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Oz - The Complete First Season

1 rating: 5.0
A movie directed by Bob Balaban

The Oswald Maximum Security Prison has opened an experimental new ward reserved for especially dangerous criminals. This unit, Emerald City, focuses on rehabilitation, but the world inside is even more corrupt and violent than the mean streets where … see full wiki

Cast: J.K. Simmons
Director: Bob Balaban
Release Date: 1997-1998
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about Oz - The Complete First Season

Oz - Season 1

  • Aug 20, 2010
Pros: writing, directing, acting

Cons: none for me

The Bottom Line:
"That's how we laugh the day away, In the Merry Old Land of Oz"
~Arlen, Harold; Harburg, E Y

~~Caution, may contain small spoilers~~

As bizarre and unusual, but compelling, as the series Six Feet Under was, when OZ was introduced in 1997 on HBO, a darker and more sinister look hit the screen.   Running from July, 1997 to February, 2003, OZ covered 56 episodes in all, from the creator and writer Tom Fontana.  Different directors covered the episodes, I will name them later.

"OZ" is short for Oswald State Penitentiary.   For the most part it is a pretty hard core prison facility and fairly overcrowded.  An experimental unit was devised by one of the personnel, Tim McManus, and it was dubbed Emerald City.  In Emerald City we have a complete slice of prison life from all races and religious creeds.   The prisoners range from lifers to short timers; murderers, rapists, druggers, the full enchilada of hard core and softer core cons.

Their cells, called Pods, are glass and fully visible to guards and the causal observer.  Their open recreation area is overseen by guards stationed in a tower in the center which overlooks the entire area.  Only the shower area is private, or at least semi-private.  Despite all that, the cons are still able to do what cons do with free time on their hands ... sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.

Each episode is introduced by the narrator, played by Harold Perriuneau, Prisoner #95H522, Augustus Hill.   Hill, confined to a wheelchair, gives us background on individual prisoners and their crimes.  He also offers witty interludes throughout each episode.   He is in all 56 episodes and, over time, we become almost a friend with him and feel some sympathy for him, despite his crimes which I believer were drug related.  When caught by the police they, in anger, threw him off the roof of a building, thus paralyzing him from the waist down.

There is nothing pretty about this show.  It is sexual and brutual.  The language is hard and in full bloom.   Many would be offended by what they see and hear, which makes it all the more unique for those of us that say "Oh my God, did you see/hear that?".

It's Oz.

Season 1 Episodes include:
The Routine directed by Darnell Martin
Visits, Conjugal and Otherwise directed by Nick Gomez
God's Chillin' directed by Jean de Segonzac
Capital P directed by Darnell Martin
Straight Life directed by Leslie Libman & Larry Williams
To Your Health directed by Alan Taylor
Plan B directed by Darnell Martin
A Game of Checkers directed by Jean de Segonzac

Highlights of Season 1 include:
We are slowly introduced to our cast of characters and the unit known as Emerald City.  Kareem Said, a Muslim leader, shadows his small band of followers but carries an important impact on the entire unit.   Tobias Beecher, an attorney facing a sentence for vehicular homicide, first is bunked with an obtrusive and offensive Nigerian, Simon Adebisi.  The leader of the Arian Brotherhood, Vern Schillinger, takes Beecher's side but it isn't all roses for Beecher because he now is Schillingers 'woman'.  A mafia member, Dino Ortolani, ticks just about everyone off and ends up on the short end of a can of kerosene and a book of matches.

After that unfortunate experience, the 'wiseguys' and prison brass all try to find out who was responsible for Ortolani's death, which results in yet another death.  Facing a lock down by the warden, the leaders, Said, Keane & Schibetta, representing the overall population of the unit, agree to try to keep things settled down.  However, tempers are brewing in the background.

Meanwhile, Govenor Devlin hits hard with three threats he carries out.  He reinstated the dealth penalty, bans smoking, and, even worse, conjugal visits. 

O'Reily, a recent introduction to the unit, gets Beecher hooked on heroin and also plays all sides of the coin as he goes from the blacks to Latinos, to wiseguys, to Muslims, and passes information from one to the other, always covering his own back.

As the storm begins to brew, a new inmate, Scott Ross, strolls on the scene.  He knows one of the guards, Diane Whittlesey, from life outside when he 'ran' with her ex-husband in a biker gang.  He cajoles her to run a black market for cigarettes.  Beecher, meanwhile, totally freaked on drugs now, wearing women's clothes at Schillingers demand, takes revenge when he gouges Schillingers eye with a broken bottle. 

Tension is mounting daily and a simple game of checkers gone bad leads to a riot and the prisoners overtaking the guards in Em City.

Participants in Season 1 include:
Ernie Hudson as Warden Leo Glynn
Terry Kinney as Tim McManus
Harold Perrineu as August Hill
Eamon Walker as Kareem Said
Kirk Acevedo as Miguel Alvarez
Edie Falco as Officer Diane Whittlesey
Leon as Jefferson Keane
Rita Moreno as Sister Peter Marie Reimondo
J. K. Simmons as Vern Schillinger
Lee Tergeson as Tobias Beecher
Dean Winters as Ryan O'Reily
Lauren Velez as Dr. Gloria Nathan
George Morfogen as Bob Rebadow
Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje as Simon Adebisi
muMs as Poet
B. D. Wong as Father Ray Mukada
Zeljko Ivanek as Governor James Devlin

Most of these characters remain for the run of the six seasons.  A few leave and new ones wander in and will be introduced along with their story lines.

The writing for this show is incredible.  It is raw and in your face.  The acting is simply outstanding.  Should children watch this?  No friggin way.  There is a lot of nudity, sex, drugs, violence.   I've watched all six seasons and it gets even better as it rolls along.


Related reviews:
OZ, Season 1 - you are here
OZ, Season 2


Viewing Format: DVD
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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