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Writing for TV: Ozark Pilot

Writing for television is a challenging task for anyone, no matter their expertise. The pilot is a monumental hurdle, with highly acclaimed pilots being a shining example of what to do with writing a television script. In recent memory, Ozark is a perfect example of a show that has a great pilot and utilizes the excellent points that make a great television series.

Ozark is an American crime drama series created by Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams for Netflix. The series stars Jason Bateman (Marty) and Laura Linney (Wendy) as a married couple who relocate their family to the Lake of the Ozarks after a money-laundering scheme for a Mexican drug cartel goes wrong.

Marty proposes to make amends with the cartel by offering a more extensive laundering operation in the Lake of the Ozarks region of central Missouri. Going off the success of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and Narcos, how did Ozark manage to create yet another great drug and crime show? Nevertheless, let’s take a look at writing lessons from the Ozark pilot and show as a whole.

Still from 'Ozark'. Photo credit: Indiewire

Not Being Scared Of Dark Plotlines

Primarily based around drug cartels and the money laundering side in the United States, Ozark isn’t scared of the dark and gritty. Almost immediately, we see the death of Bruce, Bruce's fiancée Liz, Hanson Sr, and Hanson Jr. It’s a set-up to demonstrate how the writers aren’t scared about killing off characters.

Although we aren’t deeply connected to those four characters, it goes into the territory of eliminating characters and the antagonist nature of Del. The plot furthers its idea of going with the dark route, as Marty comes up with its central plot point of moving to the Ozarks to essentially save his life.

The Big Reveal

Ozark’s pilot does a great job of not rushing us into the money laundering portion of the story. Instead, it opens on Marty watching a video of his wife cheating on him. It understands that a show shouldn’t be rushed, and it doesn’t take long for the big reveal to happen with who Marty really is.

Who initially appears to be an upper-class financial advisor ends up being a significant component of a drug cartel. This isn’t necessarily a considerable reveal since we know the show has something to do with drugs as an audience. What it does do is set up the writing moving forward, demonstrating that plot reveals will come along with the story.

Putting Actors Into Unfamiliar Territory

If you told people ten years ago that Michael Bluth from Arrested Development would eventually star in a dark and severe set drama about money laundering from a drug cartel, they would’ve laughed in your face. Ozark is all about putting actors into unfamiliar territory, showcasing their versatility and experience.

This unfamiliar territory is best seen with Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad. Who everyone viewed as a loveable father figure in a sitcom soon turned into a masterful performance of a character who is desperate. A similar situation is done with Jason Bateman in Ozark, genuinely showing his range as an actor.

Writing A Story With What’s Popular

Many claim the success of Ozark is primarily due to when it was released. It came out during a time when the success of Breaking Bad and Narcos was on everyone’s mind. People were craving a dark, gritty drug-type show, but it’s much more than that. Ozark wouldn’t have been successful without its excellent writing, acting, plot, and directing.

Still, the show’s pilot represents how writing a story that’s oriented around something that’s trending can give it a better chance of being successful. Obviously, no pilot script should be a direct rip-off of something, but if you can manage to ride the wave of what’s popular, it’ll only boost your script.

The Ultimate Antihero

Ozark follows the path of developing the ultimate antihero we all root for even though their actions have consequences. Like Tony Soprano or Walter White, Marty Byrde is a gentleman money launderer who is a fussy father who constantly eliminates the temptation to leave his employer.

Marty wants to do what’s right but is constantly forced to lie for the betterment of his family. Marty and Wendy constantly lie to their kids, an aspect that many argue should never be done as a parent. Still, we can’t help but root for Marty to somehow get out of this situation as an audience.

Multi-Layered Plots

Ozark is more than just a typical crime drama television series. Its pilot features a multilayered plot of a wife having an affair, a man losing his business partner, and the idea of being forced into a situation for survival. It continues to develop throughout it, hinting at what’s to come, leaving many excited for the final season in 2022.


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