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Oz: The Complete First Season (1997)

Cast: Ernie Hudson, Ernie Hudson, Terry Kinney, more...
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Rating: Not Rated
Studio: HBO Home Video
Genre: Drama, Television, Prison, TV Drama, Drama TV
Languages: English, Spanish
    see additional details...

Seen mostly through the eyes of wheelchair-bound prisoner Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau Jr.), who serves as narrator and "tour guide," the first season of Oz begins with the establishment of a "prison within a prison" on Cell Block 5 of Oswald Maximum Security Penitentiary -- aka "Oz." Under the watchful eyes of Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson), Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) serves as unit manager of Cell Block 5, which he rechristens the Emerald City. It is the hope of the idealistic McManus that by allowing the prisoners more freedom and privileges, and getting them used to a daily routine, they will become rehabilitated more quickly. Perhaps it goes without saying that McManus is in for a lot of disillusionment and disappointment during the eight episodes of season one. Newly interned at "Em City" are former lawyer Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen), nervously serving time for murder; famed Muslim leader Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker), who calmly informs Warden Glynn that he intends to become "top man" at Oz; pro basketball player Jackson Vayhue (Rick Fox); and cannibalistic serial killer Donald Groves (Sean Whitesell). Their assimilation into the prison population is uneventful until Governor James Devlin (Zeljko Ivanek), who has sailed into office on a platform diametrically proposed to Glynn's "coddling" of prisoners, orders the removal of such newly installed privileges as smoking and conjugal visits. Going one step farther, Devlin reinstates the death penalty, resulting in the immediate execution of one of the Em City "residents." Clearly, this does nothing to alleviate the tension between cons and guards -- nor, for that matter, between the various powerful factions within the population. In the course of events, an undercover narc is found hanged in his cell, another prisoner is set afire, the Oz staffers wrestle with the problem of what to do with elderly inmates, a turf war breaks out over a game of checkers, and Kareem Said suffers a heart attack. The season ends with a bloody and destructive riot -- with no indication as to who will survive to appear in season two. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Ratings

Oz: The Complete First Season (Disc 1 of 3) (1997)
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7.49 (67 votes)
Oz: The Complete First Season (Disc 2 of 3) (1997)
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8.02 (52 votes)
Oz: The Complete First Season (Disc 3 of 3) (1997)
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7.71 (51 votes)

GreenCine Member Reviews

Beecher's Inferno by oldkingcole August 21, 2002 - 11:18 PM PDT
5 out of 5 members found this review helpful
The first episode of Oz is one of the best first episodes of any series I've ever seen. There is none of the awkwardness, undefined characterizations, scripted-sounding dialog, or any of the other problems that usually plague first-season shows. More than any other first episode I can think of, this one really does feel like a one-hour movie.

John Seda puts in a wonderful performance as the con with a short temper who's searching for answers but can't quite overcome the inertia of his own learned prejudices, or at least, not enough to accept help when he finally has the opportunity to receive it. The tragedy of that lost opportunity is perfectly pitched -- neither over- nor understated -- leaving the viewer with a kind of melancholy sadness at the seeming inevitability of his wrong choice, and what could have been, if only...

The rest of the cast is also stellar. Dean Winters, as O'Reily, is especially noteworthy, his wirey confidence -- again perfectly pitched -- combines equal parts charm and menace.

Eamonn Walker is another phenomenal actor in this show. I really want to see him get more substantial roles in films. He had a small part in Unbreakable as the doctor who delivers Elijah Price in the backroom of the department store, and did a great job as an emotionally broken man in the Homicide: Life on the Streets final wrap-up TV movie, and was excellent in the title role of the 2001 TV version of Othello. At this point, I'd see any movie that had Walker in a lead role. He's that good.

You know, I'm going to end up listing the whole cast if I keep this up, because it is truly first-rate all around. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is terrifying as Adebisi, and J.K. Simmons' turn as Verne Schillinger is also terrifying, but in a completely different way. What happens to audience stand-in Lee Tergesen as Tobias Beecher, right from Episode 1, is utterly horrifying, and his transformation over the course of the whole series is fascinating to watch. Kirk Acevedo as Miguel Alvarez is also a strong actor, and the part gives him many opportunities to pour on the intensity. Keep an eye on him; he's very, very good.

Oz is a tough, tough show, though, and probably not to all tastes. The other highly-vaunted HBO crime drama, The Sopranos, has nothing on Oz for sheer testosterone-driven predatory behavior taken to frightening extremes. The Emerald City wing of Oz can usefully be thought of as a metaphor for Hell.

After watching a few episodes of Oz, you'll at least be certain of one thing: that you'll never want to end up in prison.

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