There was a time when television couldn’t get enough of Bad Men. From Tony Soprano to Breaking Bad’s Walter White via Don Draper and the entire cast of Deadwood and The Wire, sweary, weary anti-heroes were the medium’s most acclaimed currency.
Those days are long gone, and yet Ozark (Netflix, Friday) remembers them fondly. The blockbuster thriller stars Jason Bateman as a white-collar criminal who has tumbled down the rabbit hole and ended up in cahoots with a Mexican cartel and in charge of a money-laundering riverside casino in backwoods Missouri.
Bateman’s Martin “Marty” Byrde cuts a familiar figure – or would have a decade ago. But Ozark, while hugely formulaic, remains compelling as its fourth and final series begins (the season is split in two, with the concluding seven episodes arriving later in 2022).
The show’s great innovation – and the thing that sets it apart from classic Bad Men drama – is that it surrounds Marty with women even more amoral than he. He is, in the first instance, left thoroughly in the shade by his ruthless wife Wendy (Lara Linney), a force of nature who will resort to anything – even orchestrating the death of her brother – to have her way.
Anti-hero clichés are stacked high. Marty wants out but is in too deep. The cartel makes impossible demands of our hero – then dispatches, as the Salamancas did in Better Call Saul, a lieutenant from south of the border to complicate the Byrdes’ already tangled lives.
Ozark also features some of the best acting on Netflix. As oily Marty, Bateman has never been more punchable. He’s a creep who thinks he’s the good guy when he’s actually the villain. And Linney is riveting as a soccer mom who has travelled to a realm beyond morality, only to discover it’s the one location in the universe where she feels perfectly comfortable.
The show’s other secret weapon is its brooding sense of place. Western Missouri is part of that hidden America of white rural poverty and opioid addiction. Hopelessness hangs heavy, like a mist rising off the lake to which Marty has hitched his casino. It layers Ozark in an almost asphyxiating melancholy.