This week, the Story Grid Showrunners fell in love with the Netflix TV Series OZARK – a thrilling story about an unassuming man who is forced to run to the Ozarks to launder money to save his and his family’s life. He has to take his reluctant teenagers and a failing marriage. It’s a brilliant combination of a thriller with a marriage love story, underpinned with shades of an internal morality genre
Randall: Pretty good, some nice surprises, overall the story worked.
Parul: High stakes, constantly moving. The story worked as a thriller.
It’s a great way to analyse any story and figure out if it works. Here are the questions. We’ll touch on them in this podcast, but the full notes can be downloaded afterwards.
We start with what appears to be a normal family: Marty is an accountant who appears to watch porn all the time. The kids are pretty normal, Charlotte is a normal teenager with attitude and Jonah seems to be pretty normal too. Then we find out that Marty knows his wife is cheating on him. All of this sets the stage for the viewers, we see the family at home, work and play and we have a good idea what they are all about.
Randall: Thriller is the Global Genre right? Life and death are the stakes in this story.
Parul: However, you can’t miss that Love as a genre is laced in here.
The Love subgenre is a Marriage/ intimacy story where a committed relationship is now at a crossroads. Something external provokes trust issues and challenges the lovers to recognize, accept, and love the authentic other person rather than the illusion the other displayed during the courtship phase. There is a paradoxical (win-but-lose, lose-but-win) ending. The Marriage Love story may be either prescriptive or cautionary.
Marty and Wendy Bryde are at a crossroads, but you’ll see that the thriller dominant genre add a special twist. Marty has been so wrapped up in his money laundering scheme that Wendy turned to someone else for comfort. After the inciting incident Marty has to take his family to the Ozarks – Wendy wants to leave him but is forced to stay with him on threat of death from Del. As the Season progresses, they make up, they have sex, but towards the end we see real intimacy between them. In the final scene, they are reunited and the love is real – they have remembered each other.
Morality is intertwined in this story in so far that we have a man who is using a moral code that is against the societal norm. He has chosen to take this path to help elevate his family’s security and status. However, he brings people around him down – Mason the preacher, his children. Their moral code also changes.
Inciting Incident of the villain – kills everyone and threatens Marty and his family
Speech in praise of the villain – FBI and Marty to his wife
Hero becomes the villain – Marty and his family are targeted from the beginning
Hero at the Mercy of the villain – yes, multiple times
False ending – yes
Morality (Internal Genre)
To illustrate the presence of morality in this story, look at the showdown. What’s the showdown for Morality?
The Showdown – protagonist actively sacrifices self in service of an individual, a group, or humanity (positive) or consciously chooses to remain selfish (negative) – We have Marty Bryd who is calmly negotiating with the biggest drug dealer and money launderer to create a situation for them to allow his family to live. He has told his family to create a life without him.
The protagonist faces literal or metaphorical death and either loses the battle but gains self-respect, meaning, and peace; or wins the battle but loses those things a great sacrifice. In all internal genres, there is a paradoxical ending. He doesn’t win the battle – Del is murdered, and he’s now dealing with the fickle and racist Snells – but he has his family back, they love him and come back to him.
What are the Conventions of the Global Genre
MacGuffin – Cartel wants its money washed
Red Herrings – we see multiple possible solutions fail for Marty (restaurant, church, strip club, inheritance investment)
Making it personal – the cartel sees the disappearance of its men as personal
Clock – Marty continues to get calls about his deadline to clean the money
Did the Series match the Trailer?
Randall: The end – surprising and inevitable
Parul: Marty pouring over a map looking geeky while talking to the biggest most dangerous drug kings.
What’s the next Series?
Category: 5 commandments, 6 core questions, Authors, Blog, Screenwriters, Story Grid, Story Grid Showrunners Podcast, television, tv series, WritersTags: Drugs, Jason Bateman, netflix, Ozark, Thriller Genre
Hi, my name is Randy Surles and I edit Thrillers and Action novels. I specialize in Fantasy, Science Fiction, and anything with a military flavor to it.