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on January 21, 2004
At first glance, Tom Fontana's extraordinary television series "Oz" seems to be a hyper-naturalistic view of the hellish life behind bars in American prisons. It is that, of course. But the title is a tip-off that Fontana also has larger, more mythic concerns on his mind. His tortured Catholicism plays a role in the world-view presented here, as it did in his wonderful earlier series "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "St. Elsewhere." It turns out that Oz (the prison) is a kind of purgatory where wounded spirits struggle with good and evil. Even the best (like administators Tim McManus and Leo Glynn) are highly fallible, even misguided and foolish at times. And even the worst prisoners have sparks of humanity in them. These worst include the amazingly terrifying Simon Adebisi, the larger-than-life Nigerian criminal who controls the heroin trade in Oz. And J.K. Simmons deserves some kind of special award for his portrayal of Vern Schillinger, the leader of the neo-Nazi prisoners. He is the worst human being imaginable, but Simmons plays him with such style and elan that you have to grant the devil his due. As the recappers on "Television Without Pity" put it, if "Oz" were more well known, Schillinger would join Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates in the Fictional Villains Hall of Fame.
The battle for the souls of these men is best shown in the ordeal of Tobias Beecher, an upper-class lawyer who is convicted of a drunk-driving homicide and finds himself in the middle of this inferno. His horrible experiences in Oz reach a Job-like intensity. The second season sees the arrival of actor Christopher Meloni as the sociopathic Chris Keller. The three-way tango of betrayal between Keller, Beecher, and Schillinger is absolutely chilling. The storytelling of "Oz" is intricate, densely layered, and paced like a rocket taking off. If you miss five minutes of a single episode you may miss the fate of a character's entire life being sealed. There is a heightened, almost magic realism to much of what goes on. (In the land of Oz, it only takes a few weeks from a death sentenced being pronounced until its execution; and each episode is narrated by inmate Augustus Hill inside some kind of omni-aware, postmodern space.) This can be a little disconcerting at first, but the final impact is exhilarating. If you can take the intense (but never gratuitous) violence and the hair-raising prison sex, "Oz" is a wild ride from one of the best writers working in television.
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on February 5, 2003
Somewhere over the rainbow is a place called OZ, only in getting to this Emerald City one has to have committed a crime. In this Emerald City the goal isn't to get in to see the wizard the goal here is to survive to the next day. And along the way you pick up the tricks of the trade in doing so and some other nasty little tricks as well.
Tom Fontana thrust us into this world making us look at it through the eyes of one Tobias Beecher, he represents the every man. Through him we see there is no such thing as just doing your time and getting out. Through Tobias we see just how a person can be pushed to his limits and beyond. Things one wouldn't in their everyday life on the outside become second nature in OZ. Because no matter how meek one may appear the goal at the end of the day is to live to hear the guard say "lights out." And as we see through Tobias that instinct to survives will win out.
This is questionably the best season in a series of great seasons. It gives us a more detailed background into the lives of the men and women in OZ. We get to see their motivations and how they respond when treatened. This season is about denial, revenge, betrayal, and the budding of a truely twisted love affair that for some reason we find outselves rooting for dispite what we know which is: "It is not nor it cannot come to good. But break my heart for I must hold my tongue..." Hamlet...
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on January 28, 2003
I could not finish the second season of Oz. It was hopelessly dark.
Whereas the first season is worth watching because it maintains suspense through building up to a prison riot, and even includes some humor, the second season seethes in pointless cycles of revenge among the characters. While this is similar to the Sopranos, it's different in that show, because it is easier to identify with the "family". The Sopranos characters are multidimensional and more homogenous, while Oz characters are scattered and mostly one-track.
It also maintains the worthless "experimental" nature of the prison--there is no difference between this unit and any normal prison (save the glass cells). This makes the bleeding heart character who directs the Oz unit not just annoying, but infuriating. Nothing is done about the beatings, rapes, and murders that make prison so terrible (not to mention unconstitutional).
This season simply lacks the balance that made the first season so good.
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on January 17, 2003
The second season of Oz continues where the first left off. It has now been several months since the riot in Emerald City that killed seven inmates and two prison guards, and the first episode commences as prisoners move back into their cells after it has been repaired and things in Oswald State Prison have calmed down. Governor Devlin forms a committee to undertake the task of figuring out how the riot got started and who, if anyone, should be charged in connection to all that transpired during the ordeal. The committee finds that nobody is to blame for the riot, and therefore, no one is to be charged with any crime.
That's just the beginning of the season. The rest of the season shows how certain characters change as they acclimate themselves to prison life. Tobias Beecher (played by Lee Tergensen) undergoes the most notable change. He came to prison as a clean-cut lawyer who knew nothing of street life, and we now see him develop into a hardened convict. He is no longer the victim of aggression, and now assumes the role of aggressor. He wants revenge for all that Vernon Schillinger (J.K. Simmons) put him through, and he goes about getting revenge in several different ways. Also, in an interesting turn of events, the death of his wife has caused Beecher to develop certain homosexual tendencies.
There are many characters in Oz, and it isn't possible for me to describe what they all go through during this second season, but I will say that you'll be glued to your television once you start watching. This show is extremely engaging, and time seems to fly when I watch an episode of Oz. This is perhaps the best show that HBO has ever created, and this DVD is a definite must-buy for any Oz fan.
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on December 23, 2002
This is a great series from HBO. The topic is rough and the characters criminals, but its not what you expect when you watch it. There is a real draw from the complex plots of the characters an how they interact.
