(HBO Dramatic Series) The Millennium ended with a bang at Oswald State Correctional Facility, Level Four--aka, Emerald City--as racial tensions reached an all-time high. Now, following a two-week lockdown and the appointme... more »nt of a new Unit Manager, things are definitely changing, but not necessarily for the better. Prison officials are looking for ways to end the hostilities and return Emerald City to normal...but when was Em City ever normal? And if anyone thinks the worst is over for Oz, they're wrong--dead wrong. DVD Features:
Audio Commentary:Audio commentary by creator Tom Fontana, Rita Moreno, Dean Winters and Lee Tergeson
Peter Saenz | Los Angeles, CA United States | 10/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This, above all other seasons of Oz, has been on my want list for some time. Finally it will be here. I am a HUGE fan of actor Brian Bloom and Christopher Meloni. And to see them together in the series makes me happier than you can believe. The Keller/Beecher storyline is admittedly my favorite, and it is in season four that so much happens in that development. And who else is there to bring about more drama into their lives? Why none other than blue eyed Brian Bloom, that's who. Though the other storylines running are very interesting also, I'd recommend this DVD set to anyone just on the Keller/Beecher/Barlog storyline alone. It has a lot of meat and heart attatched to it. Please don't miss out on this fantastic DVD!"
"Oz" starts to go too far over the rainbow in Season Four
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 02/14/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There is a point in the final episode of "Oz: The Complete Fourth Season" where EM City Administrator Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) informs an inmate who is in fear for his life that there is no room in either protective custody or solitary confinement to put him. That certainly makes sense given the high body count during this season. Was it the highest body count ever for "Oz"? I have not been keeping a tally to this point, but it sure seemed like it was. After all, this was a season where most of the inmates on death row who died were not actually executed by the state. It is a good thing for Warden Leo Glenn (Ernie Hudson) that Governor James Devlin (Zeljko Ivanek) is running for re-election, because it helps to have a boss who thinks inmates killing inmates is, to put it delicately, not a bad thing.
The main dynamic for the fourth season ends up being between Simon Adebisi (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje) and Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker). From the beginning of "Oz" it was Said who has been the voice of reason, and it was Abedisi who personified the impulse towards anarchy at the Oswald Correctional Facility. After Khan's death, and because of Said's visits from Tricia Ross, Zahir Arif (Granville Adams) moves to take over the leadership of the Muslims. While Said is cast adrift in the hierarchy of Emerald City, Adebisi achieves his objective and actually masterminds the removal of McManus as the administrator of Oz. Of course, Abedisi's success contains the seeds of his own destruction because that is the way things go in the merry old land of Oz. Meanwhile, Said finds out that Oz makes men do things they never thought they would do and changes them in ways they would not want to be changed.
For me, and I suspect many, Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) is the inmate we most identify with on "Oz." Beecher is the "regular" guy who ends up in prison and is fresh meat for the inmates, and the fact that he has survived this far does not in any way, shape or form convince me that I would be able to do half as well. But Beecher has survived, and in this season his ongoing conflict with Vern Schillinger (J.K. Simmons) turns even deadlier than it has been to date. If there is an element of Greek tragedy in "Oz" it is this sick little dance between Beecher and Schillinger, with Chris Keller (Chris Meloni) as the wild card. But running a close second is the twisted relationship that has developed between Ryan O'Reilly (Dean Winters) and Dr. Gloria Nathan (Lauren Velez), which takes the "you always hurt the one you love" to some extremes.
Even our narrator, the one-man Greek chorus Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau), starts to become involved in the madness. After ruining one inmate's chances of parole, Hill finds himself in the middle of the power struggle to control the Homeboys. This problems have me worried because for me it is not "Oz" if Augustus is not explaining to us the different types of shivs you can make in prison (and the fact Perrineau is now on "Lost" and without the dreadlocks worries me even more). But then if there is anything we have learned from "Oz," in addition to never wanting to end up in prison, it is that incarceration does not change people for the better. Just look at Bob Rebadow (George Morfogen), who tells us that not only does every dog have his day, but once he does he will want another one.
The problem with the fourth season of "Oz" is that the effort to keep things boiling over has some of the developments going over the top. The experimental again drug is certainly one example, but the O'Reilly/Nathan relationship also goes beyond belief as far as I am concerned. By the time the show is drawing inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" I am thinking it is time to be cleaning house. I have trouble remembering exactly how Emerald City was to be an innovative solution to the problem of the modern American prison in the face of the orgy of violence and keep thinking Glenn and McManus need to just lock down the whole prison. Of course, that would kill the drama of the show if all we had were men looked into cells, and HBO has no vested interest in doing that. But "Oz" is not about the escelating number of dead inmates, or even of naked inmates, but rather the life and death struggles of the place. Along with "The West Wing," "Oz" represents "politics" at its "best.""
