On the surface, “Ozark is a murder-and-mayhem show,” according to Sofia Hublitz, the actress who played Charlotte Byrde on Ozark—which recently concluded its four-season Netflix run in April 2022. For me, however, I couldn’t help shake the feeling that the show is a catastrophic version of Full House or Family Matters. An antithesis to the popular family sitcoms of the 1980s and ’90s, but connected nonetheless.
The series centers around the Byrde family; father Marty (Jason Bateman), mother Wendy (Laura Linney), daughter Charlotte, and son Jonah (Skylar Gaertner). Through seedy partnerships and financial impropriety, Marty has been left with no choice but to launder money for the Navarro Family drug cartel, a daunting task that Marty has turned into a family affair. Saying that the show centers around the Byrdes is not unlike saying planets center around a Black Hole. The other families—the Langmores, the Snells, the Cosgroves, the Davises, and the Pierces—are all caught in their destructive gravitational pull. Even family units with smaller roles have nothing to show for their relationship with the Byrdes other than missing persons reports and funerals.
The body count is high, the individual character storylines are vast, and the plot sounds preposterous, but as a viewing experience, Ozark never seems far-fetched, nor is the plot development haphazard. The main reason for this is because the show touches on a very familiar heartstring with a sinister twist: their emphasis on the nuclear family in combination with the role of the anti-hero. Therein lies the show’s mass appeal—Ozark has been nominated for 32 Emmys and winner of three (outstanding supporting actress twice, plus outstanding directing). The anti-hero has been played in more recent times by Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), then Don Draper (Mad Men), and Walter White (Breaking Bad). The Byrdes are the latest iteration of this trend. If anything, I am reminded of Tim Keller’s classic definition of idolatry, in which “good things” are regarded as “ultimate things.” The Byrdes’ all-or-nothing desire for self-preservation leaves ruinous results for anyone caught in their idolatrous vortex, and by the final season, to see an entire family of anti-heroes accept this as their identity left me speechless in all the best ways a TV show can contrive. (Netflix, Rated TV-MA for drugs, violence, sex and language)