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Oz chronicles life inside an experimental cell block in the Oswald Maximum Security Correctional Facility: Level Four called Emerald City. Under unit manager Tim McManus and Warden Leo Glynn, the inmates in Em City all struggle to fulfill their own needs. Some fight for power; either power over the drug trade or power over the other inmate factions. Others want money, either through slinging 'tits' (drugs), gambling or other scams. Others, Corrections officers and inmates alike, simply want to survive long enough to make parole or even to see tomorrow. The show gives a no-holds-barred account of prison life with all the plots, subplots and conflicts given context and explanation by the show's wheelchair-bound narrator, Augustus Hill. Written by
Do NOT pass go, do not travel down this "Yellow Brick Road"...
...if what you want is the usual depiction that passes for prison life in a dramatic format. No SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION here, folks, no benevolent GREEN MILE guards or saintly supernatural inmates. OZ tells it like it is, and baby, it ain't pretty.
Using at times a sense of hyper-realism, (in the narrations of the excellent Harold Perrineau, who serves as the show's conscience and Greek chorus), OZ shows us both the profane and profound aspects of prison life that we good, law-abiding citizens don't like to think about. We have the "authorities" to take care of that, don't we?
Exceptional art, no matter what the medium, has the ability to move us, make us think, make us feel both things we embrace and things we reject. The power this show has to polarize viewers into two different camps--love it or hate it--is proof enough that Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, the forces behind HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS, have fashioned something we haven't seen the likes of in a very long time.
I would strongly suggest that anyone who has not yet seen it give it a try, if you have HBO. Then I dare you to tear yourself away from it. It's rare television that makes you sit up, take notice, and actually care about even the minor characters in an ensemble such as this, no matter how heinous their crimes, or how street-and-battle-hardened their exteriors.
Augustus Hill, Simon Adebisi, Tobias Beecher, Vern Schillinger, Chris Keller, Jefferson Keane, Ryan O'Reilly, Kareem Said, Nino Schibetta, Bob Rebadow, Tim McManus, Warden Leo Glynn, Sister Peter-Marie, Father Ray, Officer Diane Wittlesey and all the others will imprint themselves on your memory and stay there, until you can't wait to find out what happens next.
A blend of black humor and outright horror, cutting commentary and the basest brutality, it is one of the very few shows being done now that can reveal the most majestic qualities of the human spirit. The ongoing struggle to resist surrendering to impulses and urges that cause the evil that men do, in the one place you would least expect to find any light--in a sea of human misery and darkness.
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