After years as one of Hollywood's resident funnymen, Jason Bateman will trade in his comedy chops for a dramatic turn in Ozark. The Netflix series, premiering July 21, stars Bateman as Marty Byrde, a financial planner who suddenly uproots his family from the Chicago suburbs and moves them to Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks in a last-ditch effort to appease his angry drug lord bosses. It's an elaborate tale, but one high-stakes enough that it's worth asking: Is Ozark based on a true story?
First, some context. The show centers around Marty, who's been quietly laundering money for a drug kingpin on the side of his more upstanding 9 to 5. When his partner is caught cheating the business, he scrambles to save face with its enraged and dangerous ringleaders by convincing them he'll regain traction in the Ozarks' virgin territory. Instead, he inadvertently interrupts the area's already thriving drug trade, further entangling himself with local ruffians while skirting the FBI, and must find a way to simultaneously placate his bosses, save his family, and not get arrested.
As for whether any of that was based on real life experiences, there doesn't appear to be a definitive answer, but more likely than not, Ozark is strictly fictional. It was written by Bill Dubuque, a screenwriter who, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, worked as a dock hand at the resort where Ozark is set while he was in school in the late '80s.
The outlet also spoke to the lake's police chief, Gary Launderville, who said that while officers do deal with some drug crime, it's nowhere near the scale of what's depicted in the series, and that the department hasn't taken on any money laundering cases during his time as chief.
But Dubuque needn't look far for inspiration. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, drug trafficking accounted for 30 percent of all offenses in within the country in 2013, while the International Business Times reported the same year that the illegal market brought in anywhere from $200 to $750 billion annually.
It's a trade that's also been frequently explored on television, from Breaking Bad's meth-dealing high school chem teacher to HBO's Baltimore-set crime series The Wire. But where Ozark aims to differ is with its emotional pull. "For us, the big question of the season was, can this family stay together somehow?" showrunner Chris Mundy told The New York Times' Jeremy Egner.
In turn, Egner writes, Ozark becomes equal parts nervy crime drama and middle-class nightmare, underscoring its illicit thrills with the poignant story of a fractured family forced to reconnect. See how they fare when Ozark premieres on Netflix.