The echoes of “Breaking Bad” have grown louder in “Ozark,” a Netflix series about a couple descending farther and farther down the rabbit hole into criminality, despite their futile efforts to get clean. While by no means a great show, the intense second season cements its status as an eminently binge-worthy one.
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are back as Marty and Wendy Byrde, whose unfortunate association with a drug cartel landed them in the Ozarks. But as the bloody, surprising end to the first season indicated, Marty’s days as a money manager are giving way to a new career path, one destined to test the agile, angle-playing mind that he’ll repeatedly need to talk himself out of one perilous situation after another.
The big idea this time out is to filter all those ill-gotten gains through a casino, seemingly the perfect machine to launder money, and maybe even multiply it.
Alas, that merely brings the Byrdes into contact with a new array of unsavory characters, while fraying their familial bonds, straining alliances and loyalties and inflicting no shortage of collateral damage.
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Doubling as producer and star as well as occasional director, Bateman is perfectly suited to playing this guy who’s easy to identify with, if increasingly difficult to root for.
Linney remains his match, with even juicier character beats this season. The contours of their marriage — initially defined by her infidelity, and his emotional distance — continue to evolve, so much so when she confides that someone made an indecent proposal to her related to their financial endeavors, Marty’s first reaction is to contemplate whether complying might be worth it, depending on the offer.
The cast elevates the material, with meaty wrinkles for Jordana Spiro and Julia Garner as two of the locals drawn deeper and deeper into Marty’s orbit. Harris Yulin is also a kick as their crusty but loyal neighbor with his own complicated past.
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Too much about “Ozark” echoes previous shows to give it any hint of freshness (thanks to the tone and setting, it’s a mash-up of “Justified” and “Breaking Bad”); still, the writing is generally inventive about concocting wrinkles throughout an even-darker season that steadily advances the story — in a manner suited to a greedy Labor Day weekend binge — while laying plenty of groundwork for a third.
All told, that makes “Ozark” the kind of franchise that Marty would likely embrace – the sort of addition to Netflix’s vast portfolio that provides discerning viewers a solid return on investment.
“Ozark” premieres Aug. 31 on Netflix.