Oz, is the slang name for Oswald State Penitentiary; the fact that it is (presumably) name after Lee Harvey Oswald - an innocent man - gives the audience some idea of where this programme is coming from.
Oz is a hugely neglected masterwork, featuring the best cast you've never heard of. This overlooked drama series never stepped out from The Sopranos' shadow, which is a great shame as it deserves to be considered alongside HBO's greats: The Sopranos, Deadwood and The Wire; that is, Oz can be considered as one of television's greats.
Viewer be warned, Oz is set inside a maximum security prison and it doesn't make for comfortable viewing, given that it is populated by neo-Nazis, bikers, black gangbangers, militant Muslims, Latino gangs, the Mafia, drug dealers, pimps, hustlers and killers. Trying to keep a lid on the escalating violence and even making a gesture at reforming the inmates, are a desperate staff of Correctional Officers, psychiatrists, doctors, priests and administrators.
At only eight episodes per series, unlike The Sopranos, The Wire's and Deadwood's thirteen (or thereabouts), Oz is fast-paced, intense, brutal and uncompromising but always intelligent and never sensationalist. There is humour in there too but given its subject matter, it's somewhat of the gallows variety. Creator Tom Fontana, who also wrote or co-wrote every episode of the entire six seasons, deserves great credit for depicting a world full of pretty vile but human people, people whom you generally wouldn't want to spend any time with at all - yet in his hands, they become compulsive viewing.
What seems to draw the most negative criticism of this programme, is not the violence, the drug use, profanity or sexual element of the series but rather the classical device of the Greek chorus, in which Augustus Hill, an incarcerated crack dealer and cop-killer, offers a commentary and reflection on the events portrayed in each episode. This has proven a frustrating interruption for some, an ironic interlude for others.
Rather than review every individual series, briefly put, the first four series of Oz are fantastic (including the fourth double-length series), the final two seasons are slightly uneven but are still far superior to much else on the fool's lantern.
If prisons are an extreme reflection of society at large, then Oz captures the paranoia and pre-millenium tension of a society at war with itself, unsure or perhaps even unwilling, of how to progress to a more compassionate level.
on 1 June 2010
Last night I watched the last ever episode of `Oz'. That was the end of a 6 week period spend watching the show from Season 1, Episode 1 to Season 6, Episode 8. I'm a huge fan of American TV Drama. In recent years I've watched The West Wing, The Shield, Mad Men, The Sopranos, The Wire, Generation Kill, Damages and The Corner in their entirety. Oz is right up there with the best TV dramas of all time. Oz is the nickname for the Oswald State Correctional Facility, formerly Oswald State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison at Delaware, USA. Many of the plot arcs are set in "Emerald City" ("Em City"), an experimental unit of the prison in which the unit manager attempts to emphasize rehabilitation and learning responsibility during incarceration. Emerald City is an extremely controlled environment where there are a controlled number of members of each racial and social group.
The writing of the show is brilliant and I believe this is helped by the fact that series creator Tom Fontana was involved in the writing for every episode. I believe the slight dip in quality of writing on The West Wing was down to Aaron Sorkin's departure from the show. Oz doesn't have this problem. Although some storylines are slightly far-fetched, each episode has something to grip you and bring you back to the harsh realities of the brutal prison environment. The performances from the principal actors are outstanding. The characters are believable and you develop an emotional bond with some of them. This has a lot to do with the writing but can only have the impact it does thanks to the performances.
Emerald City's idealistic founder and Unit Manager Tim McManus (played by Terry Kinney) and Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson) are faced with the day-to-day struggles and frustrations of working with many criminals who show no signs of remorse for their terrible crimes. The remorseful prisoners are generally either killed or dragged back down by the grip of Oz. This infuriates McManus & Glynn who, as well as the problems they face in Oz, also have to face up to personal problems during the 6 year run of the show. Both actors bring authority to their roles and also likeability to characters who are not always sympathetic.
Rita Moreno as Sister Peter Marie Reimondo (known as Sister Pete) and Lauren Velez as Doctor Gloria Nathan are the lead female characters of the show and are present throughout all 6 seasons. Both characters work directly with prisoners to try to help them with overcoming their difficulties in Oz. Both characters have doubts about their lives during the series and Dr. Nathan in particular has to face up to two major personal tragedies.
