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...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.
OK, it's violent and bloody and vicious and cruel. It's also wildly
creative, beautifully filmed, brilliantly acted (with very few
exceptions) and has a great framing device. The stories are both filled
with detail and minutiae, and also have overarching moral tales and
"big picture" flow. At the end of almost every episode you'll probably
find yourself muttering "This is SUCH a good show!"
Although it is ostensibly the story of a prison and its many prisoners, 'Oz' can be viewed as primarily the story of one man, Tobias Beecher. Beecher has committed vehicular manslaughter while driving drunk. Because Beecher is a lawyer, the court decides to make an example of him and sends him to maximum security at Oswald Penitentiary. His journey through Oz is basically the rest of the series, and it's certainly no yellow brick road he follows. Everything that you could imagine happening in a prison setting happens, and probably a lot you wouldn't imagine.
He gets assigned to "Em" City (Emerald City), an experimental unit in Oz; the goal of Em City is to try a different living environment, one that might give the prisoners a chance at changing their lives and possibly rehabilitate them. Managed by a true prison reform zealot, Tim McManus, Em City is for many prisoners the only hope in their lives. The inmates of Em City are some of the most brutal offenders in the entire penitentiary - McManus insists that these are the prisoners to try to reach. McManus also picks newer prisoners, ones that don't have life sentences, to add to the mix and to give them a shot at rehabilitation.
Every episode has a storyteller - most of the time the storyteller is Augustus Hill, shot while killing a cop and now confined to a wheelchair. Because he is unable to be physically brutal anymore, because he is more imprisoned than even his fellow prisoners, Augustus is very insightful and is used to heighten and clarify themes for the audience.
The other inmates in Em City all have their own character development and story arcs - some are impressively vibrant but brief, others last for the whole series - but ultimately the writers always return to Beecher and his story. His friends (few), his enemies (many), his family, and his relationships with the prison staff.
Amid the worst that prison can dish out, the inmates struggle with the meaning of religion, with definitions of family, with the corruption of politics, with friendship, betrayal, and ultimately, survival. There are moments of sheer wanton destruction, unspeakable violence, shocking cruelty, and pure evil. It's prison! There is nothing glorified here; inmates do drugs to escape the horror of their realities, gangs murder each other over trivialities, inmates and guards commit rape just because they can. But how they manage to survive - and IF they manage to survive - keeps you watching.
Some key performances: The always perfect J.K. Simmons as Schillinger, the leader of the Aryans; Chris Meloni as Chris Keller (quite a different part than his character on L&O: SVU!); Lee Tergesen as Beecher; Eamonn Walker as Said, the leader of the Muslims; Dean and Scott Winters (real-life brothers) as Ryan and Cyril O'Reilly; and Kirk Acevedo as Miguel Alvarez, a member of the Latinos. But honestly, the whole cast is excellent. Even most of the "guest starring" roles - new inmates who practically have an expiration date stamped on them - are good, and at least are pretty interesting.
It's coming out on DVD in dribs and drabs - rent it, borrow it, steal it, whatever. But watch it!
This is such a powerful show, superbly acted, that frankly I feel it's the
best TV drama ever made.
I know plenty of Hill Street Blues/NYPD Blue/Prime Suspect (etc) fans would
enthusiastically argue this point, but I feel Oz is so well acted, so well
realised and so darn entertaining that it's no contest.
The characters are very watchable, the stories are gripping, and so much
happens in each episode that the viewer has a lot of food for thought once
the show is over.
I'm currently at the 4th season being in UK, so I don't know the latest
developments, but I got a lot of story to look forward
The fact it's also very satirical, particularly from Augustus Hill's commentary adds beautifully to the mix.
Nothing short of outstanding.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In an innovation on the prison city, a wing called Emerald City is created
with Oswald State Penitentiary. With this wing prisoners are given more
responsibility and better conditions. Sleeping two to a pod, with clean
facilities etc. However the prisoners are no different and violence and
crime runs the prison. No one is above corruption and murder can come from
the smallest events. Drugs, rape and torture are weapons and no one is
above betrayal and deceit as powerful partnerships are formed and
Insomnia can be a wonderful thing. I started watching Oz many years ago on Channel 4's `Later' slot in the UK. I used to watch Homicide: Life on the Street and they relegated it to a 1am slot. Because I couldn't sleep I used to stay up and watch it. Oz was on after this and I got into that. At first I couldn't believe how brutal it was then I got totally sucked in.
I'm on the fourth series now and am glad I started watching it. The series has one major strength the writing. The plot is one of constant tension and drama as plan follows plan follows murder follows betrayal etc. The storylines are always good and always brutal. However one of the main drivers for me are the characters. They change with time they develop with events, they get killed regardless of status within the series, they get killed!
The best example of what I mean can be seen in just a few examples but on the whole it's true of most of the characters. Beecher came into the prison as a normal guy jailed for drunk driving and killing a child. The abuse he got from Schillinger has completed changed him in fact 4 series on he continues to change. Schillinger himself is compelling, despite being relatively one dimensional he is a powerful character. My `favourite' character is Simon Adebisi. In series two he became very passive, very submissive but it was revealed as an act and he has become his cruel manipulative self again. I could list them all obviously there's going to be characters who come and go, background extras who have only a few lines to say, or who move the plot along by getting killed etc. but most characters develop or play major roles.
