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Spun: Oz - Return to Oz & Augustus Hill

Every now and then, a successful TV show creates a spinoff that fans fall in love with (Frasier, Daria, even The Simpsons, believe it or not). Unfortunately, these gems are heavily overshadowed by the worst of the worst (Joey, Joanie Loves Chachi, Saved by the Bell: The College years). The term “spinoff” is now met with rolling eyes and groans, when its full potential hasn’t even been tapped. In the new Golden age of television, the fields are ripe for harvest! Sick of waiting for Hollywood to hurry the hell up, we’re just going to do it ourselves. Your favorite shows are about to be Spun. 

HBO has had a long history of success when it comes to drama series. We can site Game of Thrones, The Wire, and The Sopranos as what set them apart; changing the way an hour long drama series could tell a story. Very few people mention OZ in that category, but it deserves it’s rightful place. More than that, Oz set the stage for what an hour long drama on HBO would be capable of doing. The argument can be made that without this show, there would be no television adaptation of Game of Thrones, no Deadwood, and (dare I say) no Sopranos. 

No Sopranos? How will we ever argue about what never happened when it all "ended"?

OZ was the first hour long drama series to run on HBO, debuting in July of 1997, and it introduced us to some faces that would become very familiar over the next decade. 

For those not familiar, Oz is the nickname for the Oswald state correctional facility, a level 4 maximum security prison. It’s also (obviously) a reference to The Wizard of Oz. To further reference the film, the original tagline for the series was “It’s no place like home”, and one viewing was enough to see why. While the majority o the general population behind bars lives the average, hellish prison life, the cell block that our main characters inhabit is nicknamed “Emerald City”, boasting privileges for inmates that other cell blocks aren’t privy to. Em City is presided over by Tim Mcmanus, a man who not only sets out to change the lives of prisoners inside, but hopes to impact the world outside by doing so. As you can imagine, he becomes increasingly jaded and disenfranchised as the series goes on. 

Oz actually had a pretty concrete ending, which is more than you can say for most tv shows today. (SPOILERS AHEAD) In it’s final season, when 6 seasons of tensions had reached a stressful high for the main characters (well, the characters who were still alive), the prison received a mysterious letter in the mail, seemingly containing anthrax inside. This seems like a cop out, and in many ways it was, but this also happened not long after the actual anthrax attacks in Washington DC, so it wasn’t unimaginable. The prison was evacuated, and inmates were pushed into dozens of different busses, and sent off to neighboring prisons in the state to finish out their sentences. 

Title: Return to Oz

Not this one…though a Fairuza Balk appearance would be appreciated.

The Pitch:

With the National Incarceration rate rising almost 15% over the last decade, the State of New York sees few other options than to reopen the doors of the Oswald State Correctional Facility. After it’s unceremonious closing over a decade earlier, the prison has been cleared for inhabitance, bringing some familiar faces back accompanied by some dangerous new ones. Welcome back to the underside of humanity. 

The Characters: 

Perhaps not surprisingly, not that many people survived Oz the first time around. But there are a few that could return, such as Ryan O’Reilly, Burr Redding, Tim Mcmanus and Tobias Beecher (tremendous bummer that an Augustus Hill appearance wouldn’t make sense…stay tuned). One of the strengths of the original series was it’s revolving door of supporting characters, and that certainly wouldn’t change here. With many characters getting killed, others being released, and others still being transferred to different prisons, most episodes featured new characters coming to the prison through intake, and being introduced to life in Em City. In this new generation, we’ll see prisoners serving sentences for crimes that the original series never saw (identity theft, revenge porn, virtual drug dealing), and that would certainly make for interesting character development behind bars. 

As a spinoff, that option made the most sense to me, but it was still missing something. It was missing the heart of the original series. When I was originally considering spinoffs for this show, I really struggled with that…then my plan B pitch became clear; there’s a character study that suddenly makes tremendous sense. 

Plan B Pitch:

I’m writing this fully aware that most readers probably haven’t ever seen Oz, but have heard about it. Most people wouldn’t understand what makes the show interesting, or how it contributed to the future of serialized storytelling. It was simply “That Prison Show” to most, but not to regular viewers. What escalated the program into the upper echelon of TV dramas was in it’s narrator, Augustus Hill (welcome back). 

All of the chaos that ensued in Oz was chronicled and delineated by Augustus through a broken fourth wall. Outside of knowing his mentor growing up, knowing that he was a corner boy, and that he was paralyzed when he was caught by police, not much else is know about the past of Augustus. We knew this: he deserves to be in prison (killed a police officer) and he doesn’t argue that. He’s wise enough, looking back on his life, to understand what’s made him the man he is in the place he’s in which, in a sea of truly horrific human beings makes him the most sympathetic character we come across. He acted as our guide in this world, combining an inner city acumen with an uncompromising and graphic philosophy that made every viewer think just a little bit harder about their own convictions and principles towards a certain issue. For this spinoff, we’d need a late teenaged actor to play Augustus…and the series would get to be narrated by Harold Perrineau (saying “get to”, and not “have to” was deliberate). If you’re wondering why, I won’t explain it, simply because an explanation can’t do that performance any justice. 

The more I mull this one over, the more I wonder…why hasn’t this been made into a show yet??

Combining the humorous acting of “Atlanta” with the gritty storytelling of “The Wire”, Augustus Hill retraces the adolescence and young adulthood of a consistently decent man, doomed to incarceration and ultimately death in his near future. Set during the early 90’s, the series will explore a time when Augustus, at his most impressionable, is being drawn into his neighborhood’s drug and gang culture, just as tensions between the small Brooklynn community and it’s local police department start to rise. 

What do you think? Should HBO revisit the risky series that began their television empire? Is a drama series that takes place in a prison not considered risky anymore? Has anyone here even SEEN Oz? Or did I go too far back with this one? Sound off in the comments below!

Source: JoBlo.com

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