Oz (DVD) Review

Posted by Nick Niesen on October 27th, 2010

Nominated for 2 Emmys, including Best Casting for a Series, Oz is widely regarded as one of the best prison dramas ever created. The brainchild of creator Tom Fontana (former writer for such hit TV shows as Homicide: Life On The Streets and St. Elsewhere), Oz was one of a number of a highly successful HBO original series to premiere in the 1990s, keeping good company among such shows as Sex And The City and The Sopranos. Premiering in mid-summer 1997, Oz quickly built a large and loyal following of voyeuristic viewers hypnotized by the series' vivid depiction of no-holds-barred prison life. Following six critically acclaimed seasons, Oz was cancelled in early 2003, but lives on via DVD?

Oz is the street name for the Oswald State Penitentary, a rough and hardened prison where survival of the fittest is the prevailing law. But the focus of Oz is Level 5, an experimental cell block deemed "Emerald City" that's managed by Unit Administrator Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) and thick-skinned Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson). One of the prisoners, wheelchair-bound convicted murderer Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau Jr. of Lost) narrates for the viewer, tying together the various storylines that play out within the prison. In an atmosphere of well-governed anarchy, prisoners come and go (some paroled; some murdered), prison guards uphold their duty (while some are corrupt), and various groups (such as Muslims, Aryans, Latinos, Italians, gangstas, gays, etc.) compete for power over each other and over the prevalent drug trade rampant within the walls of Oz. Tobias "Toby" Beecher (Lee Tergesen) plays the "everyday man," having been convicted for manslaughter while driving drunk, and his character's experiences force the viewer to place himself in the shoes of the inmate. Other notable characters include Prisoner Miguel Alvarez (Kirk Acevedo), Prisoner Bob Rebadow (George Morfogen), Prisoner Vernon Schillinger (J.K. Simmons), Prisoner Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker), Prisoner Tony Masters (Steven Wishnoff), Officer Diane Whittlesey (Edie Falco of The Sopranos), and Father Ray Mukada (B.D. Wong of Law & Order: SVU). Together, they form a solid cast that makes Oz one of the best original cable dramas ever produced?

The Oz DVD features a number of dramatic episodes including the series premiere "The Routine" in which viewers are introduced to the newest crop of inmates to enter Oz (?ala Shawshank Redemption). Among them are Miguel Alvarez (who is promptly stabbed in the chest), Kareem Said (a respected Muslim leader who lets it be known that he now rules the prison), and Tobias Beecher (an out-of-place lawyer incarcerated for killing a little girl while driving drunk). As the newest inmates become acclimated to life in Oz, they also learn that "the routine" and not the omnipresent violence is what will ultimately kill their souls? Other notable episodes from Season 1 include "God's Chillin'" in which, among other things, some corrupt guards arrange and videotape a makeshift gladiator fight between inmates, and "A Game of Checkers" in which a prison riot breaks out when some inmates begin fighting over a game of checkers?

Below is a list of episodes included on the Oz (Season 1) DVD:

Episode 1 (The Routine) Air Date: 07-12-1997
Episode 2 (Visits, Conjugal, and Otherwise) Air Date: 07-14-1997
Episode 3 (God's Chillin') Air Date: 07-21-1997
Episode 4 (Capital P) Air Date: 07-28-1997
Episode 5 (Straight Life) Air Date: 08-04-1997
Episode 6 (To Your Health) Air Date: 08-11-1997
Episode 7 (Plan B) Air Date: 08-18-1997
Episode 8 (A Game of Checkers) Air Date: 08-25-1997

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Nick Niesen

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Nick Niesen
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