Tuesday, February 20, 2018

For The Byrdes

I got around the watching the Netflix series Ozark. It's a crime drama about Chicago financial planner Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) who has to move his wife and two kids to the Ozarks when the Mexican cartel he's laundering money for starts putting on the heat. The show also features Laura Linney as Marty's wife, Esai Morales as the representative of the cartel, and Peter Mullan as a community leader in the Ozarks.

The show was gripping enough that I watched all ten hours.  Yet it was full of flaws, and didn't make much sense.

First, there's simply too much going against Byrde. I know conflict is what drives drama, but they went overboard in Ozark.  The cartel is relentless, killing everyone Byrde works with and a number of others, and constantly threatening Byrde's family.  Then once Marty gets to the Ozarks, he meets up with the Langmore clan, a white trash (is that phrase still acceptable?) criminal family who tries to steal from him and kill him, not to mention the Snell family, a classier clan, but just as lethal and angry at Byrde.  He also has to deal with local law enforcement, that opposes him, as well as the FBI, which follows him down to Missouri.  And even the regular citizens Marty deals with push back.

Yes, you need tension in a story, but all this opposition tires you out. Just for starters, I would have gotten rid of the Snells. (The laundering itself, by the way, looks pretty easy.  The show doesn't spend too much time on it, but it looks like anyone can do it. If Marty were just left alone, there'd be no problem.)

Worse are the loose lips on Marty and his wife.  If you travel to the Ozarks to take part in a massive criminal conspiracy, it would be in your interest to keep a lid on it. Even one person finding out would be too many.  But before too long, everyone knows what's going on, and one of Marty's strategies seems to be to tell people what's actually happening.  And his wife even tells their kids.  I admit this is a different dramatic strategy, but as far as a criminal strategy, it's idiotic.

There are many characters in the show, and they're all too quirky. Once again, a little quirkiness is a good thing in a show, but if you overdo it, it seems artificial. Take the lead FBI agent, who's the silliest one of all.  He seems to be on a personal quest to get Marty, and certainly is given a lot of leeway by his bosses--he almost seems like a rogue agent.  He rents a motel room in Missouri and seduces a guy in the Langmore clan so, after they start sexual relations, he can get him on tape admitting to breaking the law and turn him to get to Marty.  This whole subplot, and it's a major one, is just weird.

Then there are the relationships in the Byrde family.  They keep changing.  Do they hate each other or love each other?  This seems to change as demanded by the scene.

In addition, you never really get a sense of place.  Sometimes the Ozarks look like a backwoods sort of area. Other times like a middle-class commercial area.  Other times like a resort town.  And so on.  I realize the area is not just one thing, but I never quite knew where I was.

As Marty, Jason Bateman does a solid job.  Laura Linney does the best she can in a tough role.  Harris Yulin is fine as the dying old man who rents out his house to the Byrdes. Best of all is Julia Garner as Ruth, the smart young woman who runs the Langmore clan, dominating not just her siblings but even her uncles (while her dad is in prison).  Her arc, as she changes due to her contact with Marty, is perhaps the best thing in the show.

I recommend the show, for all its problems. Just don't expect another Breaking Bad, which seems like Ozark's model.  There's sort of a resolution at the end, and enough characters kept alive for another season.  There may be another season coming, and let me suggest they simplify--less quirk (less characters, in fact), and make it important no one know that Marty Byrde is a criminal.

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