“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Sugarwood”

The final and most perplexing deviation from the antihero-drama norm involves Marty Byrde himself — his personality this time, not just his last name. Basically, Ozark takes the idea of the compellingly immoral protagonist and takes the “compellingly” out of the equation. Marty’s handsome and successful, but he has no charisma. His equivalent of a beguiling “Draper pitch” speech is a dreary opening soliloquy about how money isn’t everything, it’s the only thing or some shit to that effect, delivered to a young couple who don’t understand what he’s talking about any more than we do. He’s surrounded by violence, but he’s neither its perpetrator nor its primary victim. He’s not much of a family man, so you can’t really say “hmm, maybe he’s got a heart of gold despite it all.”

And while he seems as stressed out as first-season Walter White, he’s actually quite rich, so there’s no financial plight to sympathize with; moreover, he’s an asshole instead of a basically alright dude who slowly lets his inner asshole take over, so you don’t really empathize with him, or even like him, either. He barely manages five seconds of quasi-crying in an unguarded moment before he’s back on track. (Wendy and their daughter Charlotte, by contrast, share a hug over the unspoken trauma hanging over the family during an uncharacteristically moving moment.) It’s like if the main character of Game of Thrones were Stannis Baratheon, but without even the benefit of actor Stephen Dillane’s smoldering gritted-teeth resentment, since Bateman plays the part like he didn’t get enough sleep the night before. (Hell, he co-wrote and directed the episode, so maybe he didn’t!) The end result is that Marty is all anti, no hero.

In its own perverse way, this makes Ozark unusual. Does it make it interesting, or enjoyable? Like Marty, we’ll just have to hope that the whole thing is so crazy that it works.

I’m covering Ozark, Netflix’s show of the summer, for Decider! Here’s my take on the premiere.

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