Oz: Season 1 (1997)

DVD Cover (HBO Studios)
Genres: Crime Drama, Prime-Time Drama, Prison Show
The daily lives of prisoners in Emerald City, an experimental unit of the Oswald Maximum Security Prison where ingroups - Muslims, Latinos, Italians, Aryans - stick close to their mutual friends and terrorize their mutual enemies. --TMDb
Movie Connections:
> Oz: Season 1 (1997)
> Oz: Season 2 (1998)
> Oz: Season 3 (1999)
> Oz: Season 4 (2000)
> Oz: Season 5 (2002)
> Oz: Season 6 (2003)

8.3 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Chad
Added: July 20, 2012
I'm going to get something out of the way, right up here in the first couple of sentences in the opening paragraph: I may be a little biased in this review. You see, Oz is my favorite television series of all time, hands down. I was hooked from the moment I stumbled across a random episode while flipping through the channels late one night, and from that point on, I never missed an episode. I purchased every DVD release on the day they came out, and the coming weeks will mark the third time I've sat through the entire series (this time for review purposes). So, yes, I may be just a little biased, but there's a reason for that: the show really is amazing.

Oz is short for the Oswald State Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison housing murderers, rapists, drug dealers, and all other manner of disgusting human beings. The prison as a whole is run by Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson), but the real emphasis of the show is the cell block known as Emerald City. Em City is run by Tim McManus (Terry Kinney), and it is an experimental approach to housing inmates. The population is carefully controlled, with the various gangs always having an equal number of members, and the inmates are required to attend factory jobs and drug counseling. While the rest of the prison is meant to simply house inmates, McManus wants to use Em City to rehabilitate people before they get paroled in order to break the cycle of incarceration.

Of course, this being a show about prison and all, the prisoners are the real stars. As mentioned, there are various gangs here: we've got the Aryans led by Vern Schillinger (J.K. Simmons), the Muslims led by Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker), the "gangstas" led by Simon Adebisi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the Italians led by Nino Schibetta (Tony Musante), and the Latinos led by Miguel Alvarez (Kirk Acevedo). There's also Ryan O'Reily (Dean Winters), a lone wolf who is out for himself and is constantly playing the groups against one another to get what he wants, and let's not forget the wheelchair-bound Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau), who doubles as the show's narrator. Finally, we have Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen), a former lawyer who decided to drink and drive and killed a young girl. Since the man enters prison with no street smarts, he is quickly taken advantage of and turned into a "prag" (prison fag) by Schillinger.

The first couple of episodes obviously take the time to introduce us to most of the characters and how this prison works, but it wastes no time in getting down to business. In fact, the very first episode features a man who we believe will be an integral part of the show... and then he is killed. Nobody is safe in this prison, and anybody can be killed off at any time. This is a recurring theme on the show, and it definitely keeps us on our toes. Anyway, since this person was killed, his gang is out for revenge and they wind up killing someone who they believe to be responsible, and thus, that person's gang wants revenge, and so the cycle continues. Glynn is none too happy about the violence and tasks McManus with settling things down, which goes as well as you'd expect. Beecher deals with Schillinger's abuse until he can take it no longer, Said rallies the Muslims and promises change for the injustices that they have had to endure, and these are but a few of the plot points brought up in the eight hours that this season runs for.

There are two things that make this show so amazing: the writing and the actors. The storylines and the various plot devices, especially in this season, are all top-notch and will keep you wanting more. There are a lot of things going on, more than in most television dramas, and there are also a lot of characters to keep up with... but there isn't a single weak link in the entire thing. See, all of these men are guilty of their crimes: there are no Shawshank characters who are totally innocent or who have completely turned their lives around. These men are all guilty as sin, and most of them are still as evil as the day they committed their crimes... but we still find reasons to invest in their characters and side with a few of them. Whether it's Beecher's abuse or the death of Miguel's newborn baby on the outside, you can't help but feel bad for them. It all builds up to a season finale that, had you watched it when it originally aired on television, would leave you screaming with frustration and wanting the next season RIGHT NOW. Thankfully, we have DVD for that, but I pity the people who had to wait.

The acting is the other side of that coin, and again, there is perfection all around. This is actually pretty amazing, considering that there are no less than ten "main" characters in this season, a handful of secondary characters (including Rita Moreno as a nun drug counselor, Lauren VÚlez as a doctor, and BD Wong as a Catholic priest), and a load of smaller parts. You can go down the list of characters, and you will find that everyone is perfect in their roles: J.K. Simmons plays the Nazi asshole to perfection, Eamonn Walker is great as the motivational speaker / Muslim extremist, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is amazing as the African gangster, and the list just goes on and on. In a show where you are supposed to care for / like / hate the characters, casting is very important... and the show's casting department knocked the ball out of the park.

Honestly, there isn't a single negative thing that I can say about this season. Again, there may be some bias in there because this is my favorite show of all time, but I didn't just throw that much love at the show for no reason - it really is that damned good. Brilliant writing, a perfect cast, and characters that you will root for or love to hate equals a show that was well ahead of its time. 10/10.
madcat78 #1: madcat78 - added 07/20/2012, 03:53 PM
I am so glad to see someone give so much praise to what I also believe to be he best series ever on television. You hit it on the head with the casting. Each and every character was done to perfection. Soprano's gets all the love, but Oz is truly the gem in thier collection of shows.
Lucid Dreams #2: Lucid Dreams - added 07/21/2012, 04:43 PM
Such a great season! 10/10
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