The prison chaplain Father Ray Mukada is played sympathetically by B.D. Wong and the recurring Correctional Officers Diane Wittlesey, Sean Murphy & Claire Howell (played by Edie Falco, Robert Clohessy and Kristin Rohde) are given good storylines which are well handled by the actors.
Governor James Devlin is played with relish by Zeljko Ivanek (who recently starred as Ray Fiske in Damages). Devlin is not a fan of Em City and is not liked by many of the staff in Oz. His decisions throughtout the series cause a lot of hassle for the staff and inmates at Oz.
That sums up those in charge but what of the inmates?
Oz is narrrated by wheelchair-bound inmate Augustus Hill. These narrations by Hill break the fourth wall in that Hill addresses the camera (and thus the audience) directly, out of the fictional context of the scene. Hill is one of the most likeable characters in the show. This is probably because he's played by likeable actor Harold Perrineau Jr. It took me a few episodes to get used to the narration but after that the epsiodes wouldn't have been the same without it.
A story arc that carries through the six seasons is that of Aryan Brotherhood Leader Vern Schillinger (the outstanding J.K. Simmons) and Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen). Their hatred of one another leads to many interesting storylines, especially after the arrival of Chris Keller (Law & Order SVU's Christopher Meloni) in Season 3). I was recently impressed with Tergesen's performance in Generation Kill but his brilliant, moving portrayal of the deeply troubled Beecher is on another level entirley. J.K. Simmons has the rare ability to be terrifying and hilarious in the space of a few seconds and Meloni brings intensity, sexual energy and ominous danger as Keller.
The Muslims in Emerald City are led by Minister Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker). Said is highly respected in Oz not only by the muslims but my many other inmates and the administration. During his time in Oz he tries to help various inmates with legal and spiritual advice. I had never seen Walker in anything before but I hope this is not the last time as he is a tremendous dramatic actor.
Simon Adebisi (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Miguel Alvarez (Kirk Acevedo) are troubled inmates who suffer different fates. Both head on roads to salvation only to find themselves pulled back in to their old ways.
Chuck Zito as Italian wise guy Chucky Pancamo and Anthony Chisholm as Homeboy Leader Burr Redding are both excellent. As are Luis Guzman and David Zayas as powerful Latino inmates Raoul Hernandez and Enrique Morales.
The occassional light relief is mainly provided by inmates Bob Rebadow (George Morfogen) and Agamemnon Busmalis (Tom Mardirosian). Although they regularly provide laughs they both have extremely difficult times during the series, Rebadow has various encounters with illness, to himself and loved ones and `SPOILER ALERT' Busmalis is jilted at the altar.
Many other bit-part characters get interesting storylines. Aryan gang member James Robson, biker Jaz Hoyt, death row inmate Shirley Bellinger, Italian inmate Peter Schibetta, undercover cop Johnny Basil, troubled Homeboy Omar White, Rev Jeremiah Cloutier and Correctional Officers Dave Brass and Clayton Hughes.
Every member of the huge ensemble cast is impressive. In fact, the ensemble cast is one of the best I've seen on TV.
If you are as big a fan of Oz as I am you'll think I've forgotten two main characters. You'd be wrong. I left my favourite characters to last. Real-life brothers Dean & Scott William Winters play inmate brothers Ryan and Cyril O'Reily. Ryan is a manipulative Irish-American serving life imprisonment for manslaughter. He is joined in Oz by his brother Cyril in Season 2 following Ryan's instruction to Cyril to commit a horrible crime.
We discover that Cyril was left badly brain damaged by a blow to the head following violence caused by Ryan. This has left Cyril with the mental capacity of a five year old. We sense throughout the series that Ryan is deeply remorseful for the harm he has caused to his brother.
Ryan regularly uses his manipulative abilities to get his own way but we never totally dislike him. I found the character to be extremely likeable. Much of this is down to Dean Winters. Many people will associate him with his role as Dennis (Liz's boyfriend) in 30 Rock. In Oz he brings the same likeablity factor and humour but with a touch of menace. Despite his regular criminal activity and violence towards other inmates, Ryan is extremely protective of his brother Cyril. In the final two seasons, in the face of adversity, his love for Cyril shines through and draws out an extremely moving performance from Dean Winters.
