Ozark: Slow Burn Heats Up in the Finale 

I just finished the first season of Netflix’s original series, Ozark. I have to admit, I wasn’t immediately sold on it. The crime drama centres around Marty Byrde, (played by Jason Bateman); a financial advisor who finds himself on the wrong side of the dangerous Mexican cartel he works for. In a desperate attempt to keep himself and his family alive, Marty strikes a deal and relocates the family from Chicago, to the Ozarks in Missouri, where he must launder 8 million dollars by the end of the summer. 

The series has all the signs of a good drama. Intrigue, dissonance, an array of unscrupulous characters, and a healthy dose of good old fashioned conflict. The writing is sharp and the plot seems to propel itself forward smoothly enough. Where the show is let down, however, is in the lack of diversity of character. With an abundance of different people in the show, one would think they would each have a distinct set of personality traits that set them apart from the rest. But by the second or third episode, it became clear that the actors were all playing variations of the same persona; bland, wooden and ultimately watered down. I felt like the entire show was spoken in muted monotone, and the characters all had this kind of droopy hopelessness about them. It seemed like the supporting cast blended into one giant background character; the lodge owner Rachel, practically indistinguishable from FBI agent Roy Petty; or awkward Wyatt Langmore who is as resolutely uninteresting as Sam, the real estate agent.

The obvious exceptions to this are Ruth (played by Julia Garner) who is exactly the kind of no nonsense, tough talking, out of the box thinker required to inject some much needed fire into the series. And even she took me a few episodes to really warm to, though I had to admire her propensity for ruthlessness right from the start. She has a depth the other characters seem to lack, hinted at within the brief exchanges with her incarcerated father, and her unexpected tenderness towards her cousins. Jonah, with an intelligence that seems to far outweigh that of his older sister, his innocent curiosity, and his willingness to do what it takes to protect his family, is another welcome change to the boring character landscape.

This, coupled with an overuse of a grey/blue colour palette, did a lot to give Ozark the feel of something as cold and lifeless as a body on a slab. But, it’s saving grace lies in the execution. As a viewer, I found myself curious to see how it would play out for the Byrde family, with adversity bearing down on them from all sides, and new conflict arising in the midst of the old. You can’t help but root for them, as you watch them band together despite past infidelities, and hold true to family values that become more important to them with each passing episode. It’s true, the show has a slow burn, and you don’t quite realise how far it has progressed until the last few episodes, where things really start to heat up (literally!), but it comes together in such a way that I’m pleased to hear they’ve announced a second season.

Ozark has hard suspense interlaced with hints of tenderness, a seriousness that is set off by the odd bit of humour, and a satisfying combination of stylish production and absolute plausibility. The first season leaves you with an open ended finale that suggests that the troubles Marty has battled all season are only just beginning and the show, despite its shortcomings, provides a solid ten episodes of entertainment.

Preacher (TV) Review

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The other night I bit the bullet and watched the pilot episode of Preacher. I wanted to be excited for it, I really did. But if I could go back and not watch it, I would.

I am a Preacher fan. Jesse Custer, possessed by the supernatural ‘infant’ of an illegal angel/demon coupling, is the quintessential anti-hero. Toss in a gun toting girlfriend and a mouthy Irish vampire, and you pretty much have the greatest trio in the history of graphic novels. I mean, we’re talking about a Texas Preacher, possessed by a supernatural force that makes him powerful enough to rival God, going to find God. And I don’t mean that in a religious, metaphorical sense. I mean Jesse Custer goes on a search to literally find God.

It is baffling to me that they managed to completely destroy the story in just one episode. Reading up on some Preacher history, it seems too many studios were unwilling to take on an adaptation of Garth Ennis’ mind blowing graphic novel series, on the basis of it being too religiously incendiary. I’m sorry, but if you’re not willing to do it right, don’t bother doing it at all. And that, I think, is where this AMC adaptation has failed.

What makes Preacher so brilliant is that it is unashamedly controversial. Any fan of the original story will be familiar with the likes of Herr Starr, Odin Quincannon and most notably (and awesomely) the Saint of Killers. These characters Jesse meets on his journey away from Annville, Texas. But I have to wonder how the showrunners of the TV series plan to introduce them if, as it seems, Jesse will be staying in town to…help people. His speech at the end of the episode essentially tells us that his plan is not to go and hold God accountable, but to stay where he is and just be a Preacher. A worthy goal, I’m sure, but not what the story is about.

For someone who kept insisting he loves the original, and wanted to keep it real, Seth Rogen didn’t do a very good job. As one reviewer put it, Garth Ennis’ work is caustically misanthropic, and that’s what fans love about it. The TV series seems to be heading in a softer direction already, and what attempts at badassery they did throw in seemed somewhat ridiculous. I mean, a home-made bazooka? Come on, guys. Even someone who has no real knowledge of blowing shit up knows that is implausible. Why not just blow up the still? That whole ‘Tulip is a tough bitch’ thing just seemed contrived and frankly, made me cringe. I seem to be on the outer there however, because the internet is abuzz with how brilliant she was.

And while we’re on the subject of ridiculousness, can someone explain to me the vampire hunters on the plane? If you’re trying to kill someone, don’t go getting drunk and fucked up with them first. And why would they get on the plane in the first place? Allow it to take off? Give themselves no escape route when the vampire ultimately works out who they are and goes to town? That whole scene made absolutely no sense, and there were a billion better ways to introduce Cassidy.

I could go on forever about how bad it was if I was comparing it to the graphic novels. On that front, the series already doesn’t compare. But if you take away the original, you’re still left with a watered down attempt at entertainment, with an uninspiring lead, a predictable plot, and a bitter taste in your mouth. If they wanted to do it, they should have made an accurate adaptation. If they wanted to make a series about a tortured Preacher helping folks out, they shouldn’t have marketed it as an adaptation at all. Fans of the original, don’t bother. Everyone else, do yourself a favour. Don’t succumb to the internet hype; it’s an hour if your life you’ll never get back.