This article previously appeared on Crossfader.
Full disclosure; I have little-to-no familiarity with Jason Bateman’s vast comedic pedigree, which is what’s he’s known for after ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT became a touchstone of nerd culture in the 2000s. Then again, given how radical of a departure OZARK is for him, I don’t think I need familiarity with his work in CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE and THE IDENTITY THIEF to analyze it. His only role that even comes close is THE GIFT, which tackled similar thematic material of a family torn apart by secrets and pissing off the wrong people, but he didn’t carry the film’s main emotional arc or act as the audience’s main POV like he does here. After watching OZARK’s pilot, I’m unsure of a lot of things, but I have trust in Bateman’s ability to bring new life to a trope that’s been run into the ground these past few years.
Bateman plays Marty Bryde, a disgruntled financial planner in Chicago who is going through a midlife crisis. He yells at his daughter when she asks for $10 dollars for a friend’s medical condition, cares so little about his job that he watches homemade porn while meeting with clients, and feels so underappreciated by his family that he hallucinates a prostitute to praise him (we’ll delve into this a little later). It’s a setup we’ve seen plenty of times, and aside from that whole hallucination scene, there’s not much new about it for the first half or so.
Literally and metaphorically sucking his dick
Things take a turn when it turns out his firm has been laundering money for the second-largest cartel in Mexico, and someone at the firm has been siphoning from them. Del, the cartel boss, kills everyone except for Marty, who convinces Del to let him continue laundering money for the firm and move his family down to the Missouri Ozarks, where the land is cheap, there’s a lot of tourists, and there are no federal agencies hounding them. Del agrees, but only if Marty gets him the money they stole within 48 hours and agrees to pay him back $500 million within five years.
Comparisons between BREAKING BAD and OZARK are going to get made a lot, but there’s a few crucial differences. For one, Marty’s wife Wendy is totally aware of his shady dealings at the very start of the show, and he’s being driven to do it to settle a debt rather than simply survive. He also has been meddling with nefarious finances long before the start of the show, which is enough of a spin on the normal dude-being-pulled-into-criminality to draw me into his character. Despite how sullen Marty often is, I bought him being able to weasel his way out of death and scrap together the money in such a time crunch. The ending scene, where he finally breaks down on the side of the road and starts blurting out that he’s sorry when his family can’t see him, is effective, and his relationship with Dei is a fascinating one.
Wonder what it would be like if Dei brought this character to his past roles, like DORA THE EXPLORER
Speaking of Dei, he is easily the highlight, especially in comparison to the other main antagonist, a bored, monotone FBI agent. His gruff, quiet gangster is full of menace, but his scenes with Marty indicate a long history that will likely blossom wonderfully in later episodes. He’s not dumb either, knowing when to intimidate and when to negotiate, and a revelation surrounding him towards the end of the episode was one of the few I thought was perfectly satisfying. The motif of his story of the girl who stole from his dad’s shop is woven in well to the rest of the story, including a scene where he breaks the news to Marty about Wendy cheating on him.
If that last part sounds like it comes out of nowhere, that’s because it kind of does. OZARK is poor at portraying extraordinary events with gravitas and comes across as very matter-of-fact when it shouldn’t be. That whole hallucination scene is never brought up again and left me with so many questions, like if the other prostitutes we saw her with were fake as well. Similarly, we learn Marty has hired a private investigator to keep track of his wife’s infidelity, and it turns out she’s been cheating on him with some rich dude. The two other owners of Marty’s firm, a father and son, are killed off along with Bruce, but it’s played off like we’re supposed to know who they are when they have never shown up on screen before. I suspect they will be showing up later in the show in flashback, because otherwise there’s no reason for them to be here.
“Yes, officer, I was just hallucinating an entire women. Isn’t that totally normal and not at all troubling to you?”
It’s not as if the pacing is too fast or anything, but I kept feeling like I was watching a whole season’s worth of events in one episode. As a result, situations that could have been expanded upon feel gimped because the writers need to get the family to Ozark in the first episode. The whole situation with the homemade porn, the revelation of Marty and Wendy’s nefarious behavior to each other and the resulting fallout from it, Marty’s desperate search for the money… what’s here is still captivating, but I wanted certain things to be addressed more. If this trend continues throughout the 10 episodes, I don’t think I could stomach so many unfulfilling plot lines.
OZARK’s acting, including Bateman’s, is solid, and the filming and camerawork are appropriately grim and gritty. Nonetheless, this could have used another script rewrite to tighten things up, and I worry that several of the events are never going to be mentioned again when they desperately need clearing up. However, don’t let the show’s initial familiarity scare you; it seems to have plenty of its own ideas to justify its own existence, and I look forward to seeing how Marty continues down his own rabbit hole just as I did with Walter White.