Scott William Winters excels as Cyril. Many actors could have ruined the character with an over-the-top attempt at a mentally handicapped character. Winters underplays and makes the character childlike more than retarded. His interactions with his brother, particularly in the last season, are touching and emotional. I have a younger brother and know the natural instinct to protect him. These feelings, along with the excellent writing and performances led me to shed some tears in Episode 6 of Season 6 during very moving scenes between the O'Reily brothers. If you've seen this episode you'll know what I mean but if you haven't you'll find out when you watch it. I dare you not to cry!
If you have never seen the show you should know that it is extreme television and features coarse language, drug use, extreme violence, male frontal nudity, homosexuality, and male rape, as well as ethnic and religious conflicts.
So that's my review of Oz. I hope it's been helpful to you. I strongly recommend that you by the box set right now! If you don't you'll miss out on a wonderful tv drama experience.
I'll never forget my experience of Oz.
All the clichés are true: it's gritty, controversial, and hard-hitting and will definitely tax your sense of injustice.
I missed the series when it was shown on TV so this was a complete faith purchase for me. Hearing about it on the grapevine and reading the helpful reviews here I decided to go for it.
If you're reading this then you must be considering doing the same so I'll lend my voice to the others' here and say: do it; you wont regret it.
You may be concerned (like I was) that a 6 series drama set in a prison might get a little laborious story wise and a tad claustrophobic. Well lay those fears to rest! This truly is brutal TV; it'll leave you shocked, affronted, angry, maybe even a little sad. One thing it will not leave you is bored.
Acting is top notch with some really interesting characters. Tobias Beecher's (Lee Tergesen) journey is probably one of the most compelling as you witness how prison life completely changes him from naïve polite man to a designer-beard wearing hard man teetering on the brink of sanity.
The truly despicable Vern Shillinger (Tobias' arch-nemesis if you'll permit me to be so dramatic and played by J K Simmons) is easy to hate and their continued tug-o-war provides truly shocking but compelling moments.
Simon Adebisi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is worthy of a mention as he is a real force to be reckoned with. He also leads the racial war in series 4 and, if I'm being honest, steels the show.
I should probably mention Chris Keller (Christopher Melloni) who comes strutting into Oz near the beginning of series 2. He becomes emotionally involved with Beecher and is one of the story strands that constantly evolve as the series rolls by. Keller is a real manipulator of people and their emotions, which is what makes their relationship compelling to watch. Feeling such an immediate empathy with Beecher I found myself becoming increasingly concerned when manipulations and other such deviances became apparent. Melloni portrays the devilish character of Keller so well that you really don't know whether to love or hate him.
Every episode begins and ends (with a little thrown in through out for good measure) with a topical narration by Augustus Hill (the wonderful Harold Perrineau) who himself is an inmate. These are most times witty one-sided conversations he has with the camera that are well written and quite enlightening.
Summary: Charting prison life warts and all in takes no prisoners (excuse the pun) and really purveys a sense of unease. In a place where it's dangerous to smile and even the odd noble act can have devastating repercussions, it really is as intense as it gets. Uneasy alliances, betrayals, violence, capital punishment, full-frontal exposure, manipulation, degradation and tenuous love affairs - it really is hard to find anything redeeming in the characters' actions - and not just the inmates either. But that's what makes it sooo good. There are moments of levity and also kindness but there isn't much in Oz that goes to according to plan. Overall it shows just what human beings are like when all need for civility has been stripped away and it's survival of the most cunning - it's ugly, but so very entertaining.
on 28 June 2012
I absolutely LOVE this show! Today and as much as I did 14 years ago...
This show is gritty, edgy, & as serious as a heart attack.
Oz explores the life of characters inside a seriously hard-core prison--that's PRISON, not some County lock-up--characters ranging from the nun, brilliantly played by Rita Moreno, to guards, administrators, and, of course, prisoners. The tremendous ensemble cast includes: Ernie Hudson, Harold Perrineau (recently of LOST & The Unusuals), J.K. Simmons (currently of The Closer), Dean Winters, Eamonn Walker, B.D. Wong, Kirk Acevedo (most recently of Fringe), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (also of LOST), Luis Guzman, Luke Perry (yes sad I know of 90210 fame), & Edie Falco (formerly of The Sopranos & currently of Nurse Jackie).
