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Ozark - Pilot - Review: "Let's Move To Missouri"

When his dealings with a drug cartel go south, a Chicago-based financial advisor has to relocate his family to Missouri in order to give his money laundry scheme a fresh start. That’s the premises of Ozark, a new drama premiering today on Netflix.

At first sight, Ozark is not without resemblances to other “average man goes gangster” dramas. Its synopsis has a ring of Breaking Bad while its color palette is not without reminiscing of Bloodline. But at its core, this show created by Bill Dubuque (The Accountant) attempts to be a little more than just your classic “good guy goes bad” scenario.

Jason Bateman plays Marty Byrde, a financial advisor whom we meet as he finds out his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) has been cheating on him. But as his marriage is on the verge of collapsing, another bomb drops on Marty when the drug cartel he works with comes after him and his partner Bruce (Josh Randall) about millions of dollars missing. Del (Esai Morales) kills everyone involved and holds Marty at gunpoint when the latter attempts a live-saving sales pitch. To make up for the lost money, and come up with a lot more, Marty suggests Del lets him relocate to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, where there is more shoreline that the coast of California and where the population numbers go way up in the summer. Marty argues he can make the cartel five hundred million dollars in five years if he moves down there, and wins a second chance from Del.

Marty’s family situation is not ideal, but if his two kids are not thrilled to move to Missouri, it’s his relationship with Wendy that promises to be interesting in the rest of the season. This pilot establishes the fragility of their marriage and the chemistry between Linney and Bateman works well. But between the cheating, the cartel issues, the FBI who seems to be interested in Marty and Bruce’s business, Ozark introduces a lot of story elements in its pilot, and it does not seem to shy away from the idea of piling up obstacles for its characters. If it seems a bit much right off the bat, it’ll be interesting to see how it works out throughout the rest of the season.

The main issue I had with this pilot was the choice of such a somber visual palette, showing how seriously the show is taking itself. I understand the grayish colors used in Chicago, but it looks like that carries on to Missouri, which is depicted towards the end of the pilot. It makes the setting look so grim that it takes away from what the Lake of the Ozarks really is: a vacation spot, a summer-fun place. Granted the show was mostly shot in Georgia because of the tax breaks the state offers, it would have been nice to see a representation of the Midwest that actually look like the Midwest. It is tiring to see shows carrying on a grim color palette just because their content is grimmer. Instead, it’d be nice to balance a bright, green and brown visual setting to the darkness of the story. Breaking Bad did it well, so why the trend of blue and gray?

Towards the end of the pilot, the depth of Marty’s character finds a new layer when he finally breaks down on the road to the Ozarks. He uses a moment alone to cry over the events of the past few days, revealing the humanity of a man who so far just seemed very detached and practical. Throughout this pilot, the acting is good, the story is compelling and the tension keeps the episode engaging. If Ozark doesn’t offer much of a new take on the anti-hero story, it at least seems to be captivating enough to keep viewers interested.

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