A couple that schemes together, dreams together — on TV

Not to blame the showrunners of the most popular TV shows for what statistics are telling us is a steady decline in the nation’s marriage rate, but it seems marital harmony just isn’t considered… boozeworthy. When Ozark’s Marty Byrde tells his wife, Wendy, in his reliably sober way, “Your lover’s gossiping on the sidewalk is the only thing that gets me to sleep every night,” we watch a deep surf of marital bitterness.

But there’s an even deeper bond that binds this unhappy couple – and other fictional couples who closely resemble them – together. For Wendy and Marty, survival turns into a struggle for power; for Shiv and Tom from “Succession,” it’s the influence of the boardroom mixed with insatiable greed – until one of them has had enough; and for Jimmy and Kim from Better Call Saul, it’s revenge laced with a dark prankster spirit – until things get too much out of hand. And in a new twist (or a very old one, if you consider Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”), it is the woman in each of these series who pushes her spouse to ever more insidious acts.

A significant blessing in stimulating the story that “Sauls” co-creators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan had not anticipated came with the shuddering descent of Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler (the pedantic if deadly mobster Lalo Salamanca known as “Mrs. Goodman”) ). , in her race to ethical rock bottom with Jimmy.

“When we started the show,” says Gould, “we didn’t have a clear idea of ​​where we wanted to go with the Kim character. In the pilot she has maybe three lines of dialogue. We groped our way through with Rhea, and as we got to know Jimmy better, we began to understand how central she would be to his journey. It turns out that Kim has a wild side. ”

In the harrowing fifth-to-last episode of the series, “Fun and Games,” we saw one last smart swipe from Kim, who gassed the crying wife of a murdered serial device, and then her parting confession to Jimmy as they realized they spur each other on forever more despicable acts. “The difference between them,” says Gould, “is that Jimmy cuts corners because that’s how he sees life — to get something he wants. Kim has such a sense of indignation and injustice that she often cuts back on even her bad deeds because she wants to fix it all. Part of Rhea Seehorn’s brilliance is that at the heart of her performance lies a paradox.

“What I love about Kim is that she’s unstoppable,” adds Gould. “She has such focus, gets up and walks so often, so much ability to pick herself up after being knocked down.” But eventually regret sets in: “The idea of ​​a romantic couple being an island unto themselves, that it it doesn’t really matter what happens outside of your relationship or outside of your family — that’s a very flawed logic.” Ultimately, “Kim sees that no matter how much she and Jimmy enjoy each other and their lives together, they’re all around break something. They did terrible things with terrible consequences. And there is no way to make things right again.”

A man and woman attend a formal gala in a scene from "ozark"

In addition to laundering money for a drug cartel, Marty and Wendy Byrde (Jason Bateman and Laura Linney) plotted their way into small-town society and power.


When Ozark showrunner Chris Mundy and his colleagues set out to create a series that came out as part thriller, part dig into how capitalism can go wrong in overland areas, they were — like the makers of Better Call Saul” – open to seeing where casting could take them. Laura Linney’s Wendy was “a character who wasn’t built yet,” but Linney’s early work, in which her theatrical training played a role, showed “she could do anything she was given,” says Mundy. What they gave her was a scheming aspiring criminal who pushed her husband to go bigger and deeper with the cartel.

Unlike many shows that leave their actors in the dark about the overall plot, “at the beginning of each year, she and I would sit and check in as the season progressed, and she would make decisions based on knowing what was going to happen — decisions who were always right,” he says.

Mundy recalls a moment in season one when one of the FBI agents following the Byrdes’ trail since their chaotic departure from Chicago (and the lover’s body hitting the sidewalk) through the money laundering and cartel ducking Chapter in The Ozarks confronted the couple in front of their house. Linney’s burgeoning criminal wife exudes stunned innocence: “And there’s this little thing, she’s crossing her arms with Marty a little bit.” Six episodes later: “The same FBI agent comes into her real estate office and puts pressure on her, and her becomes a full-on crime boss: ‘If we really are who you think we are, then you don’t want to threaten us like that.'”

A man stands behind his wife, hands on her shoulders.

Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) has always supported Shiv’s (Sarah Snook) maneuvers to take over her father’s company. Until he doesn’t on a crucial move.

(Graeme Hunter / HBO)

The final season of “Succession” brought new twists to the endlessly shifting allegiances of the Roy family; If Sarah Snook’s Shiv has weathered many of the recent storyline’s psychological beatings, she’s not shy about delivering some of her own, whether with Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) – telling him, “I don’t love you” with a cruel grin – or to her rival siblings. The couple’s plans to get Shiv to take over the reins of the family’s mega-corporation, Waystar Royco, looked utterly nefarious and twisted until patriarch Logan Roy and the doubly sneaky Tom began their own maneuvers to unravel them.

According to Lucy Prebble, the award-winning playwright and executive producer in showrunner Jesse Armstrong’s writers’ room, “We leave Shiv in a particularly weakened state. there are Betrayal She Expects – Expecting betrayal is a great defense mechanism. But this one wasn’t on the list. And maybe Tom was a romantic choice to protect against that.”

Looking back, Prebble adds, “You can understand why she developed her strategies [in earlier seasons]. It has been undermined and weakened by changing that course. Shiv’s interest is power, and while there are opportunities to marry afterward, Shiv assumes a position where he doesn’t need that. She is already a queen. she chose [having] power within their marriage rather than seeking marriage to gain their power.”

All three dramas showed us anger and bullying in abundance, with just enough fidelity shining through their stories to allow for some humanity. Ultimately, if “Ozark” showed an often dysfunctional family, it also found its way (to the skepticism of some viewers) to ultimately embrace what Marty called “love… with many stipulations,” not only in this troubled marriage, but encompassing the sporadic defiance of her son and daughter.

“Because the cast around the horn was so good, we were able to write the show with slightly elevated situations, knowing that the people would act in a much more down-to-earth manner,” says Mundy. “You can be 10% more operatic than if someone played it too high. Everyone being so good gave us a lot of freedom – the bad things could be just a little bit badder.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-08-16/criminal-couples-saul-ozark-succession A couple that schemes together, dreams together — on TV

Sarah Ridley

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