If your favorite shows are epitomized by such network fare as Prison Break, House, & 24, then this show might not be for you; however, if you also or mostly enjoy serious drama found on Premium cable networks (i.e. HBO, SHO, or Starz), shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Spartacus, True Blood, The Tudors, or Rome, then you will definitely enjoy Oz! Oz is a no-holds-barred look at life in a hard core prison. Not your ordinary prison, mind you, but a prison that is opening an experimental housing unit where every cell on the block is made completely of clear plexi walls & no part of prison life is secret. The prison is Oswald Penitentiary, or Oz, & the experimental unit is called Emerald City. Some of the hardest inmates inhabit Emerald City: the neo-Nazi played by JK Simmons, the Nation of Islam Imam played by Eamonn Walker, & the intelligent (omniscient narrator) in a wheel chair played by Harold Perrineau. Each character brings something to the show, some already hard & others made hard by their time inside Emerald City (i.e. the lawyer who's made and example of played by Lee Tergesen.
As you would expect from a hard-core prison, there is violence, nudity (mostly male nudity as it is largely about male inmates in a glass prison), & what some would likely consider mild porn (though it certainly isn't porn as there is no real sexual acts being performed on camera). This certainly isn't gay porn, as many of the sex acts depicted are acts of male-on-male rape, but there are those relationships where an inmate "chooses" to become a willing sexual partner (or a "bitch") to receive protection from an inmate in a position of power. Basically, this show is an unadulterated look at life inside a prison, which includes the kinds of violence that one would expect the kinds of inmates housed here to commit. If this bothers you, don't waste your money. However, if you're secure in your sexuality or are unafraid to confront the sex & violence depicted by this show, then don't turn away from this incredible look at the dark side of humanity, wondering if something like this could be our future should society every break down for whatever reason. It's definitely a worthwhile philosophical exercise for the intellect, challenging one to identify literary archetypes & find meaning within the stories, lessons that teach us about the parts of the human psyche civilized people should be seriously afraid to explore within themselves.
on 13 January 2013
Possibly the most violent, brutal and savage portrayal of mans inhumanity to man that I have seen. Incredibly executed as a series, with some epic characters who, despite committing horrifying atrocities, you just can't help but feel for.
Despite that I won't be seeking employment as a corrections officer anytime soon.
Amazing. Watch it.
People frequently mention Oz in the same breath as some of the other HBO classics, usually The Sopranos, The Wire or Six Feet Under. While it is undeniably excellent, it falls far short of those shows for a number of reasons. Like the titular prison's inmates, it's compelling but hugely flawed.
Oz's shortcomings are mostly down to the writing decisions made by Tom Fontana and his collaborators. The episodes become progressively less believable as the series goes on, with an an entire family sharing prison grounds by the end of the final season. Bringing characters in to advance the plot before killing them off as soon as an episode later is another flaw. Characters' actions rarely have consequences, and honestly, there's just a little too much violence to take seriously. Come on, this is supposed to be a maximum security prison: the guards (many of whom are employed right through the series) can't be THAT incompetent. There are other failings: Fontana's decisions in the runup to the final episode often feel like a great big middle finger to the viewer. Purists would argue that Oz isn't the kind of show that follows convention by ending things with closure, but really, its EXACTLY the kind of show that follows convention: at times the soap opera appeal of the show is ridiculous. My take? The series' fate was unsure, so he mixed an amount of resolution with an smattering of setup for a seventh season that never came. What kind of resolution can prison inmates have, you might cynically ask? Well, with the amount of regulars dropping like flies in the final episodes, a resolutely audience-disrespecting resolution, that's what.
Add to this the prescence of Augustus Hill as omniscient narrator, often commenting on social issues that are tenuously related to the plot. Unlike most, I appreciated his intejections, but at times I was embarrassed at the posturing of high intelligence. One of the later episodes draws a parallel between two characters and Macbeth and Macduff that's presented as subtle but is so screamingly blunt it's shameful.
Still, the whole thing is bumped back up to four stars by arguably the best cast assembled for television.
