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Oz - Complete Season 1-6 [DVD]
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All 56 episodes of the gritty, thought-provoking prison drama from HBO. Set in the Emerald City experimental wing of Oswald (Oz) Correctional Facility - the series takes a futuristic look at crime and punishment. Emerald City was set up with a pre-agreed amount of members of ten racial and social demographics (The Muslims, The Homeboys, The Aryans, The Bikers, The Italians, The Latinos, The Irish, The Gays, The Christians and The Others) to see whether they might be able to sort things out among themselves - or at least to witness their attempts. There's no shortage of shankin', cussin', fightin' and lovin', though - the prime ingredients in any prison drama. Season one episodes comprise: 'The Routine', 'Visits, Conjugal and Otherwise', 'God's Chillin'', 'Capital P', 'Straight Life', 'To Your Health', 'Plan B' and 'A Game of Checkers'. Season two episodes are: 'The Tip', 'Ancient Tribes', 'Great Men', 'Losing Your Appeal', 'Family Bizness', 'Strange Bedfellows', 'Animal Farm' and 'Escape from Oz'. Season three episodes comprise: 'The Truth and Nothing But...', 'Napoleon's Boney Parts', 'Legs', 'Unnatural Disasters', 'U.S. Male', 'Cruel and Unusual Punishments', 'Secret Identities' and 'Out o' Time'. Season four episodes are: 'A Cock and Balls Story', 'Obituaries', 'Bill of Wrongs', 'Works of Mercy', 'Gray Matter', 'A Word to the Wise', 'A Town Without Pity', 'You Bet Your Life', 'Medium Rare', 'Conversions', 'Revenge Is Sweet', 'Cuts Like a Knife', 'Blizzard of '01', 'Orpheus Descending', 'Even the Score' and 'Famous Last Words'. Season five episodes comprise: 'Visitation', 'Laws of Gravity', 'Dream a Little Dream of Me', 'Next Stop, Valhalla', 'Wheel of Fortune', 'Variety', 'Good Intentions' and 'Impotence'. Season six episodes are: 'Dead Man Talking', 'See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Smell No Evil', 'Sonata De Oz', 'A Failure to Communicate', '4giveness', 'A Day in the Death...', 'Junkyard Dawgs' and 'Exeunt Omnes'.
HBO's violent men-behind-bars drama is an addictive, testosterone-driven soap opera for guys. The eight episodes of the first season set the style for the show: a massive cast of a vivid characters on both sides of the bars, four or five stories unleashed at a breakneck pace and framed by angry, oddball introductions, and a soaring casualty rate. Created by Homicide producer Tom Fontana, this drama quickly earned its rightful reputation as the most brutal show on TV. It's simple chemistry: combine volatile ingredients in a confined space, shut tight, and shake. The yellow brick road of the Oswald Correctional Facility (affectionately known as "Oz" among the inmates) leads to "Emerald City," an antiseptic cellblock of cement and glass overseen by prison-reform advocate Tim McManus (Terry Kinney). The first episode introduces its two most compelling inmates: meek lawyer Beecher (Lee Terguson), who transforms from a vulnerable lamb to a fearless, drug-addicted wildcat, and Muslim activist Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker), a fiercely non-violent leader whose campaign for reform explodes in a season-climaxing riot. The stunning first-season cast also features Ernie Hudson (the warden), Rita Moreno (a worldly drug-counseling nun), and Edie Falco (who jumped from her role as a single-mother prison guard to mob wife in The Sopranos). It carries no rating, but the drug use, nudity, and brutal violence make this highly inappropriate for young viewers and unsuited to the squeamish. Oz pulls no punches in its portrayal of prison violence and predatory abuse. --Sean Axmaker
If the title of HBO's brutal prison drama suggests a fairy tale, be warned that this Oz lies on the other side of the rainbow. This gritty portrait of men behind bars is a testosterone-driven soap opera packed with murder, suicide, sadism, and savage battles for dominance in the concrete jungle. Season 2 opens in the wake of a prison riot that shut down the experimental cell block known as "Emerald City" among the inmates, but it doesn't take long to build a whole new head of steam after prison reformer Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) reopens the unit. The drug wars pit the Italians against the blacks, the Aryan Brotherhood re-establish their campaign of intimidation, and Alvarez is pushed to desperate measures when he's ousted by the new Latino leader (Luiz Guzmán). Even more volatile than the physical brutality (this season offers up a bloody blinding and a crucifixion) is the soul-crushing psychodrama played out between vicious Aryan leader Schillinger (J.K. Simmons) and Beecher (Lee Tergeson), the meek lawyer transformed into a drug-addicted wild man by prison's predatory world and seduced by cold-blooded killer Chris Keller (Law and Order: SVU's Christopher Meloni). Some the stories get lost in the thrilling runaway pacing, but at its best Oz's searing stories of men penned in and pushing back goes straight for the jugular and invariably draws blood. In addition to HBO's four-minute promotional short is an interesting featurette in which the creators and select actors discuss the show. --Sean Axmaker
