You've got to hand it to Ozark, Jason Bateman's showy crime series about a slippery financial adviser who becomes immersed with Mexican drug cartels. In the years since its debut, the narco drama (whose final season arrived on Netflix last week) has been on somewhat of a journey. And then some.
When it premiered back in 2017 – with an opening episode in which Bateman's character, Marty Bird, goes from sexless marriage to a near-death encounter with a drug kingpin – its shtick felt too obviously derivative to be taken seriously. Here was a drama, you felt, that had been commissioned for one purpose: to serve as Netflix's 'next up' show for viewers who'd just binged Breaking Bad and couldn't be bothered to reach for the remote.
Half a decade later and Ozark is a very different beast. Gone are the cartoonish ultraviolence and Grand Theft Auto-style body-counts that ruined its first season. In its place stands a mature and claustrophobic thriller about a family (headed up by the superb Laura Linney as Wendy Bird) trying desperately to launder the riches of an impatient drug cartel through a riverboat casino already subject to round-the-clock FBI monitoring. Last season’s stellar mental health subplot was just the cherry on the cake.
Is it a coincidence Ozark's approval ratings soared at the time its death-counts started heading in the opposite direction? Of course not. Its writers have discovered the apparent paradox at the heart of the best crime and mafia dramas: the more the lead characters participate in mindless tit-for-tat violence, the less we actually care if they live or die. Having cracked that nut, they have everything in place for a superb send-off.
And there's more good news: Bateman's Marty Bird is far from the only watchable scoundrel on screen this season. With the last remnants of festive goodwill now well and truly banished from our screens, the spring line-up is littered with assorted shades of criminal – of both the true and fictional varieties.
After a string of pandemic delays, Netflix finally brings us Inventing Anna (11 February) – an original drama series inspired by the stranger-than-fiction tale of Anna Delvey, the fashion-obsessed Russian fraudster who duped an impressive slice of the Manhattan art elite into believing she was a billionaire heiress and then lived comfortably off their hospitality and reputation for months afterwards.
Having been penned by Grey's Anatomy showrunner Shonda Rhimes (and starring, funnily enough, Ozark's supremely versatile Julia Garner), Inventing Anna sounds promising enough. But it does have one small problem – at least on this side of the Atlantic. In the thirty months or since Netflix announced the project, the Anna Delvey story has already been turned into an excellent BBC podcast (Fake Heiress) and a big West End play starring The Crown's Emma Corrin. That's the thing with these true stories: they have a habit of getting around quickly.
Perhaps that's why Netflix was quick off-the-mark to purchase the global media rights to the story of Shimon Hayut, an Israeli con-man who, fresh from a spell in a European prison, took to dating apps to convince rich women he was the son of a powerful diamond dealer. Like Delvey, he soon found himself living the high life on his victims' credit cards. His story has now been turned into true crime doc The Tinder Swindler (2 February).
While Amazon Prime is deathly quiet this month, Sky screens the sixth series of the highly-regarded Billions (weekly from 24 January) – an ambitious American drama about a corrupt hedge fund guru and the determined federal authorities seeking to deliver him his comeuppance. Sadly season six will be the first not to feature the show's former star Damian Lewis who – understably given the circumstances – has decided to put his stateside projects on ice for the time being. We wish him well.
Sky also has the streaming rights to Bob Odenkirk's star-turn in the Tarantino-esque revenge thriller Nobody, which landed on Sky Movies last week. Odenkirk – noticeably more grizzled and toned than his Albuquerque days – plays a pugilistic former government operative whose days of quiet retirement are brought to a sudden end when his home is burgled. It might not be the most complicated or original of stories, but Odenkirk (a former comedian let's not forget) smashes it out of the park. Let's hope it's not much longer before he's back in the day job – for the final season of Better Call Saul.
And if we're discussing shows which don't yet have a launch date, there is one other name crying out for a mention. If reports are to be believed, this will be the year that Netflix brings us the fourth series of Top Boy: the utterly superb London gang drama it revived from the archives of Channel 4 (who cruelly canned it after two seasons) back in 2019. The third season, released just before the pandemic, was a triumph. If number four is anywhere near as good, it should bag a podium place amongst 2022's best crime dramas.