“Ozark” is one of the best shows on television right now. The exciting, dark crime thriller is having its final season this year and will feature a story that will wrap up the exploits of the Byrde family and their dealings with various crime organizations. “Ozark” was a surprise hit over the summer of 2017, turning into a sensation with its shocking twists and turns and unique tone. “Ozark” has a dark, brittle sense of humor that makes it much more realistic than other crime dramas.
The series stars Jason Bateman as financial advisor Marty Byrde. Marty hardly has an ideal family life. He’s struggling through a challenging point in his marriage to his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) and dealing with two spunky children. However, these aren’t the only stresses in Marty’s life. He secretly works for the Navarros, a dangerous Mexican drug cartel. After a deal gone wrong in which Marty is threatened at gunpoint, he convinces his employers that if he moves his family to the Ozarks, he can come up with a scheme that will earn enough capital to pay his debt.
The characters of “Ozark” are fleshed out and continue to develop in surprising ways, earning the series significant critical acclaim throughout its run. The fast-paced storytelling demands that viewers binge quickly.
If you’re an “Ozark” fan, here are some other great shows you should definitely watch.
The nature of the Byrdes’ family dynamic is one of the most interesting aspects of “Ozark.” Marty and Wendy’s marriage is particularly well-developed throughout the show. Wendy isn’t aware of her husband’s schemes and is shocked by the revelation of his involvement in crime, yet she’s hardly a helpless wife who is subject to whatever her husband does. Wendy has secrets of her own. She is a former political campaign manager and has experience dealing with shady figures. She also uses her charisma to get into dangerous situations. Throughout the series, the two grow closer as they work together to keep their family safe. However, there’s a constant power struggle because Marty and Wendy doubt each others’ true intentions.
The dramatic thriller “The Americans” shows a similar complexity in putting a family through the stresses of holding a dangerous secret, and like “Ozark,” it’s both an exciting thriller and an emotional family drama. Set in the 1980s, “The Americans” follows the lives of Russian spies living in Washington D.C.
Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) are undercover as an average American couple raising two children who have no knowledge of their true heritage. As in “Ozark,” there is marital tension. Phillip has grown to appreciate the American way of life and is open to defecting, but Elizabeth is still a loyal patriot who yearns to return to her family back home.
The unique tone of “Ozark” is what differentiates it from other crime shows and “Breaking Bad” wannabes. The show is often emotionally devastating with heartbreaking moments of loss, pain, and grief. Still, many of the characters are quirky and unusual. There’s an odd sense of humor in “Ozark,” and sometimes it’s unclear to viewers if they should be laughing or cringing (or both). Instead of feeling like a clash of tones, the eccentric quality of “Ozark” and the attention to detail paid to fleshing out the environment give it a specificity that is unparalleled on television.
The FX crime series “Fargo” is similarly hard to characterize. It also takes bold risks with tone and location that make it exciting. Although the show shares its name with the 1996 classic “Fargo” directed by the Coen Brothers, there’s little in common with the film other than a few story beats.
“Fargo” is an anthology series that explores the stories of various characters. Season 1 follows a businessman (Martin Freeman) who accidentally kills his wife and befriends a dangerous Mafia fixer (Billy Bob Thornton). Season 2 focuses on a charming couple (Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst) who become intertwined with a crime family after a hit and run. Season 3 relates the story of a dispute between two brothers (both played by Ewan McGregor) who battle over a family heirloom. Season 4, which stars Chris Rock and Jason Schwartzman, follows the generational conflict between the heads of Black and Jewish crime families.
One of the interesting elements of “Ozark” is seeing a family work together to operate a criminal empire. Marty is forced to reveal his secret dealings to Wendy in the pilot episode, and shortly thereafter, she spills the beans to their teenage daughter Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and younger son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner). Instead of remaining helpless to Marty’s profession and relying on him to move the family in a safe direction, Wendy, Charlotte, and Jonah don’t attempt to live normal lives. Instead, they end up helping Marty along the way. Each has unique skills that make them assets: Wendy has political experience that makes her an expert negotiator, Charlotte is charismatic and can manage stressful situations, and Jonah is whip-smart and helps launder money.
The historical crime series “Peaky Blinders” shows similarly unique family dynamics with close-knit relatives attempting to balance their personal and professional responsibilities. Set in Birmingham, England, in the aftermath of World War I, the series follows the Shelby crime family as they battle with other criminal gangs and oppressive law enforcement. Tommy (Cillian Murphy) heads the family and works closely with his hot-headed brothers Arthur (Paul Anderson) and John (Joe Cole), his younger sister Ada (Sophie Rundle), and his domineering aunt Elizabeth (Helen McCrory). The family expands in later seasons as new relatives are introduced, and each character has their own complex romantic relationship. Like “Ozark,” it has an well-balanced ensemble with great performances.
