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Oz (S1)
DVD disk
10.07.2004 By: The Shootin Surgeon
Oz (S1) order
Director:
Various

Actors:
Ernie Hudson
Terry Kinney
Edie Falco

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Oswald Maximum Security Prison. Also known as "Oz", the setting for this in-your-face prison-life drama. Set in an experimental wing of the prison called Emerald City, this HBO series follows a group of inmates in a rehabilitation-oriented program run by Tim McManus (Kinney). Split into different groups, the inmates struggle with each other and with the prison's administration for control of "Em City". Through conniving manipulations, brute force, intimidation and any other manner they can, they betray each other, beat each other and even murder each other in order to be top dog in the cell block. Definitely not a place to make friends and meet new people.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
This has to be one of the best shows on TV right now. HBO usually does a great job with these things and they succeed here by making Oz one of the grittiest and most disturbing shows you can imagine. This thing is probably better than 80% of the feature films that are being released every year. One thing that can be appreciated by any viewer is the extreme diversity of the cast. With the prison being divided in groups, you get to sample a bit of the white supremacists, the militant Muslims, the black gangbangers, the Latinos, the mobsters and all other types of delightful people. The series also takes some staggering risks in terms of cast turnover. It's not uncommon to see a character dominate the story line for weeks and then, as soon as you get attached to him, get shanked in the cafeteria. Brutal.

And speaking of the cast, not only is it diverse, but it also happens to be extremely talented. One of my personal faves, Edie Falco stands out as a fatigued prison guard, Ernie Hudson puts in some solid work as the warden, and Terry Kinney puts in some long hours as McManus, the mastermind behind Em City who sees his dream collapsing into a murder infested cesspool. On the inmates' side, although they're too numerous to mention here, a cast of about 20 alternating "regulars" is par for the course. J.K. Simmons is incredibly detestable as the Aryan sodomite Vern Schillinger. His relationship with his prison bitch Tobias Beecher (the great Lee Tergesen) is frighteningly cruel and displays the most fearsome reality of prison. Others who stand out are Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as the disgusting Simon Adebisi, leader of the brothers from the ghettos and one of the most sickening individuals on TV, Dean Winters as O'Reily, the manipulative Irishman who uses inmates as pawns in his struggle to survive until he can walk out and Eamonn Walker, as the intense leader of the group of Muslims.

This first season does not take the time to slowly introduce you to OZ. Like the inmates who serve time in it, you're tossed in and left to fend for yourself. Understandably, the scenes of murders, homosexual rape and drug use may turn some off but they are unfortunately part of prison life and by extension, part of the society in which we all live. This series has the balls to dive in and to present us with an uncompromising look into these people's lives and to make us thank every god in the books that we don't have to go through it ourselves. OZ also stands out among television series through its high production values and some extremely well-written dialogue. This first season packs some serious firepower with 8 episodes full of betrayal, deceit, brutality and all around vitriol. Despite having seen them all on TV already, I remained glued to my screen for almost 2 full days swallowing up what OZ had to offer. Need I say, it was time well spent.
THE EXTRAS
There wasn't really much to write home about in regards to the bonus material. A couple of the episodes are available with Commentaries from Executive-Producer/Writer/Creator Tom Fontana and Lee Tergesen, the prison bitch mentioned above. Decent stuff but fairly standard as far as commentaries go. TV people are much less pretentious than film people though.

Also included in the 3-disc set are 11 deleted scenes. About 10 minutes in combined length, they don't really show you anything new but they're well shot and fun to watch. Available with Fontana's commentary as well, they make for a light dessert following a very heavy meal. A 3-minute long featurette is also there but in 3 minutes, you don't learn much about anything but nonetheless, you can stop and check it out. It includes some cast & crew interviews and pretty much adds up to an intro of the series. Cast & Crew bios are also available in a text feature. About 20 of the stars are spoken for in this.

Next up is a music video called "Behind the Walls", by Kurupt featuring Nate Dogg. I'm not a big fan of the hip-hop, so I had to ask around as to who Kurupt and Hot Dogg were. When I couldn't find out, I tried to watch the video but the music got to me. You'll have to check that one out for yourselves.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Awesome HBO TV series in a nice-looking 3-disc set. The show is great and even though there's not much in terms of extra stuff, it still makes for some nice viewing. Take it from me as well, I've watched countless repeats of this show on late night TV and it always goes down well. No worries in terms of rewatch value. Buy this chicken and have a blast!!! This set is even worth picking up if you drop it in the shower!!!
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