Certain viewers would count Ozark as among the best shows on Netflix. I can’t say I’m one of them based on the first two seasons. They were aggressively “fine.” Well-acted and engaging with Julia Garner delivering one of the best breakout performances of the past several years but also very indebted to the clichés of its subgenre (crime drama with family elements/angle.) There was no reason to suspect this would be changing with season 3. After all the first two seasons cultivated a fanbase that love the show regardless of how it plays into the clichés of the genre. Starting this season not much appears to have changed on the surface but even if the earlier episodes and elements of the season as a whole still playing into audiences expectations there is a much more refined focus in the storytelling and the narrative is a lot more engaging as a result. By focusing a lot of the action on the Byrd family’s new casino that was established at the end of season 2 and the storylines that are directly related it enables the writers to trim some of the fat. The show could definitely be accused of being a little overstuffed in the narrative department in the past.
The performances remain strong. Jason Bateman and Laura Linney deliver strong work in the central roles skirting the line effectively between concerned parents to their children and running a criminal empire that simultaneously enables them to be overlords in certain ways and way over their head in others. Julia Garner continues to be terrific giving real heart and humanity to a character that could have come across as a dull cliché. Janet Mcteer was a good addition in season 2 but she really steps it up this season with some meaty character material reinforcing that while she is an ally to our antiheroes, they could she could request they get killed off at any second.
This seasons real MVP though is Tom Pelphrey as Linney’s brother who was referenced but not seen in the previous seasons. Well it’s definitely fair to accuse the writers of the “introduce additional family members to create drama” cliché by the end of the season it’s one of the best examples of using this trope effectively. Well Pelphrey is in the background for the first half of the season he really gets the chance to unleash in the second half and deliver one of the outstanding TV performances of the past several years. He is completely unrecognisable from his days of playing Ward in defunct Netflix/Marval universes atrocious Iron Fist (one of the worst shows ever.) In no large part thanks to his arc and performance the season reaches heights in the second half that it would be safe to assume this show could never achieve based on its previous seasons.
For its extraordinary high points, the season isn’t perfect. There’s a storyline and romance that forms between two characters and the writers can’t seem to decide if they want this particular story element to play as endearing or creepy and it ends up in a bizarre middle ground. “While the first half of this season is still a marked improvement over the previous efforts the season doesn’t really deliver the truly exceptional stuff until the second half especially the final three episodes.
Ozark has really levelled up from a quality perspective with its third season especially in the second half. It’s evolved from playing into clichés to delivering some of the best material in the “crime family drama subgenre. In a year that seemed disappointing seasons of Westworld, and Homecoming as well as a major let down in the form of the Alex Garland miniseries Devs Ozark season three will comfortably be competing for some of the best TV of 2019. this would have been unthinkable after seasons one and two .