A volatile men-in-prison soap opera, fueled by testosterone and lubricated by blood, HBO's Oz is addictive viewing. The third season of the most violent show on cable TV, set in a cage of concrete and steel and glass, opens with echoes of violence past. Miguel Alvarez (Kirk Acevedo) is in solitary confinement for brutally blinding a guard, one-time drug lord Simon Adebissi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) mourns for his murdered father, and Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) nurses bones broken by Aryan Brotherhood leader Schillinger (J.K. Simmons) and a heart broken by the betrayal of Keller (Law and Order: SVU's Christopher Meloni). Their stories of vengeance, redemption, and forgiveness anchor this season. The show races through each episode with a driving pace that only intensifies the ferocity. But for all the show's physical brutality, the most affecting violence is emotional, from the strange and savage love affair between Beecher and Keller to the escalating war of terror between Beecher and Schillinger. On a lighter note, this season marks the debut of both Miss Sally and new prison CO Sean Murphy (Robert Clohessy), whose understated strength is too often overlooked in the face of the show's more explosive personalities. Season 3 ends pitched on a powder keg, with the fuse in the hands of the show's most ferocious, unpredictable character. It's the kind of promise that will have you slavering for season 4. The three-disc set features all eight episodes along with a season 2 recap, episode recaps and previews, commentary on the episode "Unnatural Disasters" by writer-creator Tom Fontana and episode director Chazz Palmintieri, and 22 minutes of deleted scenes. --Sean Axmaker
The heightened reality of Oz remains consistently engrossing in the fourth season of HBO's volatile prison drama. All 16 episodes were written or cowritten by series creator Tom Fontana, and are bookended by the wisely sardonic observations of paraplegic prisoner Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau), whose terse, philosophical ruminations about life in "Oz" give the series its literate edge. The 2000-2001 season finds Oz in the wake of racial warfare; tensions remain high among the factions that make the "Em City" cell block a hotbed of seething animosity among the skinhead Aryans led by Shillinger (J.K. Simmons); Muslim splinter groups led by Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker), the fearsome Adebisi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Supreme Allah (Lord Jamar); and the resident Mafia, Latinos, and lowlifes who make up Em City's embroiled population of newcomers, hard-timers, and death-row inmates. Unit Administrator McManus (Terry Kinney) sets up a centrally located penalty cage for anyone who causes outbreaks of violence (which are shockingly frequent and frequently lethal), but loses his job in a mid-season plot development that spins Oz into a maelstrom of internal politics and brutal retaliation. Through it all, Fontana and his collaborators (including guest director Steve Buscemi) maintain impressive focus on dozens of finely drawn characters. Laced with homosexual tension, jealousies, religious fervor, and threats of betrayal, the season's most compelling conflicts involve impulsive killer Ryan O'Reily (played with cagey menace by Dean Winters) and his brain-damaged half-brother Cyril (Scott William Winters); and the manipulative Keller (Christopher Meloni) and his prison lover Toby Beecher (Lee Tergesen), a lawyer and convicted murderer whose survival seems perpetually uncertain. Tenuous order is barely maintained by warden Glynn (Ernie Hudson) and Catholic counselor "Sister Pete" (Rita Moreno), but the bulk of Oz's fourth season is devoted to chaos, as shifting loyalties keep all prisoners (and all viewers) in a state of anxious anticipation. The criminal histories of many inmates are shown in flashback, and one death-row scenario (involving guest star Kathryn Erbe) reaches its inevitable conclusion. By the time episode 16 ends with a blazing inferno, you'll be wondering about the fate of Rev. Cloutier (Luke Perry) and anxious for the tumultuous events of season 5. --Jeff Shannon
Raw, uncompromising, and brutal, the fifth season of Oz represents a turning point for the series, tying up loose ends and preparing for the closure of season 6. As with all previous seasons of HBO's hard-edged prison series, the outbreaks of violence, racial tensions, emotional bleakness, and full-frontal male nudity ensure that Oz is decidedly not for the weak of heart. Simmering animosity between the Aryans, Muslims, Sicilians, and Latinos continues unabated; these eight episodes include numerous shankings and slashings, a severed arm, strangulation, a stabbing with a crucifix, and the death (among others) of one of the series' most prominent characters. As Schillinger (J.K. Simmons) and his skinheaded Aryans exploit a naive pair of new inmates, tensions mount between the weak-willed Omar (Michael Wright, in a standout