Ozark is one of Netflix’s darkest shows – literally. Fans have complained about what an eyesore Ozark is to look at but here’s why it’s all by design.
There’s no question that Ozark is a dark TV series – and that includes how it’s shot, which is literally too dark. Netflix’s crime saga set in Osage Beach, Missouri, is executive produced and stars Jason Bateman, who plays money launderer and family man Marty Byrde. In its three seasons, Ozark has distinguished itself as one of Netflix’s finest dramatic series and has netted an Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy win for Julia Garner, who plays the tough-as-nails local Ruth Langmore.
In Ozark season 1, Marty Byrde relocates his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) and their two children, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), from Chicago to Osage Beach in a desperate attempt to launder millions of dollars for a Mexican drug lord. Marty tries to navigate the local terrain, and the dangerous criminal element established in the Ozarks, as his kids discover their parents are criminals. Ozark season 2 sees the Byrdes becoming more entrenched in Osage Beach as they establish ‘legitimate’ businesses as fronts for the Navarro drug cartel, which includes building a riverboat casino. By Ozark season 3, the Byrde family faces its greatest threat yet when Wendy’s bi-polar brother Ben (Tom Pelphrey) jeopardizes the entire family business, but Marty and Wendy manage to outwit their rival, Navarro’s attorney Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer), to earn the trust of their employer.
However, as riveting as the acting and writing of the crime drama is, fans do have one serious complaint about how literally dark Ozark is. Simply put, the show can be an eyesore, with its perpetually gloomy shadows and its constant shades of blue-grey, when during the show’s many daylight scenes where the weather is obviously bright and sunny (much of Ozark takes place in the summertime, after all). Ozark’s murky cinematography is comparable to other hard-to-look-at series, such as Game of Thrones season 8; in 2019, fans levied countless complaints about how dark and hard to watch the Battle of Winterfell was in the episode, “The Long Night”. But like the Emmy-winning HBO series, Ozark’s dark photography is purposefully by design and meant to invoke the endlessly dangerous world that the Byrde family lives in.
In 2018, Ozark’s cinematographer Ben Kutchins explained to Decider that the rationale behind Ozark’s muddy color palette is to convey the dangerous and disturbing world the Byrde family has to navigate: “We don’t know if the Byrd family is going to make it through this, you know? And at every corner there’s a new adversary and a new puzzle to be solved, there’s a new riddle.” Drawing inspiration from the films of David Fincher, the Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom, and Gordon Willis’ Klute, Kutchins and Jason Bateman collaborated on Ozark’s visual style, which is meant to constantly provoke the audience into peering at every shadow looking for threats.
Kutchins also explained to Deadline that Ozark uses practical and single-source lights whenever possible, but also limits those light sources since, in real life, most people “don’t go around turning on every light in the house”. The series also uses an in-camera cyan tilt and receives a huge amount of color-correction in post-production to achieve Ozark’s signature gloomy blue-grey aesthetic. This results in Ozark’s brooding visuals that plunges all of the characters into a gathering darkness, whether they’re in the Byrdes’ lakehouse, the bright, blinking gaming floor of the Missouri Belle casino, or even Darlene Snell’s (Lisa Emery) colorful poppy fields in the harsh light of day. Ultimately, Ozark is a dark show in every way possible, and it will continue to be as the filmmakers continue to explore the extent of how far the Byrde family will go to keep their life of crime in the shadows.