The Overrated Series: Ozark
Part 1: Why So Many People Hate The Show and Why They Should
At the time of this reason the first part of what will be the final season of Netflix’s Ozark has started streaming. Ever since the premiered back in 2017, there has been a slow but steady barrage of hostility towards from quite a few TV critics and viewers in a general. Some of them have even posted at this very site, saying things such as Ozark is the last series with a ‘white male antihero that I can tolerate or that this is where we learned that Peak TV has reached critical mass. It is rare for a truly overrated series to have so many people openly dislike: the series I have dealt with so far in this column generally have a loyal fanbase. Ozark by contrast seems to have just as many people who hate it, and I completely see where they’re coming from.
There is, however, one group that truly seems to love Ozark far more than warranting: groups that give awards. It has been fairly dominant among the Emmy nominations and awards the three seasons it has been on the air, two of which were when Game of Thrones was still in competition. It also has done well among the Golden Globes, the SAG awards and (for shame) the Critics Choice — at least as far as nominations go. It didn’t seem anywhere near reasonable to me that in 2020 Ozark dominated the nominations and This is Us wasn’t able to get a Best Drama nod that year. And I’m very pissed that Jason Bateman and Julia Garner were nominated and Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn (who were infinitely more deserving for Better Call Saul) were ignored that same year.
Now there are many series I loathe that tend to dominate the awards year after year — if it’s not Game of Thrones, it’s The Handmaid’s Tale. But at least with those nominations it could be justified that the Emmys were still following a loyal fan base. Ozark doesn’t have anywhere near that kind of following. So why does Ozark get nominated and other, more deserving series get ignored? I have a theory which I’ll get too in a bit, but for now I’m going to start by dealing why I find this series fundamentally flawed and why I think so many people feel the same.
Unlike so many of the other series I detest, I actually made a concerted to watch Ozark. I actually made my way through the entire first season before giving up in disgust. And it’s clear pretty much from the get-go why people might think it was quality and why many others might recognize it as tosh.
Let’s start with the ‘white male antihero’ Marty Byrde. Marty is a criminal when we first meet him — a money launderer for a drug cartel. Within the first fifteen minutes of the Pilot, he learns his partners have been embezzling from the cartel, he witnesses them being executed and in order to save him and his family, he talks about a scheme one of them has to go to the Ozarks where there’s no law enforcement and clean $500 million for the cartel in the matter of months. The boss, who is clearly more amused by the idea, then thinking its possible agrees to let Marty and family to go to do this. And Marty without any real explanation to his family at all takes them from Chicago to Missouri in the dead of night.
Stop right there. Walter White never dreamed of that kind of money. To try and save his family he thought they could survive on seven hundred and thirty seven thousand dollars. He didn’t start beginning to dream of a multi-million dollar empire (which, for the record got so big that Skyler thought it could never be laundered) until the series was almost over. $500 million might as well be a zillion kajillion for all the reality. No matter how smart Marty think he is, it seems like an impossible goal. The fact that he seizes on to it as a realistic possibility rather than say, a chance to run, is impossible to buy as a series premise right there.
It doesn’t help at all that Marty starts out as an overbearing asshole. At least going in you could be willing to buy that Walter White was basically Mr. Chips. Marty isn’t Mr. Chips or Scarface; he has neither the stomach for the violence that needs to take place nor the brilliance to outthink any of the people he has to deal with. Yet not only does he not even bother to explain to his own family for most of Season 1 why he’s even done this, he berates his own children for every action they take. (We’ll get to Wendy in a minute.) And even though the only ability he has is to launder money, he arrogantly thinks that ability gives him the right to boss the criminals he meets in the mountains around as if he were above them. Now the Langmores may appear to be hayseeds, but it’s clear from day one that Ruth has the measure of adults, and pretty much can outthink Marty at times. More to the point, they are just as capable of violence as the cartel. But initially he barely thinks they need to be dealt with. And he completely underestimates Jacob Snell from the get-go and it isn’t until the climax of Season 1 when he thinks his plan has outsmarted them that he realizes he’s underestimated them again and its cost him even more. Walter White may not have been the best judge of character, but at least he had the brains to come up with ways to outmaneuver and destroy his enemies. Marty has already found out in the Pilot how dangerous the cartel was(and as we learn in a flashback episode in Season 1, he knew going in how deadly they good be and still compartmentalized it) and still thinks he had can outwit everybody long enough to stay alive. He’s a cocaine addict who keeps thinking if he keeps on going, he’ll be back on top despite the odds.
Now I give credit to Jason Bateman. He is really cast against type here. He’s played his entire career being likable and in Arrested Development in particular, the only sane choice among a family of lunatics. But unlike so many of the antiheroes in this early, he starts out being an arrogant monster and never gives us a chance or really a reason to like him. Hell, when a dying man kills an assassin he admonishes the shooter for making things worse. I get why so many people our convinced this is their last series with a white male antihero. This would put me off most of them.
And this series has a great cast: Laura Linney, one of the greatest actresses in history. Brilliant character actors like Peter Mullan and Janet McTeer have been killed on it (and honestly they should be grateful they can move on to other projects now) And by far Julia Garner’s work as Ruth Langmore is a triumph and I’m actually glad she got one of the Emmys she did. (Last time though, it should have gone to Helena Bonham-Carter or Meryl Streep.) But all of the actors are playing utterly loathsome characters even if they aren’t outright criminals. This isn’t like Succession where some fans love the series even though everybody’s loathsome. We’re supposed to like Bateman and Linney’s characters. Hell, they should have bonded in a horrible in a situation. They’re at each other throats from day one and I really don’t get why Wendy didn’t run when she had the chance of Season 1. Why the hell did she listen to her kids?
And maybe this is a minor squabble compared to everything else: Why is every episode so long? Other hour-long Netflix series like The Crown and Stranger Things are traditionally shorter than the hour they take up. This is generally a good idea in my opinion: it makes you want more. Episodes of Ozark often run longer than an hour and seem even more interminable. Why would you want spend more time with these people than you have too?
So given all of that, and the fact that so many people aren’t exactly fans of that, why those awards groups keep giving it nominations? There’s actually a good reason for that. Ozark was designed for just that.