First of all, season 1 is intolerably bad. The prison is ridiculously unrealistic, the characters are so two dimensional they're nearly transparent, and the direction is terrible. It runs like a bad video of a junior high school play, characters wandering past the camera and uttering highly timed and rehearsed lines, passing off as random prison talk. Soon the show gets better, but not by much. The return from the commercial break is always accompanied by some ridiculous monologue by wheelchair-bound Augustus Hill, who is played impressively by Harold Perrineau. The only time his character is consistently bad is during the bad performance art monologues, most of which take place in an inexplicable rotating glass cube and generally have nothing to do with what's taking place in the show.
Unfortunately, the bad ideas in Oz could fill an encyclopedia of several volumes. Consider the whole situation, first of all. Prisoners are able to hang out in plain sight getting drunk, doing drugs, and they not only have CD players (CDs?? They might as well pass out steak knives), but all incoming mail is thoroughly examined by PRISONERS. Christ, the place is like a men's club with guards. Guards that don't do much.
Near the end of season two, an older prisoner's grandson is diagnosed with leukemia, and all of the prisoners pitch in thick wads of $20 and $50 bills to help send him to Disneyworld to fulfill his dying wish. These have to be the richest prisoners in the world. Every single prisoner in Oz all of a sudden became caring, loving guys except Kenny Wangler, an irritating character but one of the only ones who is consistently convincing. Even Adibisi wanted to be nice. But that's okay, because there is no order or sense in the show, so even this is not much of a distraction.
Later, shockingly, there is a boxing scene in which one inmate is wearing an "I Love Cops" t- shirt. In prison!! Can you imagine?? I have a cousin who was in prison a few years ago. I sent him an old picture of us with some friends in high school, and in the picture, one of my friends was holding an "I Love Cops" bumper sticker, and one of "the woods" (guys who have been in prison for years and years) saw the picture but just grabbed it and ripped it to shreds. My cousin got lucky.
Kenny Wangler also constantly berates the guards and even more senior officers for not calling him Bricks. One of them even tried to bribe him to go to an English class. You may lose track of who is in charge, the prisoners or the guards. More than one investigator, for example, goes into the prison undercover and gets killed trying to stop the drug trade. Personally I would just stop letting prisoners inspect incoming mail rather than risk the lives of investigators.
Let's see, what else? Shillinger's son OD's in solitary and no one thinks to ask the guard how he got the drugs. He just...got them, I guess. And make sure to pay attention, otherwise you'll miss the reason why the prisoners have enough money to be able to afford ascellular dermal grafts when they get bad gums. I didn't know guests in maximum security prisons were afforded such luxurious treatment options. How about this, when Robson asks about Dr. Faraj's schedule so he can ask what race of gums he was given, Faraj is so terrified that he goes to the warden and quits his job on the spot. Do doctors and dentists not have the right to request not to see certain prisoners? After Poet and O'Reilly make the announcement to the entire prison, Robson asks to see Dr. Faraj, and is escorted to his office, brought in without knocking, and the guard promptly leaves without a word. They might as well give him a gun.
I shouldn't go on about stupid ideas in this show, but it's like a flood, I can't stop it. Who thought of the Chinese refugees who can't speak Chinese and who disappear en masse from sight unless they're needed? Who thought of the goofy religious wars and all the reverend prisoners? Who though of Robson's gum transplant? What's the deal with Busmalis and Agamemnon? Agamemnon because he clearly doesn't belong in prison and Busmalis because of the whole thing with his grandson. Macbeth, because it was nothing but a ridiculous means to an end, as it were.
But what are the worst ideas? Things that go nowhere, which are constant. An Irish man comes to the prison and builds a bomb. He threatens to blow up the entire prison, the bomb turns out to be a dud, and the episode ends with him being led away by the bomb squad after the entire prison is evacuated. Nothing is ever heard from him or about the whole situation again. It's like it never happened. In one episode, prisoners are given dogs to train. What the hell?? If that wasn't bad enough, during one training session, a guard fires his gun inside the prison walls as a training exercise. No one seems to mind.
I also like how anytime some kind of altercation breaks out, the culprits are pulled aside, they don't say anything, and the guards or warden or sister Pete or whoever always says, "I hope you don't think I'm gonna let this go!!" And then they walk away and let it go. The audience won't remember.
Maybe I'm spoiled by Prison Break, but Oz is just a goofy prison drama that might be better as a play. A short one. At least a low-budget movie. There is just not enough here to sustain a multi-season TV show. Then again, I watched six seasons of it on DVD. Sometimes I don't understand myself...
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