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Netflix's Ozark follows the money while Jason Bateman's career takes a new path


Ozark finds Laura Linney, Jason Bateman in deep sh*t. Netflix photo

Premiering: All 10 Season One episodes begin streaming Friday, July 21st on Netflix
Starring: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner, Esai Morales, Jason Butler Harner, Peter Mullan, Jordana Spiro, Charlie Tahan, Lisa Emery, McKinley Belcher III, Michael Tourek, Kevin L. Johnson, Michael Mosley
Produced by: Bill Dubuque, Mark Williams, Jason Bateman

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Money laundering is at the root of most evil in Netflix’s Ozark, whose various spin cycles leave no one spotless.

Starring Jason Bateman in an uncommon dramatic role (spiked with dry wit), it’s an advertisement from hell for Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, also dubbed by some as the “Redneck Riviera.” Marty Byrde (Bateman), his wife and their two balky children flee there from Chicago after getting on the very bad side of a Mexican drug kingpin known as Del (Esai Morales).

Marty and his financial planning associates have been “washing” millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains and living high in return. In Breaking Bad terms, they cook books rather than meth. But the dangers are no less lethal after Del and his henchmen discover that someone’s been skimming. Only the wily survive, and Marty saves himself by selling the drug lord on a new laundering scheme in the Ozarks, where the pickings supposedly are easy. But to stay breathing, he’ll have to clean $8 million in dirty money by the end of the summer.

Despite their comfy setup in Chicago, the Byrdes otherwise are fractured. Wife Wendy (Laura Linney), who’s complicit in what her husband’s been doing, has been having an affair of which Marty becomes aware. Their marriage has lapsed into comatose, even though she doesn’t yet know that he knows.

Teen daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) is prototypically insolent while her sometimes strangely inquisitive younger brother, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), retains an air of innocence. Somewhat rare is the latter day TV series in which these sibling gender roles are reversed and it’s an older brother with the ‘tude while his little sis is still comparatively wide-eyed.

The Ozarks are anything but a healing balm, at least not initially. Suddenly strapped for cash but given some disposable income to get things rolling, the Byrdes make a decent but odd landing in a lakefront home whose 82-year-old owner is dying of cancer. In return for affordable rent, they’ll have to let him reside in downstairs quarters for the rest of his days.

Meanwhile, Marty looks for struggling businesses in which to “invest.” Which in money laundering terms means he’ll grossly overstate the cost of improvements and then launder the dough he never spent. His first bullseye is the Blue Cat Lodge, run by the attractive and hard-working Rachel Garrison (Jordana Spiro). Later in these proceedings, Marty also has eyes for the Lickety Splitz strip club, whose surly owner is immersed in his own illegalities. This type of venue, a staple of most mob-related dramas, affords Ozark and advertiser-free Netflix the “freedom” to serve up recurring topless shots.

Marty remains remarkably calm and low key while under constant duress. “What did you do today for our family?” his wife asks at one point. After a long pause for effect, he replies, “Bought a strip club.”

Bateman, now a seasoned 48 and also a co-executive producer and director of Ozark, is best known for his starring role as Michael Bluth in Arrested Development, which Netflix recently green-lighted for a second season of all new post-Fox episodes. Although his deadpan demeanor remains intact, he’s never had a front-and-center serious role like Marty Byrne. Over the course of Season One’s 10 episodes (all duly viewed, pant-pant), he makes the character work for him while also enduring slaps and punches to the face, pistols to the head and something appreciably more cringe-worthy in a season-ender that provides both resolution and a wide open door for another 10 episodes.

A menagerie of other supporting characters also comes into play. The standout is young, conniving Julia Garner as Ruthie Langmore, part of a down-and-dirty Langmore clan of increasing import. Her no-good father is in prison while various other Langmores look for ways to improve their sorry lots, usually nefariously. Quiet Wyatt (Charlie Tahan) is a little different, though. He reads a lot, mostly sci-fi, and yearns to make a favorable impression on the hard-to-please Charlotte.

There’s also a very odd, on-the-prowl FBI agent named Roy Petty (Jason Butler Harner), ad hoc preacher Mason Young (Michael Mosley), underfoot realtor Sam Dermody (Kevin L. Johnson) and the poppy-growing Snells, headed by philosophizing gangster Jacob (Peter Mullan) and his trigger-tempered wife, Darlene (Lisa Emery). Additionally, imdb.com bills two bit players as “Creepy Guy,” one as “Skinny Redneck” and another as “Big Redneck.” No, this isn’t Monte Carlo.

It’s not always a blend-able mix either, with some of the plot machinations more than a little hard to swallow. Still, Netflix has yet another unique player in its assembly line of original series. Ozark makes its bones via Bateman’s solid work, another reliably strong performance from Linney and an intriguing if sometimes over-populated immorality play that tantalizingly firms its grip.

Those who stay the course should be prepared for a detour in Episode 8. Entirely set in 2007, it fleshes out the back story of how Marty and Wendy were both seduced by the smooth-talking but entirely ruthless Del. Whether laundered or lawfully earned, money talks. And in Ozark, there’s an awful lot of it to go around.


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