In terms of actors the cast is mainly bit part players with no major lead roles under their belts, but to a man they all do good jobs when called upon. It's hard to pick out any one actor who stands out as it depends on their characters, but it's worth acknowledging a few. Tergesen (Beecher) has shone simply in the way he has convincingly changed his character over the years. Likewise Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje has done great work as the monstrous Simon Adebisi. These standout because they have shown how they can deal with extreme changes in their roles, however every other member of cast is totally convincing. J.K. Simmons will only ever be Schillinger to me after this and a bit part black actor from the UK's `The Bill' shines in the role of Said (Walker). I could fill this site with praise for the cast.
The programme is clever and intelligent (although many can't get past the brutality, violence and swearing). The portrayal of the prison as not so much an integrated melting pot of races but a mixed room of races that all manage themselves first much more like the real America. The use of the brilliant Harold Perrineau Jnr as a character and as a sort of street theatre narrator is certainly different and allows each show to make a social point or a commentary without being preachy is really good and often funny too.
It does of course have weaknesses. Sometimes the brutality can be wearing and be too much. Where they constantly bring in new characters each week just to kill them in the same show to move the plot along it gets a bit tired too however this doesn't happen every week. The plots themselves can only go so far basically they all come down to violence and betrayal in some form. My hope is that they will only make this for another series at most. It's better if they end on a high rather than risking showing signs of fatigue or running out of new ideas.
Overall it's brutal, cruel, disturbing, violent and upsetting. Why watch then? Because it's very well written and made, it totally compelling, it has great actors and the storylines are rarely less than gripping. It has an energy unlike anything else like a car crash, you don't always want to see what's happening but you can't help but look. After all isn't this how prison is? Superb television but not to everyone's taste.
Consistently well-written and acted, Oz is without a doubt the best thing on TV. Quality wise, it's up there with the first 4 seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street as the most compelling hour of television drama. Presenting a harsh and realistic view of prison life, Oz is a wonderful mixture of superb acting and character development; all of which rides on a nuanced and erudite core (Foucault's Panopticon is the inspiration for Em City's design...and ultimate failure). It is the only show on TV, that I can think of, that has presented characters who were intensely dislikable one moment and oddly empathetic the next. That I am repulsed by, sympathetic with, intrigued about, and involved with every character that has lived, died or survived on the show, is no small feat. Good TV exists. And, for my money, Oz is not only good TV, it is better than most films released throughout the year.
There was nothing on and I switched on HBO and got hooked on OZ. It is like nothing I have ever seen before. The characters are real and are well acted. By the end of my first episode I was hooked. I find myself wanting to know more about each character and what makes them tick. This is a definite must see show.
Oz, no Dorothy you're not in Kansas anymore. Oz is the television show that pushed the limits in what you can get away with on television. Oz is real and violent, and it also makes for the single best series on TV, ever. With performance that grab attention, and some of the best direction ever on TV, Oz should be watched by ritual.
The stature of this program must be measured in the context of its format.
These are not feature films, but one hour dramas, no different in concept
constraint from countless other network counterparts. But, oh how
Oz is not for everyone. It is violent, lurid, obscene, profane and controversial. Oz us narrated dramatically by a "Greek Chorus" of inmates who make insightful observations not just about Oz, but applicable to the outside world as well. The talent, none of it marquee, is nonetheless the finest assembly of supporting actors an ensemble cast could hope for.
In order to keep ratings up, the stories sometimes veer into the unbelievable, but the grit and reality are never gone for long. Oz is also a bundle of irony. Although it deals with homosexuality with insight and objectivity in every episode, it just as often bristles with gratuitous homoerotic overtone. Despite the fact that it overflows with action and violence, it never mistakes kenesis for story.
Sometimes, Oz borders on, and crosses well into, genius. Its often surreal direction elevates otherwise base events to sublime levels. Music, pacing, convoluted story lines careening and intersecting in ways that are at the same time graceful and clumbsy, just like real life.
This is said to be the last season of Oz, and yet, only two seasons are on DVD. With constant reruns and each episode being aired about a dozen times a week, you may be tired of this jewel anyway, but its influence will elevate the level of television drama for years to come.
Oz is set in Oswald State Correctional Facility. It tells the story of
confrontation, cruelty, violence, hate and survival at any cost. in a
place like Oz, you have to have eyes in the back of your head.
This completely original, intelligent and compelling drama tells of how warped life becomes as soon as you step through the gates of Emerald City.
What is supposed to be a state of art correctional facility is in fact far from being such. The show brings to light some of the many flaws in the prison system, the underestimating of the humanity that cold hard killers are capable of still retaining, and the one true fact: The prisoners are the one's who control the prison.
This magnificent and somewhat surreal show teaches about the importance of every life and helps give an understanding to the reasons that most of the prisoners are there. This show may seem shocking at first but to truly tell it like it is, such a thing is necessary.
Oz is a great depiction of hell on earth and how such a place teaches you some of the most important lessons you will ever learn.
With the exception of "The X-Files", "OZ" is by far the best show on TV. It is unrelenting in it's realism and the acting is phenomenal. It's too bad that HBO's other series "The Soprano's" gets all the awards that this show deserves. I have never missed an episode of this show, I always make time to watch it. I cannot say enough good things about this show, it always suprises me, I look forward to watching this show. When this show goes off the air it will stand tall among the best television series ever.
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