Down the road again
N. Durham | Philadelphia, PA | 02/02/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As the fourth season of HBO's prison drama Oz, created by Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, opens, it is clear that the yellow brick road to this prison isn't paved with bricks, but with blood. This is the season where things explode rather quickly, including the love saga between Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) and Chris Keller (Christopher Meloni) when a new inmate (Brian Bloom) enters the scene and causes some havoc. Ryan O'Reilly (Dean Winters) wants revenge on a TV newsman whom he met years before, even if it means using his brother Cyril (Scott William Winters) to do it. Miguel Alvarez (Kirk Acevedo) remains in solitary, wanting freedom more than ever before, while come mid-season, the explosive confrontation between Kareem Said (Eamon Walker) and Simon Adebisi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) will leave your mouth hanging open, and Said has even more problems with white supremicist leader Schillinger (J.K. Simmons) wanting him dead, no matter the cost. The second half of the season, we are introduced to a televangelist (Luke Perry) with an agenda of his own, and an impact will be left that will shape the series until it's end. Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson) and Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) have their hands full throughout the season, but the superb cast (which also includes B.D. Wong, Rita Moreno, and Biohazard singer Evan Seinfeld among others) does terrific work, and the love triangle between Tergesen, Meloni, and Bloom's characters is surprisingly heart wrenching. Thankfully, HBO released all 16 episodes of the fourth season of Oz on one set, unlike what they've done with the Sex in the City seasons; splitting them up to get more money. All in all, Oz was one of the most underrated shows on HBO (most of the praise went to Sex in the City, the Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, etc.), and, just as this season proves, it was one of the best."
Oz goes off the rails, but in a good way
Wheelchair Assassin | The Great Concavity | 05/28/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Coming off the nearly unmitigated brilliance of its third season, season four of Oz sees the show facing the tall order of maintaining the high standards of writing and acting that had characterized much of its history, and more often than not it's a success. This season is certainly not without its problems, some of them more damaging than others, but the show's visceral and emotional intensity is still very much in evidence, and even a flawed season of Oz is better than just about anything else. Season four picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of season three, with racial animosity in Oswald State Penitentiary at an all-time high, the psychotic Adebisi in possession of a gun and waiting for an opportunity to maximize its destructive potential, Beecher and Keller continuing their tumultuous gay love affair while Nazi leader Schillinger nurses a grudge against both, and Officer Whittlesy suddenly nowhere to be found (a circumstance certainly owing nothing whatsoever to Edie Falco's newfound success on The Sopranos). Naturally, it's not long before a dramatic catastrophe shakes up the already precarious situation in Emerald City and brings about a new level of disorder accompanied by a wild surfeit of plotlines and a level of bloodletting that's excessive even by Oz's lofty standards.
All the killing actually becomes a problem for the show as this season progresses--the constant murders begin to feel increasingly gratuitous after a while, to say nothing of the rather odd fact that nobody seems to have much interest in solving them. Obviously a prison show is going to rely heavily on the violence factor, but I think the creators of Oz could've distributed the killings far more judiciously and plausibly--The Sopranos, The Shield, and The Wire all take place in violent environments, but they've still managed to maintain an element of shock and impact when a character gets killed off. On Oz, especially in this season, the deaths (with a few exceptions) and the resulting revolving-door effect on the cast contributed to a somewhat numbing quality that pervades much of the season. Granted, there is the compensating plus of a train-wreck effect, as I often found myself literally unable to look away from all the carnage, but a little more realism would've gone a long way.
In an equally frustrating development, Oz seemed to develop a severe case of ADD in its fourth season, seeing its already somewhat fragmentary plot development crushed under the weight of a huge and fluctuating cast and an emphasis on momentum over coherence. With double the series's usual complement of episodes, we see a small army of new characters come through Oswald-among them an IRA fugitive on the run since Bloody Sunday, a pack of Chinese refugees, a legion of black street thugs, and a whole bunch of other guys I can barely remember-and few of these new arrivals are around long enough to make much of an impression. The result is a nonstop barrage of plotlines centered on sex, violence, backstabbing, and double-dealing among the inmates and staff, with character development often feeling perfunctory. Drug-addled, unpredictable new arrival Omar White, played by Michael Wright, is perhaps the best example of the problems in focus that largely characterize Oz's fourth season. He comes in at the halfway point with the obvious intention of becoming a major character, but only gets about five minutes an episode in which to get integrated into the show's ever-expanding universe, which isn't easy when he's shanking someone or relapsing on drugs on a weekly basis. Sure, Omar is blatantly overplayed by Wright, but it's not his fault--with Omar's limited and extremely busy screen time, nuance isn't exactly an option.
