After the nostalgic thrill of Stranger Things in 2016, Netflix’s original programming really took off in July of 2017 with Ozark. It’s a show that belongs in the same sentence as The Wire, The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, and nothing Netflix has produced – aside from the excellent German time-travel show Dark – has come close to matching it.
Jason Bateman, in a role drawing on his dramatic acting rather than his comedy chops, plays Marty Byrde, a brilliant accountant with a nuclear family. After a money-laundering scheme goes wrong, and attracts the attention of the Mexican drug cartel he and his partner are working for, Byrde relocates his family to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. The first episode is wonderfully tense, with the odds stacking further and further against the Byrdes. It’s probably the most thrilling episode of drama I’ve ever seen, just perfection.
I’ve heard people describe the show as a poor man’s Breaking Bad, with an annoying, washed-out colour palette. Those same people seem to forget that Breaking Bad floundered quite badly through its slow second and patchy third season, before suddenly becoming essential viewing with its final seasons. Vince Gilligan’s show is clearly an influence on the Ozark creators, Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams. The two shows share the same basic premise – ordinary family man gets mixed up with a drug cartel – but I believe the writing on Ozark has been much more consistentg and entertaining. Plus, I really like the colour palette – the icy blues remind me of James Cameron’s oeuvre throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
The cards dealt to Byrde continue to unfold with alarming intensity throughout the first season, as we’re introduced to an ensemble cast of characters including a redneck family, a local preacher, a real estate agent and his overbearing mother, the local drug dealers, and an FBI agent hot on Byrde’s tail.
While season two seemed to slow down a little, taking the focus off the cartel, the season three saw the narrative return to the highs reached by the first season. The fourth and final season has recently been announced, but will be split into two mini-seasons of seven episodes each.
Earlier this year, just as the coronavirus outbreak was starting to turn into a global pandemic, I ordered a copy of the show’s instrumental score by composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. The record label Verve advertised a limited run of pressings signed by Jason Bateman (45 copies), and the composers (30 copies). I was quick enough to jump on a copy signed by Bateman (increased up to 50 copies for some reason), and have been waiting ever since for it to turn up. Finally, almost four months later, after the tracking recorded the parcel stuck for most of that time at a processing centre in Elk Grove, Chicago, it finally arrived.
Fortunately, it arrived safe and sound. The standard record came shrink-wrapped, but the record sleeve autographed by Bateman was just loose in the parcel, with no waterproofing. After so long in transit, it’s a wonder this came through in one piece, just a little dusty. The sleeve has a great die-cut opening in the centre, displaying the characters that preface every episode, spelling Ozark, and comes with an insert listing the credits, and a huge poster of the Blue Car Lodge in the mist.
Bensi and Jurriaans’ soundtrack is a great piece of haunting score, heavy on the cello, piano and drums. It’s a shame that the release wasn’t expanded to include the needle-drops from the show, which were awesome through all three seasons; kudos to the music supervisor Gabe Hilfer.
Hit: The Beginning
Hidden Gem: The Confession