It is also very WILD to watch all your favorite Law and Order cast and guests appear on this show as usually bad guys !
Evil Verne the nazi, is a child psychologist on Law and Order special victims unit ! Its like Verne escaped and is a hannibal lechter psychiatrist ! Well, both characters are different people, but hats off to the actor who can pull off the duel roles.
Also Christopher Melioni is awesome. He rants and raves adn fumes on Law and Order special victims unit, and yet here in Oz, he is...a killer. There is no no stigma t...()alternative life style)people, just to the way prisoners interact and how different it is to see a straight family man on SVU and a gay person in Oz. I'm sure it could be reversed so as not to offend any gay people.
Also, the bikers and their tatoo's and the aryans and the muslims of the show give people a realistic view of the horro of prison life.
My personal gratitude to the cast, you are all very talented and impressive. I would watch other movies or shows with you in them right away.
Best regards to a top level cast and crew.
Em City is as real on your show as anyone would ever want to imagine it for real.
Hopefully your show will give everyone who watches it pause and make them think before they do anything rash or crazy that could get them in trouble.
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on November 8, 2002
OZ continues its DVD treatment with the second of six seasons, which originally aired in 1998. As the first season dealed more with episodic themes (capital punishment, conjugals, drugs, etc.) this is the season where the individual character arcs really began developing.
For those who do not know, Oz deals with life in a fictional prison and an experimental unit called Emerald City. It's about hope and survival. This was HBO's first drama, and paved the way for much more successful shows like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. However in my mind, Oz will always be the best: no other drama can shock you like this one. But it's not all violence; creator/writer Tom Fontana deals with real issues and really makes you think about stuff. Some of the questions addressed in this season: Should neighbors be notified when a convicted child molestor moves into the neighborhood even though he's paid his debt to society? How far will you go to be part of a gang? What's more important: revenge or safety? Is there any hope at all for a prisoner serving life without the possibility of parole?
Many of the fan-favorite characters return: Hill, Beecher, Said, Schillinger, Alvarez, McManus, Rebadow, Adebisi, Wangler, Glynn, Mukada, Sister Pete, O'Reilly, Dr. Nathan, Peter Schibetta, Poet, Arif and others.
Plus many new characters are introduced: Nappa, Robson, Keller, Hoyt, Cyril, Busmalis, El Cid, Bellinger, Guerra, Pancamo, Kirk, Coushaine and others.
This is a great show that deserves a wider audience. I highly recommend it.
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on February 22, 2003
After seeing the pilot episode of the first season of "OZ" I was instantly hooked. I purchased the first season on DVD and loved it. I couldn't get enough. I was watching each episode twice, to make sure I didn't miss anything. Then finally the second season came out, and I loved it even more!
The second season starts just where the finale of season one left off. After the brutal prison riot. The second season I thought was very different from the first, but much better and more entertaining. This time, we are introduced to brand new chatacters, like Beecher's new cellmate Chris (played by Christopher Meloni), Ryan O'Reilly's mentally ill brother Cyril, the late Nino's son, Peter (who takes control of the wiseguys) and many more. This season is much more shocking than the first, including more violence and brutal rapes. The suviving characters from season one are still in Oz, including the on-going battle between Beecher and Aryan leader Schillinger. Adebesi is back, who has numerous confrontations with Italian leader Peter Schibetta, who discovers Adebesi was behind his father Nino's death.
Season 2 of Oz is a truly breathtaking experience, and should not be missed by anyone.
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on January 16, 2003
After a truly apocalyptic end to the first season, I was left left wondering, "Well, now what?" Which brings us to the second season of "Oz" on DVD. After a brutal and bloody prison riot, things seem to be returning to normal in Oz (short for Oswald Penitentary). The only thing is, normal in Oz involves death, drugs, despair, and ultimately, destruction. With allegiances being tested, torn and changed at the drop of a hat, survival for the inmates of Emerald City isn't an option... it's a necessity. Boasting solid performances from a great ensemble cast, and often shocking moments of violence and drama, this is one of those shows that definitely is not for everyone. With the show coming to an end on HBO, it's great to revisit that network's first great drama (sorry, but "The Sopranos" came AFTER this show)as it starts to become better with every episode.
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on January 5, 2003
Like it warps the truth about everything else, so Hollywood warps the reality of prison life. Having worked at a prison for 2 and a half years (a max security facility that, at the time of opening, was experimental), I find this show's depiction of "deep, complex" inmates' dramatic struggles rather laughable. The show attempts to shock with sordid violence and tries to glorify by using a top-notch cast to portray politically correct takes on actual prison life while the ignorant in the audience gasp at the "drama". The truth is sordid, yes, but equally mediocre. And no, most convicts aren't underdog heros, just cheap crooks who weren't smart enough to care about others or know any better. If they really wanted truthful sleaze, sadism and convoluted soap opera, they should have made it revolve around the life of the prison guards.
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on March 23, 2003
Whereas many second seasons tend to disappoint, the second season of OZ not only doesn't disappoint, it continues boldly and bravely with some powerful storylines and even more powerful acting performances.
Picking up after the amazing prison riot at the end of the first season, the second season has a big hurdle to overcome. Instead of trying to overcome it, it is a companion to the first season by allowing us to delve into the characters and their lives more deeply. The season explores relationships, sexuality, health issues, love, as well as continuing the "be aware and beware" feeling so important to the success of the story.
Strong performances continue this year, with the addition of Chris Meloni as an Aryan "spy".
Oz doesn't let you down. If anything, the lesson sent is: NEVER go to prison, just watch it on TV.
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