It’s up to you: Comfort viewing or journeys into the exotic or unknown in these times of lockdown and isolation. As it’s the weekend, let’s assume comfort is your choice.
Ozark (Netflix) returns for a third season and it’s a familiar, furiously paced escape. It will be a top choice for many readers. Me, I’ve been a bit skeptical about it from the get-go. Sometimes it looks like fabricated prestige-TV drama done with a simple-minded adherence to fiery narrative twists coming with such regularity that narrative and character development are tossed aside. Still, I’ll admit it’s addictive, all that propulsion. And it did win some Emmy awards.
Happy to report that in the evidence of the first batch of episodes, it’s tighter, better paced now and still has that pulpy appeal. The Byrdes – accountant Marty (Jason Bateman) and his coolly scheming wife Wendy (Laura Linney) – have their casino licence and are laundering money for the vicious Navarro drug cartel. They’re in so deep, the only way to survive is to go deeper. That cartel will punish with ferocity, a fact made clear by the cartel’s frosty and frightening lawyer Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer).
It’s summer, the Ozarks area is teeming with tourists and Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) is running the casino floor with her characteristic guile. Garner, who won an Emmy for this role and won acclaim for her starring role in the recent movie The Assistant, is the show’s anchor figure. She’s superb as a cunning crook who still retains a slice of naiveté.
In fact, this season Ozark improves largely because of the platform given to its female characters. Wendy Byrde, for all her coolness, is at the end of her tether and she and Marty go into couples counselling. How that plays out is both dramatically sound and an illustration of the moral slime that now covers this family.
There are new characters who don’t have much to do except engage in stupidity that puts the Byrde operation in jeopardy. The cartel gets angry, of course, and Marty faces retribution. At times the plotting still seems too calculated, as though aimed at exhausting a binge-watch audience. Still, it has improved and is recommended. But if you’re going to binge the 10-part series, take it two episodes at a time.
Also airing this weekend
Garth Brooks: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song Concert (Sunday, PBS, 9 p.m.) is a fun, all-star-tribute concert to celebrate Brooks getting the Gershwin Prize. At 58, Brooks is the youngest artist to receive it. There are performances by Keith Urban, Ricky Skaggs, Chris Stapleton, Keb’ Mo’, Lee Brice, the Howard University Choir, and by Brooks and his wife, Trisha Yearwood. The host is Jay Leno, in case you’ve been wondering whatever happened to him.
The Chaperone (Sunday, most PBS stations 11 p.m. on Masterpiece Classic) is a one-off movie that’s a pleasant, odd little creation. Written by the ubiquitous Julian Fellowes, it’s about silent-screen star Louise Brooks in that period where she was about to become a sensation on the screen. Brooks (played with oomph by Haley Lu Richardson) is about to go to New York to study with a leading dance troupe. Her mom insists there be a chaperone. One Norma Carlisle (Elizabeth McGovern) steps forward to volunteer. An uptight woman recovering from a broken marriage, Norma is baffled by Louise’s hedonism and appeal to men. The movie gives you some sense of the formidable erotic charge of Brooks as performer, but gets a bit lost when Norma uses her time in NYC to research her own family background.
Finally, at the suggestion of many readers, this column continues with a “Stay-at-home-period daily-streaming pick” for the next while. Today’s pick is On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Crave). It has an emphatically tough, rounded woman in the central role, with Kirsten Dunst astounding as Krystal Stubbs, a struggling mother, former pageant queen and wife to insurance salesman Travis (Alexander Skarsgard, unrecognizable from his role in Big Little Lies). The couple are at the bottom, barely making ends meet. Then things get worse. It’s about many things, but the Showtime-made, piquantly sour comedy is mainly about American dreams, fallacies and deceit, both personal and societal. It is also terrifically entertaining, twisted and, at times, moving.
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