"Ozark," Friday on Netflix • Three stars (out of four)
If you live in St. Louis, chances are you have feelings about Lake of the Ozarks.
Maybe it's where your family always went when you were growing up, where you learned to boat and water ski, and where you take your own kids today.
Maybe you don't go, but you've heard about Party Cove, drunken boating, nudity crackdowns and a general frat-house atmosphere. Or you see the place from a distance as the "Redneck Riviera," where summer tourists mingle uncomfortably with a year-round population of overall-clad locals.
St. Louisan Bill Dubuque has known Lake of the Ozarks all his life and worked there as a teenager. He loves the place. But beyond the sun and fun, he imagines the lake as a place to hide, a place that might hold secrets.
The result is "Ozark," arriving Friday on Netflix and telling a grim and addictive story of greed, bad decisions and desperate measures inspired by desperate straits.
Jason Bateman stars as Marty Byrde, a Chicago money manager who has been dabbling with laundering money for a Mexican drug boss (Esai Morales).
Found out, panicked, he seizes on an idea he had previously dismissed: to move the whole operation to Lake of the Ozarks, a spot where the sprawl and coves and immense coastline may provide uncharted opportunities.
Bateman strikes the right mixture of guilt, terror and glib intelligence to make us reluctantly root for him. As his wife, Wendy, Laura Linney goes for spunky over sympathetic, and gets sympathy in the process. A standout is Julia Garner as Ruth Langmore, the young but formidable matriarch of a family criminal enterprise.
"Ozark" doesn't put a pretty face on the community of locals, some of whom do treat camouflage as "a primary color." But almost everyone turns out to be smarter, or at least craftier, than the Byrds expect. The newcomers are the freaks in this tale of fish out of water, flopping frantically to survive.
"Ozark" won't be for everyone. It is graphically violent, with strong sexual content and language that lands it a TV-MA rating. The plot runs from dark to darker.
But there are also flashes of humor, and the Byrdes are well-developed as characters from the beginning. Their plight, and the path they find themselves on, is twisty enough to hold interest, but laid out clearly enough to keep viewers from feeling hopelessly lost.
How people who love Lake of the Ozarks will respond to the show can't easily be predicted. But remember, if the scene doesn't look quite right, that's not Missouri at all. "Ozark" was shot almost entirely in Georgia.