Oz: Season 1, Episode 8

A Game of Checkers (25 Aug. 1997)

TV Episode  -   -  Crime | Drama | Thriller
8.9
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Ratings: 8.9/10 from 819 users  
Reviews: 2 user | 2 critic

After a visit with his sons, Schillinger realizes he needs to get paroled. He convinces McManus to let him return to Em City with the condition that he leaves Beecher alone. Beecher comes ... See full summary »

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Title: A Game of Checkers (25 Aug 1997)

A Game of Checkers (25 Aug 1997) on IMDb 8.9/10

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Cast

Episode cast overview, first billed only:
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Father Ray Mukada (as B.D. Wong)
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George Morfogen ...
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Storyline

After a visit with his sons, Schillinger realizes he needs to get paroled. He convinces McManus to let him return to Em City with the condition that he leaves Beecher alone. Beecher comes out of the hole hell-bent on making sure Schillinger doesn't get paroled. McManus gets wind of Wittlesey and Ross' contraband operation and orders her to shut it down. Ross makes it very clear to her that this will not happen. The Muslims meet and discuss how the riot will begin. However, two rednecks beat them to it by fighting over a game of checkers. This causes all the inmates to get involved and they quickly overpower the COs who are trying to break it up. Said orders the Muslims to get out and seize control. Said pulls out the gun he acquired from a rookie CO and fires a shot into the air, causing Em City to quiet down. Said meets with Ross, Adebisi, O'Reily and Alvarez to discuss strategy and demands. Said agrees to let O'Reily, Ross and Adebisi control the main gate and Alvarez will control ... Written by alberta1

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Crime | Drama | Thriller

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TV-MA | See all certifications »
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25 August 1997 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Trivia

Earlier drafts of the first season finale had Sister Peter Marie directing a the musical West Side Story using inmates as cast members. The riot that was planned was supposed to start when the inmates began fighting each other while in character during the musical. Having Peter Marie direct West Side Story was supposed to have been a homage to actress Rita Moreno, who was in the movie version of West Side Story and won an Oscar for her performance. See more »

Quotes

Tim McManus: Said, I grew up in a small town, upstate New York. There was only one major industry there, the prison. Everybody's parents either worked at the prison or made a living from, you know, motels, gas stations, or, like my dad, had a diner. Right across the street. It was the fall, we'd just gone back to school, I was about to turn ten. I was very, very excited. A few days before my birthday, though, there was this riot. And it lasted four days. But then the Governor authorized 2500 troops, state ...
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Connections

References The Wizard of Oz (1939) See more »

Soundtracks

I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)
(uncredited)
Written by Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster
Performed by Lee Tergesen
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User Reviews

Season 1: Needs polish & strengthening but is solidly enjoyable and shows potential
18 September 2010 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

As with the majority of UK viewers of OZ, my awareness of this show was totally by chance. Channel 4 used to have a slot of oddities (I forget the name) that ran on week nights from midnight to 4am. I was a student at the time and my house was often cold, making it harder to fall asleep – so I would watch my TV in my bedroom. Channel 4 never really promoted it or gave it a set slot but at least it was on. I have general memories of the show in regards quality but I had only ever seen it once and most of it had been very late at night (I think it was season 4 when I got a video recorder and didn't need the late nights. Anyway, watching season 1 again recently made me question my memory to a point and also assume that it progresses from where it was in season 1 (which in fairness it probably does). What season 1 mostly does is set out the stall of the show: the characters, the style, the concept, the plots are all here to be seen even if it perhaps doesn't have all the polish that it could (will?) have.

Most of season 1 is themed with religion, drugs etc coming to the fore in any specific one hour episode. This theme is clearly presented by the show narrator (also one of the prisoners) who delivers his view in a street-theatre style from a position of being removed from the prison itself (often inside a spinning glass cube). If it sounds a bit pretentious it is because it is very close to being so, but yet in practice it works. Within the thematic frame of each episode we have several threads involving several key prisoners out of the wider group. These overlap a lot less than I would have liked but mostly they all work as stand alones. To the new viewer Beecher's destruction is probably the easiest way in – a prison cliché perhaps to see the "new fish" drowning in a world he cannot hope to understand, far less compete in. This is done well and is the heart of the show. The "struggling with prison" theme is also explored through two characters (Keane and Ortolani) who both suffer a similar fate. The use of these two is good but perhaps the speed of developments undercuts it as well, preventing the viewer getting emotionally involved.

Indeed this is a problem for me with season 1, in that I didn't always care because the material didn't have quite enough depth in the characters but at the same time the plots themselves were not brutal or smart enough to wholly engage me on this level either. On one hand it does seem to carry itself with a certain earnest that suggest the viewer take it all seriously and get emotionally involved, but then at the same time it doesn't provide enough to do this and instead spends a lot of time on "event" based threads that depict prison life. In this way it does work though – we will all have seen prison dramas with more budget (this season does look a bit cheap in combination with being a bit dated now as well) but Oz does still convince in terms of the tribalism, the betrayal, male sexual abuse, drug addiction and continued crime within this prison unit. The show perhaps could beef this aspect up a bit (ad I hope it does) because it is more of a drama than an insightful piece about prison life. This would also need to happen with stronger plotting as well as too much happens too quickly at times – given the time involved in being in prison, plots seem to be hatched, delivered and concluded very rapidly, reducing their impact on the viewer.

For many viewers the cast will suffer from the usual HBO/Showtime curse of having lots of faces known from other shows – although at least in the case of Oz I know most of them from here first. Still it is a bit distracting to see so many characters from The Wire from the start. Outside of this the majority of the cast are OK – but nobody is brilliant here even if they work well within the demands of the show itself. A good example is Winters – not a great actor but he fits his character well and delivers with energy. Mostly everyone manages to play "up" their characters without ever being too hammy - the material often prevents them having a lot of depth though. Walker is a good example as he plays large and is asked to deliver too much too quickly. Akinnuoye-Agbaje (also British) is more effective with less as his character is intimidating without saying a word. Hudson and Kinney are solid enough in the staff roles but like I said nobody really wows. Tergesen gets the closest thanks to the material his Beecher has, but even then he doesn't seem to have been allowed to explore the character beyond the "events" on the page but the full extent of evil that is Schillinger isn't out of the box yet as Simmons appears to be holding back here. I liked Leon while he was around and support is generally solid from Acevedo, Moreno and Perrineau (who makes the narration work very well).

Season 1 of Oz is worth watching even if it is very rough around the edges. It has a honest brutality about it that acts as a strong base, while the narration adds a fresh feel and the characters carry the plot twists. A bit more intelligence and commitment in the plotting and writing is required but Oz season 1 is a solidly enjoyable start.


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