Jake Buckler is wrong about Ozark

Just say Nozark.

Jake Buckler spent the better part of a day writing last week’s Streaming Saturday article, optimistically titled “Ozark Season 2: Character Development Makes it a Winner.” You know, I tried season one and let’s just say it wasn’t my cup of tea. Now I read this article and let’s just say, I think Buckler’s been using some of what the Snells have been selling. He’s way off base here and I intend to show you why.

Disclaimer: I made it through 4 1/2 episodes of Season 2 before I wanted to walk up to Darlene Snell and call her a redneck, just to end my suffering. 

You can’t have character development when you have no characters.

Before I get any further let me tell you I actually like most of these actors and I think it’s the writing and the premise that lets them down. I think they’re all of them capable of so much more than a low-rent, kudzu-filled imitation of Breaking Bad.

Buckler claims you get to know more about the characters in Season 2. I didn’t see that. I saw the same cardboard portrayals as last season. Every single character is a Johnny One-Note take on a character that actor’s played before. Jason Bateman plays an evil version of his Arrested Development character. Laura Linney is a more mature pastiche of every role she’s played thus far. Trevor Long seems to have made a career of playing angry and unpredictable working class dogs, and his Cade Langmore is no exception. This character exists as nothing more than a cigarette holder attached to a wet stick of dynamite.

And let me just take a moment from the blistering pace of this article to talk about Peter Mullan. Here you see an actor with incredible range. He took on the challenging role of aging and corrupt patriarch of the Delos clan in Westworld and after crushing that, moved on to the challenging role of aging and corrupt patriarch of the Snell clan in Ozark. (While you might think he also plays the aging and corrupt patriarch in Succession —I did— that turns out to be Brian Cox.) Mr. Mullan does seem to be a master of accents, and that’s something, but frankly the world is full of corrupt late-boomer men. Obviously they’re somewhat interchangeable.

Don’t even get me started on the “younger generation” actors. Nothing there but self-involvement and the buds of corruption. To be fair I’ve said the characters were One-Notes, and in one case it’s not true. Julia Garner’s Ruth has two notes: angry/sad and angrier/sadder.

Plot? Seriously?

Here’s where this show really drops the ball. They have a problem. They find some miraculously convenient way to solve it. Lather, rinse, repeat. There’s just no sense of real menace with the exception of Darlene Snell’s utterly evil gaze. Even that is tediously repeated with no real payoff.

Evil people smoke. Yeah I get that.

There seems to be a trope in 21st century TV. If you want to show how evil a person is inside, you can let them smoke. I’m not in favor of smoking by the way. It’s a nasty habit with absolutely zero upside. What I’m saying here is it seems like in movies, people look more evil when they smoke and if all you’re going to do is show someone smoking, and that’s how you know they’re evil, that just seems lazy and stupid. Tell me one thing about Cade Langmore other than he smokes and says stupid things while smoking.

An unfair portrayal of Middle America

Buckler likes to paint himself as the champion of middle American values, while painting me as an out-of-touch coastal elitist. Listen you interminable boob, I’m not the one who portrays the Ozarks as full of unredeemable idiots. I’m not the one who makes each person physically and psychologically ugly. I’m not the one who juxtaposes the natural beauty of a lovely lake with the eczema-like outcroppings placed on it by man.

I’ve seen the middle of our country, Buckler, and it’s full of fine people. I agree with some and I disagree with some. But then that’s true of all people. I think Ozark shows you a world where hairbrushes haven’t been invented, where the only way to succeed is to be a corrupt hillbilly, and where everyone drives 1980s American cars. I know the middle of our country isn’t like that. Do you?

Watch something better with your time.

Don’t watch Ozark. If you want to see a TV series where people treat each other like family, face challenges, and wring wry humor out of life’s situations while still acknowledging the reality of how hard it is to be out of the mainstream, watch Grace and Frankie on Netflix. Buckler will jump on the fact that it’s set in California, but that’s not why I like it. I like it because I realize that in the end, it’s harder to write a good story with a happy ending than it is to throw together a bunch of bad people and have them do bad things.

Bad things like… wasting 10 hours of your life on Ozark. Just don’t. Just say Nozark.