After watching the pilot and second episodes of Netflix’s newet crime show, I was struck by how much of the story was shaped by its setting. You see, Ozark gets one hugely important thing right that other shows often miss;
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!
How many times have you heard a director say something as trite as “The haunted house is like a fifth chracter.” Do you know what I say in response? “Go fuck yourself, Paul W. S. Anderson – where you’re going, you won’t need eyes to direct!”
While I totally believe in the old writer’s adage “Story is character, Character is story” choosing the right setting for your events to play out is another half the battle in film and TV.
The environment can have a huge impact on your characters. Weather, topological terrain, local population can all influence your story. Ignoring the fact that most of America looks like one big car park, it also has a wealth of instantly recognisable regions that cities, states and regions have become a trope or shortcut in and of themselves.
Without rapid rivers, forests and inbreds of the Appalachians, there is no Deliverance. Similarly, without the dustbowl, Great Depression, Wall Street Crash and one family’s exodus, Steinbeck’s great American novel The Grapes of Wrath vanishes from existenZ.
Breaking Bad could only ever take place in the meth capital of ABQ. Tony Soprano must live in New Jersey, not South Dakota. The very logic of Fargo’s characters requires its North Western setting. Angel Heart’s voodoo only works amongst the bayous of Louisiana, as does the slightly supernatural element of True Detective.
“But season two was set in L.A.” I hear you cry.
Yet, for all these iconic American backdrops, we do need new settings. Enter The Ozark mountains, which connect Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Travelling Route 66 south and west, St Louis is where I found The South really begins; street names take on creole-sounding names and that lazy drawl creeps in. Set two hour’s drive west, Ozark looks ripe for some down and dirty, pig-squealin’ redneck action.
With its trees and lakes, this isn’t an America I recognise. In my 28-state road trip, I only hopped skippped and jumped through Missouri but, furthermore and most uncouchpotato-ey of me, this region is not somewhere I’ve connected with vicariously through film and TV.
Let me explain: I’ve never spent much time in Kansas or Colorado but I feel I know their giant fields of wheat and corn and combine harvesters through Superman. I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest but you instinctively have a feel for a place like Twin Peaks. The Ozarks are neither Appalachia nor deep south but somewhere in between, if not geographically then culturally.
Despite loving seeing and learning about a totally new American location, I admit I’m a tiny bit lost but if that’s my biggest gripe about a show, it’s doing just fine.
Ozark is available to stream on Netflix. Go watch it, you redneck cocksuckers.