Suspense and anxiety are important elements in “Ozark.” The characters are constantly put into dangerous situations, and tension is rarely absent during the run of the series. There’s a sense of uneasiness throughout because the Byrdes are strangers to the local culture and don’t fit in with the community’s dynamics. Although they gain allies, there’s rarely a character whom they can completely trust, and they’re forced to doubt the motivations of anyone who works alongside them. “Ozark” is effective because of how specific the show is to its location and its attention to detail. Ultimately, the environment itself is a dark and foreboding character.
The HBO miniseries “The Outsider” is similarly effective in building suspense and intrigue, and like “Ozark,” it has moments of extreme violence that often descend into pure horror. Based on a novel by Stephen King, the series is set in the small town of Cherokee City where a child is murdered. “Ozark’s” Jason Bateman co-stars as Terry Maitland, a beloved local Little League coach who is accused of the crime after seemingly indisputable evidence emerges. Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) discovers there is more to the case than he initially suspects due to unexplained events, and he enlists the assistance of quirky private investigator Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo). Like in “Ozark,” each character has a complex past that is slowly revealed.
Although it is largely centered on the world of drug cartels and smuggling operations, “Ozark” also does a great job at fleshing out its law enforcement characters and detailing how they are intertwined with the Byrdes. The first season introduces FBI agent Roy Petty (Jason Butler Harner) who goes undercover in the Ozarks to gather clues. The third season introduces the FBI forensic investigator Maya Miller (Jessica Frances Dukes) who looks into the new casino base that the Byrdes have developed. Local police also begin to question the suspicious new arrivals as things get more chaotic. Instead of feeling like one-note caricatures, these characters are given the same humanity that empowers the Byrdes.
The highly influential FX crime series “The Shield” isn’t only one of the best depictions of the lives of cops ever seen on television, but also a great character study of individuals with complex moral values. The series follows corrupt cop Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) who leads a strike team division of the Los Angeles Police Department and is known for his brutality. Like Marty, Vic is a nuanced anti-hero who has both redeeming and despicable qualities. He often engages in criminal activity and violently harms others (as seen in a shocking moment at the end of the pilot episode). However, Vic is also determined to get dangerous criminals off the streets and protect his family.
Mare Of Easttown
Aside from being a gripping drama, “Ozark” also has a great sense of mystery throughout. Although the Byrdes’ dilemma is quickly introduced and the series moves at a very swift pace, there are lingering questions that leave the viewers wondering what they’ve witnessed. Certain characters’ backstories are gradually fleshed out over the course of the four seasons, and some of the most shocking murders and heists are left unsolved, creating even more tension in an already hectic series. These questions make “Ozark” continuously engaging and are a large part of why the series is so bingeworthy.
The excellent HBO miniseries “Mare of Easttown” is an equally gripping mystery that combines raw emotional drama with a fascinating unsolved murder case. Set in a small, close-knit community in suburban Philadelphia, the series follows Detective Sergeant Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet). Mare gained notoriety in her youth for a key victory in a major sporting event, but her life ever since has been a continuous downward spiral. The death of her emotionally-challenged son left her bitter, and as a result, Mare has a rather grim outlook on life. She’s forced to battle the demons of her past when the murder of a teenage girl leaves the town in crisis. Both shows are reflective of the state of human nature, but the spirited optimism of “Mare of Easttown” is a departure from “Ozark’s” bleaker approach.
Jason Bateman delivers a phenomenal performance in “Ozark” that is among the best of his career. Not only is the role nuanced and emotionally devastating, but it’s a surprising change of pace for Bateman since he was best known for his comedic roles. While Bateman has delivered a few more dramatic performances in films like “The Gift,” “State of Play,” “Up in the Air,” and “Juno,” for the majority of his career, he’s been one of the Hollywood’s leading comedy stars. Prior to his successful film roles, Bateman got his breakout part as the star of the cult comedy hit “Arrested Development.”
“Arrested Development” follows Bateman’s Michael Bluth who discovers his wealthy father Oscar (Jeffrey Tambor) has been sent to prison after his corrupt real estate practices are uncovered by the FBI.
Dark and violent, “Ozark” may seem impossible to compare to a sitcom like “Arrested Development,” but when looking at the stories and themes, the two share some surprising similarities. Both deal with a criminal family that is thrust into a downward spiral of dangerous situations that force them to reluctantly work together. In both shows, Bateman’s character must become a leader and take on responsibilities that he doesn’t entirely feel comfortable with. If “Ozark” is a drama that subtly incorporates moments of humor, then “Arrested Development” is a hilarious series that is still able to pull off heartfelt moments of emotional earnestness.
