If you lived in the UK between 1998 and 2005, and happened to be watching Channel 4 between around 11pm and 4am, there’s a chance you caught an episode of HBOs Oz. Considering that even dedicated fans had trouble tracking the series down from one week to the next, you did well.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching the Season 1 DVDs, eight hour-long episodes introducing Emerald City, an experimental unit of the Oswald Maximum Security Prison, or Oz. Here, rehabilitation is the aim, with Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) trying valiantly to maintain calm between the various factions – Latinos, Muslims, Aryans – that inhabit Em City.
Oz is hard going, partly because of the violence which permeates throughout each episode but also because of the complex allegiances created and destroyed every week. The writing is simply stunning, and what makes it even more remarkable is that one writer, Tom Fontana, was the scribe behind them all.
The cast are note perfect. Beecher (Lee Tergesen) is our eyes for the first few episodes, as his life falls apart following his incarceration, while JK Simmons as Schillinger is a character for whom the term ‘evil’ could apply if this wan’t too easy a label.
For something outside the norm, and the fact that you don’t now have to wait until after midnight to watch it, these DVDs can’t be faulted. Just don’t eat your tea while it’s on.