Oswald State Penetentiary is where it all goes down.
One experiemental cell block, in the middle of hell on earth, has been nicknamed “Emerald City”. Tim McManus is heading up the Emerald City unit hoping to rehabilitate the inmates and reform the prison system. Good freaking luck! The difference of the unit compared to most? There are no walls; it’s a giant fishbowl and therefore EVERYTHING starts seeping to the surface. McManus believes that this new aquarium society will help hasten the rehabilitation process when in reality we all know that fish from different walks of life don’t normally get along well. Most, won’t even survive the first few months. Now you know this show isn’t just about the characters but reformative prison experiements which adds another layer for the audience to debate.
The characters are some of the BEST characters I have seen on a television. Edie Falco did “Oz” while doing The Sopranos because the script was so good and she’s a better actress for it. She’s on board the cast as a plain Jane security guard who has an ongoing love affair with McManus. Edie has a knack for playing these palpable, masculine female entities with no makeup on and a uniform. The situations and drama are riveting, brutal, realistic and shocking. The writing is on point and masterful.
Ryan O’ Riley has been a favorite character along with Beecher, the nerdy ex-lawyer, in prison for killing a young girl while intoxicated. Beecher becomes the man he never was on the outside and even takes a crap on another inmates face. Don’t worry…by this point you WANT him to do it. The real heart of the show is how the writers show you Beecher’s deterioration and humiliation; his renewed ability to change in order to survive. We, as an audience, learn about prison thru Beecher’s eyes and so we’re essentially the underdogs right along with him.
Beecher has an ongoing war with Vern Schillinger for most of the season which is like picking a fight with the Devil. He’s the Aryan leader who’s not afraid to pork you in the middle of a crowd, literally. He’s got a bucket of hatred that he’s just waiting to pour all over Beecher every time he sees him. Vern is your worst enemy if you were ever thrown into prison.
The show chronicles the pace of prison life, the rules, the guards, the budgets, the politics, the reformation, finding God, not finding God, solitary confinement, race wars, religious wars, murder, why people kill each other, psychology of prisons, etc. You name it, you will get it in this show. Yes, you’ll also see some gay action and hear the word “tits”; which is slang for drugs.
The invisible prison narrator, sitting in a glass box on the ceiling, is a really unique twist on the show. His thoughts and observations help smooth over the general morality and prison philosophy. In addition, the show drives you to want to find out what each main character did to be thrown in jail.
At the end of the day what keeps you downloading episodes of the show is: the fallible heart of Tim McManus, the desire for some of these people to change their lives and to see these characters seek revenge. This show brings the edge of reality television which helps keep you entertained; a lot like “Gangland”.
Here is my favorite review from another site called improbableoptimisms.blogspot.com:
“I agree with him that Oz’s body count makes Vietnam look like Club Med, and some of the plot twists were more than a little contrived. But at the same time, the show did a wonderful job of depicting all of its characters as complicated, three-dimensional people. I especially admired the treatment of Vern Schillinger, the Aryan leader whom we loathe one moment and pity the next. Schillinger’s capable of truly operatic acts of villainy, but we grieve with him when his sons die, and in the final season, when his hero Mayor Loewen insults and dismisses him, the wounded-child look on his face is heart-breaking.
All of Oz’s characters, even the most seemingly despicable, struggle with hard questions. Witness Claire Howell, the sadistic C.O. who uses her power to coerce inmates into having sex with her. She’s one of the most loathesome people in Oz right up until the last episode, when she discovers that she’s pregnant and delivers a rueful, moving monologue to Father Mukada. She doesn’t believe in abortion, and since she’s pretty certain her baby will be mixed-race (“golden-brown and marinated in salsa,” as she says with typical bluntness), she doesn’t want to raise the child in her redneck neighborhood. But on a C.O.’s salary, especially as an about-to-be-single mother, she can’t afford to move.
What I liked most about the series, though — what kept me watching through the endless shankings, betrayals, and ever-more-convoluted iterations of the Beecher-Schillinger-Keller triangle — was its treatment of faith. The show takes faith and spirituality seriously. Father Mukada, the prison chaplain and Catholic priest, is neither a caricature nor a cardboard cutout. He does a very difficult job as well as he can, often struggling alongside the prisoners with doubt and despair. Sister Peter Marie, Catholic nun and prison psychologist, is similarly complex.
Take the episode “Capital 1″ in the first season. Mukada and Sister Pete both follow the teachings of the Catholic Church in opposing the death penalty, and they’re torn about how to respond when it’s reinstituted. Father Mukada decides that he has to stay in the prison to provide pastoral care to prisoners on death row. Sister Pete takes a very different approach, quitting her job — albeit briefly — to join the anti-death-penalty picketers outside the prison. Neither character arrives easily or automatically at a course of action. They aren’t saints; they’re frail, fallible humans.
We also see the prisoners, especially Muslim leader Said and his followers, struggling with the meaning and consequences of religious faith. Almost every character on Oz, even those who aren’t formally religious, runs head-on into conflicts involving redemption, salvation, and forgiveness. On Oz, these aren’t just pretty words. They’re very literally matters of life and death. This is a show where questions about the soul have the driving urgency of countdowns to thermo-nuclear explosion in superhero movies. That makes sense, of course, since the action takes place in confined spaces. In Oz, theology replaces car chases.
Grade: Solid A