Ozark is the straightest show on TV. Jason Bateman stars as yet another snarky, brooding, middle-aged pencil pusher wearing J.Crew button-downs and Bonobos chinos. This time, he’s in Osage Beach, Missouri, as Marty Byrde, getting involved in Breaking Bad–style drug crimes. Affairs, money laundering and furrowed brows all follow.
Literally the only gay thing about this show is that it’s depressing. Alas, against their better judgment, gay men in quarantine are succumbing to Ozark.
Of course, I can’t fault them too much. As we enter the second month of sheltering in place, TV pickings are slim. Tiger King fanfare is deader than Carole Baskin’s husband, RuPaul’s Drag Race is dragging from overexposure and Too Hot to Handle wasn’t scorching enough.
Suddenly, everywhere I looked, gays were talking about Ozark. “It does come off as a very heteronormative show at first glance,” Brad Gilligan, 31, tells me. Still, he concedes it is “one of the rare shows that can both really shock and surprise me with its storytelling.”
This is high praise for a show whose only notable queer characters are two gay villainous FBI agents and one townie on the down-low. “I low-key forgot about the show after that first season came out,” Kyle Heiner, 23, tells me. “I wasn’t that impressed.” Now, though, stuck in quarantine and all caught up, Heiner is singing Ozark’s praises.
It’s not because he’s contracted coronavirus and lost his sense of taste. “I like the sheer absurdity of the show,” Heiner says. “It’s total fantasy play. All the blond women are badasses and have been killing off men left and right,” Heiner says.
Once you get past Bateman’s brash one-liners, Ozark hits us with gay kryptonite: female actresses eating the shit out of scenes. “It’s the same phenomenon when queers go bananas over Marvel,” Gilligan theorizes. If Meryl Streep is Superman and Laura Dern is Batman, then Laura Linney might be Hawkeye soaring over mountainous Missouri.
Like most prestige TV shows, however, Ozark originally suffered from a focus on men. (Never focus on men!) For much of the first two seasons, Wendy Byrde (Linney) was stuck in a classic “angry wife” role in line with Breaking Bad’s Skyler White (Anna Gunn), Mad Men’s Betty Draper (January Jones) and The Sopranos’ Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco).
That’s started to change this season as Wendy enters the criminal enterprise and becomes the primary point of contact with the Navarro cartel. “She becomes the one who knocks. The Don and the Draper,” Heiner says. Indeed, Marty is no longer the only morally corrupt Byrde flying high. “It’s Laura’s show over Jason’s,” Heiner says. “I’ve been riding with her character since Season One, baby.”
Beyond Wendy, Ozark presents a series of women worth stanning, including scrappy money-launderer Ruth (Julia Garner), the cartel’s commanding attorney Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) and one character my colleague Tim Grierson called “utterly terrifying”: Missouri drug kingpin Darlene (Lisa Emery).
Maybe I need to reconsider my initial disdain for Ozark. Gays are starving for gossip, and I can’t blame my queers for finding nourishment where they can get it. “At the end of the day, I’m a messy bitch that lives for the drama, and Ozark consistently delivers,” Gilligan says.