As someone who watches a lot of TV, a game changer isn’t always necessary. It’s impossible for every show to reach the heights of Breaking Bad or The Wire so it’s best to not even try. Sometimes, I need to know just exactly what I’m getting from a show. I need it to deliver the same level of enjoyment on a consistent basis. Enjoyment doesn’t always have to equate to quality because I can enjoy a show that’s lacking quality. Long story short: Ozark is one of those shows. Season one of Ozark was mediocre at best but it provided mindless entertainment I was looking for.
It shamelessly branded itself as a Breaking Bad replacement: Neat, clean-cut, fish-out-of-water guy who ends up diving into the criminal underworld. Unlike Breaking Bad it fast-forwards past the interesting stuff to get straight into the story. You know… plot, character development, building tension. It stars Jason Bateman, whom I dislike (irrationally) for a myriad of reasons:
- He’s a smug asshole
- Are we sure he’s even funny?
- He wears sneakers with khakis but in a very dad way. Not even in a cool Jason Sudeikis way.
- He looks like the lead singer of Train.
- He’s a smug asshole
Outside of Bateman, the acting ranges from good to hilariously bad. Laura Linney dances circles around everyone. Peter Mullan is a polite, yet menacing antagonist in a Gustavo Fring type of way but he’s doing his best Samuel Clemens impression. Julia Garner is the gem of the show but her accent makes her sounds as if she was born and raised in West Virginia. Season one chugged alone and concluded with the most “WTF” ending ever. I didn’t think this show should return for a second season considering it wrote itself into a huge corner.
Surprisingly, Ozark season 2 is so much better. It’s not even “guilty pleasure” good, it’s legitimately good. Jason Bateman, who apparently has more creative control this season, really plays up #1 on my list. Marty is a deeply flawed character, and I’m unsure if he’s even a good character, but the tension building between him and Wendy makes for good TV. Season 2 knows what parts of the show worked best. It’s now more of a family drama. It has made the implausible totally plausible — this is how a cartel laundering family is supposed to look. (Such a weird sentence to type). The wife having to repeatedly save her husband. The kids tucking away money for a rainy day. Interjections of “Oh, yea, I need the hearse to take the money to the funeral home today” over breakfast. Instead of being the show with the hilariously shaky premise it was in season one, it presents a leaner product in season 2.
The leaner product comes as a result of killing off half the cast but that now makes it possible to do more character study. Season two follows Wendy around more and makes her by far the most interesting character of the show. More time is spent covering the landscape. Those wintry overhead shots of the Ozarks really helps set the mood (Filmed in Atlanta, whatever). Season two also plays around with episode arcs. Episode 7, which is by far the slowest episode of the season, might be the most interesting one. Not to spoil anything, but the beginning of the episode mirrors the end. Season one of Ozark had no room for an episode that broke the pace since it had trouble maintaining a pace in the first place. Season two maintains a consistent tone and pace throughout.
I say this with two episodes remaining in the season: I don’t know if Ozark is sustainable. If you’ve been watching, you know one subplot has been accelerating. I do know that this show has made a drastic improvement from season one to two. Season two is so good that I don’t even ask myself that question anymore. I just enjoy the ride. So yes, season one of Ozark was incredibly mid but now it’s the best mid on TV.