Another reviewer gloated that Oz featured 'the best cast you've never heard of'. This is not entirely accurate: many of the names in Oz have gone to become recognizable faces, if not household names. Ghostbusters' Ernie Hudson is a formidable if weary warden, Lost's Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Harold Perrinau shine as drug kingpin and narrator/ philosopher Simon Adebisi and Hill, and most of the rest of the cast eventually showed up in The Wire. Seriously, like twenty of them. Everyone involved impresses though, from the regular inmates to the prison staff. There are few characters that demand total admiration- even the screws are corrupt- but the acting chops on show transforms each episode into a mesmerizing masterclass, even if the scripts are occasionally a little corny or cliched. That most of the cast went on to find work in similarly critically-acclaimed pieces is a testament to the casting director, and the actors themselves. Perhaps most commanding of all is Eamonn Walker as Muslim leader Kareem Said, joining Agbaje and The Wire's Idris Elba in the holy triumvirate of HBO African-Americans that are actually African-Englishmen.
This set (dubbed "The Emerald City Collection") collects the previous six season sets with an exclusive bonus disc. The extras leave you feeling short-changed. The recaps and previews are redundant, the deleted scenes offer little insight, and the three featurettes are short and repetitive. There's also an unnecessary rap video. No thanks. As with all HBO DVDs, the earlier seasons look atrocious, but as the years progress the picture improves. Sadly, there are no new extras on the season sets, so no commentaries to be found, which is the biggest shame.
I would wholly recommend giving Oz a go, provided you can stomach plenty of male rape, extreme violence and racial prejudice. Just don't get your hopes up expecting another HBO masterpiece- The Wire this ain't.
on 30 December 2012
incredibly well-done portrayal of prisoner's day-to-day lifes. a show without typical heroes. these guys are bad guys, no one is innocent. and that's what makes it so interessting and honest. always a overstepping of moral limits, but dealt with delicately.
you want to love the characters, despite their cruelty. and sometimes it nearly works.
the idea of placing a narrator is great and gives the show an additional twist. the characters are fun to watch (that is if they are not plotting to kill someone...) and you can feel with them. the storylines and themes are well-thought and wide-ranging.
i got so addicted, that i finished all six seasons in only two weeks. i couldn't stop watching.
but it is pretty violent and graphic, so if you got problems with violence, blood, sexuality and/or nudity - maybe you shoudn't watch it...
many people seem to have had problems with the dvds itselves due to bad packing. my set works just fine, i had nor problems playing the dvds whatsoever :-)
Oz is one of the hardest hitting TV series ever made. Set in a US maximum security penitentiary, it follows the struggles of inmates and staff to cope with their dreadful environment.
Much of the drama is driven by the rivalries between the various prisoner factions, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Latinos, the blacks etc. There is a fantastic array of thoroughly unpleasant, yet highly watchable characters, most of whom are just plain bad.
The six series also chart the journey of everyman character Tobias Beecher, a Harvard educated lawyer convicted for vehicular manslaughter committed whilst under the influence. Beecher's ordeals inside Oz and the nature of his transformation in order to survive life there are truly disturbing.
Original UK fans of the show may particularly welcome this box-set as Channel 4 aired these series erratically, with ever-changing late night programme times and huge gaps between seasons. Having the complete works will allow viewers like me, who were sometimes remiss setting the video, to catch up on missed episodes and enjoy watching Oz with some continuity.
With its frequent and graphic scenes of brutal violence, this is definitely not for the faint-hearted, but viewers wanting challenging and compelling drama will find plenty of it here.
This is highly recommended.
on 2 September 2013
Truly and simply one of the best (if not the best) show HBO has ever produced. Great characters, each episode has something to go for plot-wise and it never really gets boring. You could just watch it episode, after episode.
on 4 December 2012
First I'd like to say that OZ is one of the best drama series I've ever seen! Considering that there are already lots of reviews out there discussing the series itself, I'd like to say something about the packaging - which has been improved over the years!
Today (4.12.2012) I got the ordered boxset for the third time (I ordered 2 of them over the last 3 years as gifts) and I was suprised to see that the 7 cardboard pockets, holding the overall 21 discs LOOKED glossy and not harsh, like they used to look and how the boxset holding the pockets looks like. While I was unpacking the boxset, this suspicion confirmed itself: the cardboard pockets ARE glossy. That means that the blank discs are not placed on a harsh ground anymore but on glossified carboards - this way the discs most likely will be more protected than before - even though I must say that there are already some scratches on the discs.
However it looks like the manufacturer listened to the feedback of lots of buyers, saying that the older package was actually damaging the discs and decided to finally do something about it! Isn't that great?!