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What’s true about the new depiction of the Lake of the Ozarks on ‘Ozark’

Kelly Wiesehan | Contributing Writer

The Lake of the Ozarks thrives as a frequented summer destination for people living in St. Louis. Having been born and raised in St. Louis and (partially) at the lake, I’ve come to the conclusion that the lake serves as Missouri’s version of the Hamptons or Cape Cod. This summer, the lake got its big break when “Ozark” debuted on Netflix. The show is a binge-worthy crime thriller created by St. Louis native Bill Dubuque and the show’s star, Jason Bateman.

As someone who has been visiting the lake since infancy, I was eager to see how the producers chose to depict the lake, actively comparing and contrasting the portrayals of the lake and my firsthand experiences.

The show follows Marty Byrde, played by Jason Bateman, is a financial planner in Chicago raising two children with a cheating wife. His business partners get busted for stealing money from the second largest Mexican drug cartel, and Bateman remains the only one alive. The last man standing, Bateman is left to launder eight million dollars for the head of the drug cartel. He decides the best place to clean his cash is at the Lake of the Ozarks, which has more shoreline than the coast of California. Thus, at the end of episode one, he yanks his family down to southern Missouri and begins a new life.

Byrde decides to invest in the Blue Cat Lodge, a motel with a restaurant and a gas dock. The location draws inspiration from Alhonna Resort and Bobber’s Restaurant, a place on the lake my family has visited a handful of times and where producer Bill Dubuque worked in his teens.

“Ozark” does a wonderful job of painting the picture of what these joints look like. For example, at the same gas dock, people will see a 42-foot boat littered with Vineyard Vines and Ray-Bans in the same slip as a fishing boat filled with “Duck Dynasty”-worthy characters. This juxtaposition epitomizes the atmosphere on the lake. People at the lake truly do range drastically in terms of appearance and behavior, anywhere from hillbillies to hedge fund managers.

“Ozark” is jam-packed with multi-dimensional, enticing characters who fall under a certain section of southern Missouri archetypes. The Langmore family serves as the show’s stereotypical depiction of Ozark natives. They live in a trailer, have a family member in prison, drink beer for breakfast and will do just about anything for a lick of cash. Strip club owner Bobby Dean plays the role of the bald meathead archetype that thrives at the lake. I can attest that a decent amount of men at the lake with Batmobile-esque boats are likely bald, buff and boisterous.

The show also has an episode that consists of a wealthy, young college guy asking Byrde’s daughter Charlotte to the notorious Party Cove on his daddy’s yacht. Only an hour away from Mizzou, college kids flourish at the Ozarks during the summer. Though these characters represent exaggerated stereotypes in their extremes, they add dimension to the show and satisfy some viewers’ ideas about southern Missourians.

My only complaint about the depiction of the Ozarks is that the show is slow to highlight the other half of lake life, which bursts with Carver yachts and homes with helicopter pads. The Rolex-wearing, golf-playing, white-haired man who frequents the lake at his summer home remains an Ozark archetype that is not featured. And although “Ozark” recreates Alhonna impeccably, the show does not show resort-worthy bars and grills, most of which offer swim-up bars with tiki huts. The lake provides the closest thing to Cancun the Midwest has to offer.

I am hoping that Dubuque and Bateman choose to show viewers more of this side of the lake in season two. I would love to see more of the Spanish-tiled, stucco homes throwing million-dollar parties on their million-dollar yachts.

As someone whose TV shows normally take place in New York City or Los Angeles, it’s fascinating to watch Hollywood paint the picture of my home turf. Though the crime thriller genre is not one that I typically enjoy, the setting hooked me and now I’m fully invested in the plot and characters. I recommend the show to anyone who has visited Lake of the Ozarks or to anyone who is looking for a binge-worthy, on-the-edge-of-your-seat drama series taking place in one of the most interesting places in the Midwest.