Imagine a parallel-world Breaking Bad, where Walter’s family know what he’s up to. The ecstatically misanthropic Ozark has its own heroically resourceful, angry middle-class good/bad guy in Marty (Jason Bateman), a Chicago financial adviser whose sideline is laundering Mexican drug money.
By the end of a twisting, pulsating first episode, Marty has relocated with his wife and kids to rural Missouri, where his trigger-happy boss has — not entirely plausibly, but never mind — given him a task. Marty must quickly “clean” $8m, or die.
Specifically they’ve moved to the Lake of the Ozarks, a snaking body of water adorned with endless woody creeks, dotted with bars and holiday homes, and descended on in summer by tourists. But Malibu, it ain’t. Its rough, bored residents enjoy hustling visitors for cash; a clever city guy who’s oddly keen to invest in shorefront businesses is met with violent suspicion.
Although he can, for instance, crack a strip-club safe when required, Marty’s key assets are knowledge, ingenuity and persuasion: the classic Ozark scene is him pulling off an outrageous one-on-one bluff that would have dire consequences if revealed. If he can keep coming up with schemes to fend off the FBI, the Mexicans and Ruth (Julia Garner), the wily teenaged leader of a family of redneck crooks, he might escape.
But it’s no easier at home, where Marty’s 15-year-old daughter is restless, his younger son lacks guidance and his flinty wife, Wendy (Laura Linney), is adjusting to a life of constant peril in unusual ways.
Extending its pitilessly observed vision of a world where everyone is selfish, cynical and alone to a family set-up gives Ozark added layers of blackness, beneath the addictive spectacle of Marty finding out just how bad he has to break to survive. You wouldn’t want to live in those shady Missouri creeks, but visiting is a dark thrill.