Jason Bateman’s new show Ozark is not perfect, but it is pretty good. He plays a con artist whose coworker swindled their kingpin boss and got executed; Bateman’s character Marty is also on the chopping block but manages to finagle one last job to save his life. He’s sent with his family to the Ozarks to launder his employer’s money through shady investments before his employer decides to simply cut his losses. Marty has to find businesses to buy and invest a large amount of money in within a pretty rural environment; this gives him a Brewster’s Millions style-problem in a Justified style-world. The show has some problems here and there, but watching a clever guy trying to outsmart dangerous people is always pretty fun. In fact, as I watched it this week I realized Ozark is the show I was hoping Better Call Saul would be.
Ozark has a lot going for it. The show’s got some clever moments and beautiful scenery. Each episode feels a little overstuffed, but the writers always end the episode leaving you wanting more. The casting is pretty great too. Bateman’s great at playing clever men with little patience for morons, though he’s not quite as good at that wide-eyed panic that Bryan Cranston did so well on Breaking Bad. Laura Linney (!) plays his wife and capable partner-in-crime who seems devoted to their family, though her recent affair strains her relationship with Bateman. There’s a strong supporting cast too, but I was happiest to see super cool Jordana Spiro (from the awesome My Boys and the awful sixth season of Dexter) as one of Ozark’s residents.
Ozark actually has quite a bit in common with Better Call Saul. Both shows have a great cast, a distinct style, and clever writing. The difference here is that Ozark’s not afraid to make Bateman’s Marty genuinely dislikeable. He’s petty, egocentric, and pretty amoral overall, and the show relies on Bateman’s charisma to keep the audience connected to the character. Marty reminds me of Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad. Saul (or Jimmy McGill, or whatever) on Better Call Saul, though, is a very different person; he’s constantly portrayed as the nicest guy in New Mexico, persecuted by his vindictive brother and dedicated to defending the elderly. Saul Goodman on Better Call Saul has nothing in common with Breaking Bad’s Saul or Ozark’s Marty, and the show suffers for it.
Again, Ozark is not perfect but it is interesting. Meanwhile I keep grinding through the low stakes world of Better Call Saul hoping that something will happen. Better Call Saul’s big event this season was bringing back Gus Fring for a few episodes, and – while Giancarlo Esposito is always awesome – his appearance just served as a stark reminder that this show would never have existed without Breaking Bad. And it doesn’t help that AMC runs episodes of Breaking Bad over the summer as well; watching old seasons of that thrilling, tense show makes endlessly plodding pace of its successor all the more painful. Ozark is a much better heir to the smart-guy-trying-to-stay-alive genre than Better Call Saul. It’s sleek, dark, and unpredictable, and I haven’t been able to say that about Better Call Saul since its first episode.
Ozark has been renewed for a second season and I’m anxious to see where the show goes next. Marty’s problems seem to keep multiplying in lots of interesting new directions and my complaints about the show are the kind of complaints that can easily be corrected by the second season. Heck, I wasn’t that big a fan of Breaking Bad’s first season, either. But by the second season, the show had become the most interesting show on television. Maybe Ozark can do something similar, there’s a lot of potential directions it could go. Meanwhile, I already know where Better Call Saul is heading as the show shuffles its way up to the events of Breaking Bad. Who knows, maybe Hank and Marie will stop in, or maybe Tuco will drive by. But that manic, what-could-happen-next energy that powered Breaking Bad is long gone, having traded the beautiful deserts of New Mexico for the lush greenery of the Ozarks.