Ozark Netflix review: Are the Breaking Bad comparisons justified?

Ozark (C) Netflix

Ozark (C) Netflix - Credit: Ozark (C) Netflix

Ozark, Netflix's high-profile drama, is back for a second series and once again it's garnering comparisons to Breaking Bad. Is it the series to watch for fans who miss Walter White, Jesse Pinkman and their, ahem, backyard chemistry experiments?

Ozark (C) Netflix

Ozark (C) Netflix - Credit: Ozark (C) Netflix

Ozark proved something of a Netflix hit when it first arrived on the streaming service starring Jason Bateman and Laura Linney and the second season continues to follow Marty and his family as they navigate the murky waters of life within a dangerous drug cartel.

The series tells the story of Marty Byrde (Bateman), a Chicago-based financial planner who is forced to relocate his family to the Missouri Ozarks when his dealings with the drug cartel he's laundering money for take a dramatic turn for the worse.

The idea of a family man getting himself involved in dealings of the drug kind earned comparisons to arguably the greatest television series of all time, Breaking Bad and a certain Walter Hartwell White Sr, aka Heisenberg.

At the time of season one's debut, the Radio Times put the comparison to series lead Jason Bateman who did agree there were similarities but also pointed out the differences. He elaborated, 'I'm sort of a normal guy that's having to deal with a dangerous group of people, a dangerous situation that's not similar to his regular occupation. I think in Breaking Bad he's a teacher, science professor? I saw a few of 'em. But my guy is a financial planner and he's laundering money for a drug cartel on the side.'

Ozark (C) Netflix

Ozark (C) Netflix - Credit: Ozark (C) Netflix

Bateman added, 'Hopefully there's a similarity in the quality of the show; that show was fantastic.' After a very good second season filled with some stellar performances, following an impressive first, there's every chance Ozark can continue taking steps towards it quality-wise. But are the Breaking Bad comparisons fair? As a Breaking Bad fan in mourning after the end of the series, will Ozark give your fix?

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Ozark v Breaking Bad

The lead characters:

If you need a little refresher course when it comes to Breaking Bad, it told the story of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who, when diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, turned to cooking and selling methamphetamine to secure his family's future. An immediate similarity – further sparking the initial comparisons – is the background of the respective actors in the lead roles. Bryan Cranston was best known for his role in sitcom, Malcom in the Middle, before proving a revelation as Walter White. Similarly, Jason Bateman's background is predominantly comedy with him well known for playing Michael Bluth on Arrested Development. As for their characters, one – Walt – is completely new to the world of drugs and criminality. The other – Marty – is already laundering money for the drug cartel when we meet him. Whereas Walt is 'breaking bad', Marty has broken it already. But while they are at different stages of their immersion into a new world, they are both normal guys thrown into a dangerous situation – both by choice, both taking a diffrent path to their regular occupation which forces them both to deal with dangerous people on both sides of the law.

The family set-up:

Family plays an important role in both Breaking Bad and Ozark and proves to be a key driver for both Walt and Marty. Walt's wife, Skyler, (Anna Gunn) is heavily pregnant when we meet her and oblivious to his criminal ways for the opening two seasons, as is his son Walt Junior (RJ Mitte) who has cerebral palsy. In the case of Ozark, Marty's wife, Wendy (Laura Linney), is aware of his criminal ways and arguably complicit. Their children, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) and Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) also are made aware at the end of the opening episode. Neither are picture perfect, happy families but one is more a family with a criminal in it whereas the other is, simply put, a criminal family.

The sidekick:

In another move which undoubtedly added fuel to the comparisons fire, Marty has help from a younger protégé in a similar vein to how Walt was partnered by his former student turned drug dealer, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). In Marty's case, he encounters the best character in the show, Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) who's the daughter of a local crime family and tries to steal the money he's set to launder for the drug cartel, only to eventually wind up working for Marty and learn the ins and outs of his money laundering operation. In both cases, the sidekick – for lack of a better word – has the knowledge to help Walt and Marty make their way in their new worlds (the drug trade and the Ozarks). In both cases, the relationship fluctuates between good and bad, mentor and friend, father figure and adversary.

The story:

One of Breaking Bad's greatest victories was the journey of Walter White, the story of a good man transforming into a bad one, losing himself to his alter-ego Heisenberg as he rose through the drug trade and became something of a kingpin himself. In the case of Ozark, it's a little harder to see Marty having quite the journey. He's a good man and at worst, morally questionable. Ozark casts a wider focus than Breaking Bad. It's more a case of how exposure to the new world Marty is living in may transform his family and the workings of a massive criminal network. There are a veritable raft of characters – especially in season two – with focus on the Byrde family, the Langmore family and the Snells, heroin farmers who own the land where Marty hopes to build a casino to launch a money laundering gold mine for the cartel. The drama stems from just how one individual could see the whole operation come crashing down.

So...is Ozark the next Breaking Bad?

In short, it's a classic case of 'if you liked that, you'll like this…'. Ozark shares a warm familiarity, rather than raging similarity, to Breaking Bad. There's no telling where the story will go in later seasons but it's a case of so far, so good for the Netflix series. Ozark does, however, have more than enough weapons in its arsenal to reach similar levels of quality in terms of cast, characters and the world they inhabit. That's perhaps the best comparison to make – not, is Ozark the next Breaking Bad but more, can Ozark hit the same heights as Breaking Bad? After two good seasons, Ozark will surely command a third and it was then – in my experience at least – in that third series that Breaking Bad really began hitting its stride. Netflix, the floor is yours…