That this season works as well as it does is a testament to the core of characters who've been at its center from the beginning, along with a few newcomers who do manage to contribute something to show's harrowing, explosive approach. Even as Oz heads toward its home stretch, Tom Fontana still manages to find new dimensions to explore for his main characters and unfamiliar situations in which to put them. Sure, the show continues to drag out the Keller-Beecher affair and Ryan O'Reilly's (possibly) unrequited love for Doctor Nathan to diminishing returns, but in other cases we see familiar faces among both the inmates and staff undergoing profound changes in response to a variety of catalytic events. The staff undergoes some major shakeups as Warden Glynn starts to question his priorities in response to a new career opportunity and Emerald City chief Tim McManus slides deeper into depression and instability, but as always it's events among the inmates that take center stage, and to its credit the show is far from out of ideas when it comes to some of the major players behind bars. Kareem Said, especially, continues to emerge as one of the most complex and well-developed TV characters in history, played in memorably intense fashion by Eamonn Walker and imbued by the writing with a level of nuance that would be extremely difficult to bring to a Muslim character in the wake of 9/11. Said finds himself facing down a host of challenges to his ecumenical, non-violent worldview, none more prominent than a mid-season shocker that puts him on a sharp emotional spiral. For his part, it can be a little disorienting seeing a sadistic bigot and rapist like Schillinger studying scripture and eagerly awaiting the birth of his grandchild, but it does actually square with the pro-family, God-country-and-race message he's always propagated. Perhaps the best turn of the season other that Walker's, though, is submitted by Harold Perrineau as Augustus Hill, the wheelchair-bound lifer who serves as the show's narrator and often as its voice of reason. Hill has always been something of a moral center for the show, at least on the inmate side, and season four sees his character fleshed out a lot more fully than ever before as details about his past emerge and collide with some major developments in his present to produce an increasingly complete character in his own right.
Amidst the sea of new faces (many of whom quickly meet their ends), a few characters do also manage to survive long enough and get sufficient attention to become standouts as well. Anthony Chisholm is great as Burr Redding, a crafty, perpetually snarling drug lord hardened by a combination of Vietnam and the city streets he grew up on. Redding may be a vicious stone killer, but he's still got a logical moral code, and he's philosophical and introspective enough that I couldn't help but like him. His shrewd leadership ends up galvanizing Emerald City's black gangster elements for an ongoing war against the Latino faction led by the stylish and calculating Enrique Morales and the mafiosi under Chucky Pancamo, with predictably dramatic consequences for Em City's residents. Presaging the great work he would later do on HBO's incredibly brilliant The Wire, Lance Reddick does a powerful and intense turn as John Basil (aka Desmond Mobay), an undercover cop who goes into Emerald City with the best of intentions but quickly finds himself in over his head. Similarly, future Wire cast member Reg E. Cathey, easily one of the coolest actors hardly anybody has heard of, has a huge impact on the show in a relatively long arc as the charismatic Martin Querns, who replaces Tim as Em City's unit administrator and brings with him a hidden agenda that only serves to heighten Oz's already incendiary racial tensions. Shockingly enough, Luke Perry manages to make a similar impact on the show's dynamics as Jeremiah Cloutier, a larcenous ex-televangelist who comes in and makes some dramatic changes to Oz's spiritual order, at least to the extent that one exists.
In another welcome development, the show does make use of this season's larger allotment of episdoes to expand its focus beyond Emerald City, better living up to its title as it examines much more of its central institution. Continuing and expanding on a saga starting in season two, season four spends a great deal of time following the fortunes of creepy child-killer Shirley Bellinger and her new neighbors on death row. Despite the natural feeling of impending doom, there's still a somewhat lighthearted, darkly humorous feeling to the proceedings on death row, although that starts to subside as its residents meet their inevitable fates, albeit not always in a predictable fashion. The isolated cop wing, too, gets a couple of additions from the regular cast as the tragic story of the perpetually angry ex-correctional officer Clayton Hughes takes a series of turns for the worse.
Overall, while season four doesn't mark the best Oz has to offer, that certainly doesn't mean it's in any way without value. It takes a lot of risks, not all of which pan out, but it does at least demonstrate an admirable commitment to avoiding creative stasis as it approaches the beginning of its end, which is more than can be said for a lot of shows. And as usual, whatever else can be said about Oz, there's no denying its singular ferocity and almost total uniqueness. Despite some reservations, this season (and show) still gets a thumbs-up."
The Most Underrated Show!!
Kevin C | 02/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Oz is by far the most underrated show. Filled with controversy and fantastic writing it forces us to choose the lesser of the many evils that inhabit the Ozwald Correctional Facility. My favorite character is Tobias Beecher because he is constantly on a roller coaster of heartbreaking and uplifting moments. Then they added Chris Meloni in season two and that just made everything even better. Then there is Vern Schillinger who is that one crazy villain that you just love to hate. I started watching Oz by renting the dvd and after watching the first disc i went crazy and bought the first three seasons on the spot. Not only is this my favorite show now but it just keeps getting better with each new season. The first season introduces the main chararacters. The second takes them all on their own wild stories filled with continuous conflicts. Then the third focuses on those same things but adds more twists and turns than any of its predecessors. Now here I am watching the fourth season (yes i bought that the day it came out) and unsurprisingly it has surpassed all my expectations. Keller and Beecher struggle to keep their relationship together, Schillinger is still evil and O'reilly is still doing his same manilupative things without even barely having to lift a finger. If you do not own season four of Oz, buy it now. It is truly the best season yet."