The Mosquito Coast
The 2021 crime series “The Mosquito Coast” has a plot that is very similar to “Ozark.” The series centers on parents that keep secrets from their children and force them to leave home to escape the demons of their past. Based on the 1981 novel by Paul Theroux, which also inspired the acclaimed 1986 drama from director Peter Weir that starred Harrison Ford, “The Mosquito Coast” focuses on quirky inventor Allie Fox (Justin Theroux). Like Marty, Allie hides a shocking secret from his two children Dina (Logan Polish) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman). While it took “Ozark’s” Marty and Wendy a little while to adjust their marriage and get on equal footing, Allie’s wife Margot (Melissa George) is part of his scheme from the beginning. Like the Byrdes, they are forced to reveal the truth to their children when the guise of normal family life becomes impossible to maintain.
When they’re threatened by a dangerous criminal gang, the Fox family is forced to leave their home in the city and make a run for the border. The series chronicles the various stops they reach along the way. The change of scenery is effective in both shows. The Byrdes aren’t wealthy, but they’re used to a comfortable life and are sour about moving. Unlike the Byrdes, the Fox family has a fairly loving relationship before the danger starts. The kids view their parents as strange and oddly overprotective but appreciate the lessons they’ve passed on.
Better Call Saul
Casting a traditionally comedic actor in a darker role made Jason Bateman’s performance on “Ozark” a surprising change of pace. Bateman has successfully played hilarious characters in “Game Night,” “Horrible Bosses,” and “The Switch,” but unlike some of the other comedic stars of his generation, he didn’t rely on over-the-top gags and physical humor. Overall, he is effective at playing relatable characters with whom the audience can sympathize. That skill makes his role as Marty Byrde more complex. “Ozark” viewers may have initially felt sympathy for Marty based on Bateman’s inherent charisma, but that became more challenging when his behavior grew darker.
It was a surprise to see Bob Odenkirk in the role of shady lawyer Saul Goodman when he first appeared on “Breaking Bad.” Previously, Odenkirk was best known for his comedy work on “Saturday Night Live,” “The Ben Stiller Show,” and “Mr. Show with Bob and David.” Saul Goodman may have many eccentric qualities, but he is always more than just the comic relief. He’s a fully realized and flawed character.
Odenkirk was so strong in the role that it was justified to see Saul’s backstory. The prequel series “Better Call Saul” explores the events in his life that led to his situation in “Breaking Bad.” Once a lawyer named Jimmy McGill, the future Saul surpasses expectations by joining the law practice of his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) where he takes on increasingly dangerous and unusual clients.
A sense of environmental specificity is part of what makes “Ozark” so effective. The central Missouri Ozarks are a unique location that is rarely depicted in other films and television shows, and that gives the series a unique sense of place and time. This is a quality that is shared by the classic HBO series “Deadwood” which takes place in an emerging small community in South Dakota in the 1870s. As in “Ozark,” the strong production values really make the town of Deadwood come to life.
The series begins when Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) journeys to the secluded frontier community with his partner Sol Star (John Hawke). The two are in pursuit of dangerous bounty hunters. Eventually, the presence of the lawman begins to ruffle the feathers of the town’s criminal element. Bullock initially clashes with Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), one of Deadwood’s most influential figures and the local brothel owner. However, the two end up working together. As in “Ozark,” the supporting cast gives the show a great ensemble feel.
A sense of genuine love and affection isn’t something “Ozark” is generally associated with, but amidst all the shocking events, there are some surprisingly heartfelt and earnest moments. The show reached a dramatic high point in its third season with the introduction of Wendy’s emotionally-challenged brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey) who alters the existing family dynamic. These key heartfelt touches are necessary to make “Ozark” more than a simple barrage of blood and violence.
Danny Boyle’s thoroughly underrated 2018 miniseries “Trust” also combines family drama with high-stakes danger. Based on shocking real-life events, “True” tells the story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson) who is abducted by the Italian Mafia and held for ransom. The criminals reach out to Getty’s notoriously wealthy and powerful grandfather (Donald Sutherland), but he refuses to pay the ransom, leaving the boy’s mother (Hillary Swank) overwhelmed and frustrated with the situation.
“Ozark” managed to keep viewers on their toes by having a revolving rogue’s gallery of villains. While the Byrdes’ primary antagonist is the Navarro clan, other drug cartels also want in on the action, further complicating an already dangerous situation. The Byrdes also deal with local threats such as the eccentric farmers Jacob (Peter Mullen) and Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) who run a marijuana operation. The diverse cast of antagonists gives the series an exciting quality. If the show had only one villain, it could have become dull.
The Netflix series “Mindhunter” (from the brilliant director David Fincher) has one of the best villainous lineups of any show on television. Fincher is, of course, known for creating iconic villains in movies like “Se7en,” “Gone Girl,” “Fight Club,” and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” “Mindhunter” explores the early investigations into the psychology of serial killers. The series follows FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) as they travel the country, helping local police with crimes and researching famous murderers from history.
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Author: Liam Gaughan
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January 13, 2022