performance) and his prone-to-rage Muslim mentor Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker, also excellent); Ryan O'Reily (Dean Winters) continues to protect his volatile brother Cyril (Scott William Winters) and reunites with his mother (Betty Lynn Buckley) who's in Oz doing community service; McManus (Terry Kinney) locks horns with his ex-wife over prison policy; Alvarez (Kirk Acevado) seeks partial redemption by training a guide-dog for the guard he blinded; and Keller (Christopher Meloni) returns to the "Em City" cellblock, to the relief of his bisexual lover Beecher (Lee Tergesen) who attends "interaction" sessions with Sister Pete (Rita Moreno) to encourage tenuous peace among inmates. With subplots involving guest stars Luke Perry, Peter Criss (from Kiss), Malachy McCourt, and others, the fifth season of Oz is weak at times, but series creator and primary writer Tom Fontana keeps a lot of characters in steady play, covering impressive dramatic territory after the relatively generous allotment of 16 episodes in Season 4. The series is clearly winding down here (the semi-musical episode "Variety" is a curious attempt to broaden the show's creative horizons, and works surprisingly well), and the outbreaks of violence now have a rather predictable and oppressive frequency. Anyone looking for "feel good" entertainment should stay away, but Fontana and the uniformly excellent cast maintain admirable depth of character and incident, including a tragic loss (in "Visitation") that resonates throughout the season. --Jeff Shannon
The sixth and final season of HBO's prison drama Oz--which aired in 2003--is brutal, passionate, and gritty. Compellingly addictive with taut storylines and superb acting, each of the eight episodes on this 3-disc set nicely paves the way for the series finale, which wraps the show up in a satisfying (and surprising) manner. Often told through the eyes (and voice) of deceased prisoner Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau, Lost), Oz isn't an easy show to watch. Inmates are routinely raped, tortured, and killed--not out of need, but out of boredom and cruelty. And in a corrupt system where too few bureaucrats actually care about these men's lives, few are willing to do anything about it. Those that do give a damn--Sister Peter Marie (Rita Moreno, West Side Story), Father Mukada (B.D. Wong, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), Dr. Nathan (Lauren Velez), Warden Glynn (Ernie Hudson), McManus (Terry Kinney)--face an uphill battle. One of the strongest storylines is the ongoing romance between murderer Keller (Christopher Meloni, Law & Order: SVU and Beecher (Lee Tergesen), who's hoping to be paroled. Series creator Tom Fontana doesn't allow their arc to be diluted by any idealistic expectations. The viewer is acutely aware that Beecher is an easy target for annihilation whether or not he is released from prison. The viewer is never quite as certain of Keller's motives--whether they're borne of love and affection, or a selfish need to satisfy his own primal urges. Like Beecher, Alvarez (Kirk Acevedo) is trying to keep his own nose clean in the hopes that he'll be eligible for parole three years down the line. It's easy to understand the almost suffocating feeling he lives every day, knowing that three years may as well be a lifetime when you're behind bars and the target of both your former gang and the Aryan brothers, led by Schillinger (J.K. Simmons, Law & Order: SVU, the Spider-Man films). And Ryan (Dean Winters) desperately tries to save his mentally retarded brother Cyril (played by Dean's real-life sibling Scott William Winters) from being executed. There are a few subplots that don't ring true, such as the quasi romance between a librarian (Patti LuPone) and one of the prisoners, and an elderly inmate's (Joey Grey) implausible death wish. And for all the constraints the majority of convicts face, some appear to have almost free run of the prison. Still, Fontana has created a vivid, dark world where the occasional acts of humanity are as important as the non-stop chaos that is Oz. While it certainly helps to have seen the previous five seasons of the series to enjoy this season, it's not mandatory. These last eight episodes work fine as a stand-alone piece of drama. --Jae-Ha Kim
Top customer reviews
Great actors, great stories and suspense, i really dont know how they crammed so much enjoyed all set in Oz prison.
Anyway, onto the show itself:
With HBO you're almost guaranteed quality. The first couple of seasons are up there with any tv show around. It kind of deteriorates from there though. The last few seasons are still good compared to other tv shows but it does not reach the heady heights of those first 2 seasons. The writing and acting are top class, J. K. Simmons is amazing as Vernon Schillinger! I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes their gritty dramas.
Just be warned though that there's quite a bit of violence adult content.
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.
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.
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