned has been cheating on him — and heads to the Ozarks, where he starts buying up pieces of businesses (a small hotel and a strip club, at first) to launder his money. In voiceover, Marty explains how the money laundering process works, but it never really makes much sense to me — if you start with $8 million, make a lot of upgrades (many of which are fabricated) how do you still end up with $8 million in clean money after the hundreds of thousands that have been invested in improvements, not to mention the initial investment?

I’m not sure that the accounting methods are that important. What the viewers need to know is that the Feds are also onto him, and Marty ends up encroaching on the territory of a backwoods family as dangerous — or more so — than the Mexican drug cartel. That, and there is also a hillbilly family trying to steal the money and kill Marty before it can be laundered and delivered to the crime lord.

There are a lot of different factions trying to get to Marty, but he’s also got to deal with his broken family. His wife has betrayed him; his daughter resents him for moving them into the Ozarks; and his son has become a weird kid, obsessed with guns and animal carcasses. So, in the midst of all the money-laundering chaos and the failing marriage, Marty and Wendy still have to raise their children.

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The series comes from Bill Dubuque, the guy who wrote Ben Affleck’s The Accountant. Ozark is kind of like a version of The Accountant crossed with Breaking Bad and Justified, only it’s not as good as Breaking Bad or Justified nor as bonkers as The Accountant. It’s a fairly fast-paced show, and incredibly addictive to those of us who are susceptible to heart-attack television, but I wouldn’t call it a great series. Or even that entertaining. It’s bleak, and despite the presence of Bateman, there’s almost no humor in it. But it’s also a show that’s hard to put down once you’ve started watching. It’s incredibly tense, and as unlikable as all the characters are, it’s nevertheless hard not to get invested in their outcomes, such is the power of Bateman and Linney’s acting talents. It’s hard not to push the NEXT button after each episode, but like the Trump Administration, you do so only to find out what new, fresh hell will be awaiting these characters.

*One note of caution. It’s a dark series, in both senses of the word. The lighting is poor, as you can see from the header image, which can be a little annoying at times.

**A second season has not been picked up yet, but it’s set up as though there will be one. Not in a frustrating cliffhanger-y way, but in an open-ended way. My guess is that, like Bloodline, it would see diminishing returns, but I would still watch it.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.