Oz is a crime drama that aired on HBO and also holds the distinction of being the first hour-long dramatic episodic ever produced by the network. Created and written by Tom Fontana (St. Elsewhere, Homicide: Life on the Street), it chronicled the lives of those working for, and serving time within, the Oswald State Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison known colloquially as, simply, "Oz."
In writing and producing Oz, Fontana took full advantage of cable television's relaxed censorship standards and penned scripts containing material too extreme for the broadcast networks: the coarsest of coarse language, drug use, graphic violence, full-frontal nudity of both males and females, depictions of homosexual rape, etc.—in other words, an unadulterated, unapologetic look at prison life.
Most of the program's storylines focused on the inhabitants of Emerald—or "Em"—City, an experimental unit within Oswald that was the brainchild of Unit Manager Tim McManus (Terry Kinney). McManus' unorthodox approach emphasized rehabilitation achieved by means of self-discipline, education, and productive citizenship within the Em-City community. It was an unabashedly idealistic philosophy that often earned him the ire of his more conservative colleagues—including Oswald's warden, Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson), and his roster of guards—and made McManus and his creation constant targets of the city's right-wing governor, James Devlin (Zeljko Ivanek). While prisoners in Em City were allowed privileges and freedoms unknown to those in Oswald's other units, McManus always strove to maintain a regimented, regulated environment with all variables monitored. For example, the transparent Plexiglas walls that made up each of the cells (called "pods") allowed guards to watch a prisoner's every move, and only a certain number of members of each racial/social "tribe" were permitted to live inside Em City at any given time.
Given that Oswald housed some of the state's most brutal men, it's no surprise that the blood of cons and correctional officers alike was shed with such frequency. The violence usually stemmed from inter-tribal wars waged in order to try and usurp control of the drug trade or gain advantageous prison real-estate such as the kitchen. There were some long-standing personal rivalries, though. Most prominent was that between the leader of Oz's chapter of the Aryan Brotherhood, Vernon Schillinger (J.K. Simmons), and a once upper-class lawyer incarcerated for killing a child while driving drunk, Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen). The hatred that fueled the Schillinger/Beecher conflict was, in fact, so virulent that it ended up spreading beyond the prison walls and into the outside world, leaving the families of both men decimated.
Fontana's show offered little in the way of solutions to these sorts of problems and seemed conflicted as to whether the role of the penal system should be punishment or rehabilitation. While few of McManus' charges ever seemed to overcome their antisocial habits, it's clear that the almost unanimous scorn with which colleagues regarded his reforms made for an atmosphere of "lock 'em up and throw away the key"-type fatalism that Tim stood little chance of changing by himself.
|Season One||July 12, 1997||August 25, 1997||8|
|Season Two||July 11, 1998||August 31, 1998||8|
|Season Three||July 14, 1999||September 1, 1999||8|
|Season Four||July 12, 2000||February 25, 2001||16|
|Season Five||January 6, 2002||February 24, 2002||8|
|Season Six||January 5, 2003||February 23, 2003||8|
- At a Glance: Additional information about the series
- Characters: A listing of characters in the series
|The Complete First Season||March 19, 2002||3|
|The Complete Second Season||January 7, 2003||3|
|The Complete Third Season||February 24, 2004||3|
|The Complete Fourth Season||February 1, 2005||5|
|The Complete Fifth Season||June 21, 2005||3|