Emerald City is the new experimental unit of the Oswald State
Penitentiary. It is an attempt to stop the endless recycling
of inmates through the criminal justice system. Oz is a brutal
place, full of the worst kinds of people. Fear and violence
is ever the companion of those passing through. But for most
Oz is the place where they will live and the place they will
ran for six seasons from 1997 to 2003 and was created
by Tom Fontana, who had previously worked as a writer and
producer on St Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the
Street. The show is a HBO multi-award winning slice of
reality, containing strong language, realistic acting and
like any real maximum security facility, the population consists
of disparate competing factions all waiting to erupt into
violence at a moments notice. Brutality is a way of life to
the head of the Aryan Brotherhood, Vern Schillinger (played
by J.K. Simmons), who uses intimidation and humiliation to
get what he wants. He finds an instinctual nemesis in new
prisoner Kareem Said (played by Eamonn Walker), leader of
the Muslim faction. The two spark off each other from Said's
introduction in the first episode.
Apart from these two factions Oz contains a number
of other groups including the Irish, the Latino's, the Homeboys
the Italians and the Gays. Various other characters exist
within the walls that do not naturally fall into any of the
groups, they are the Others. The most important Other is Augustus
Hill, played by Harold Perrineau who fulfils the role of narrator
for the show, top and tailing each story to give the prisoners
perspective on the system. By a strange quirk of fate Perrineau
would later go on to become better known as Michael in Lost
- being chased by very different Others.
Trying to assert some control in the midst of all this potential
chaos are the staff, led by Emerald City Administrator Tim
McManus (Terry Kinney) and Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson).
Whilst all the actors are recognisable from various shows,
officer Diane Wittlesey (Edie Falco) stands out as she went
on to star as Tony's wife in The Sopranos.
One is presented over two discs. Disc one contains episodes
one to four, with the remaining four on disc two.
Episode one, The Routine, introduces us to the prison
and through the eyes of the new inmates we get an idea how
the regime works. We meet Said for the first time, who promptly
informs the warden that he is now in charge of the prison.
What makes the episode so disturbing is not the various hardened
criminals, who seem to be no better or worse than each other,
but the introduction of an everyman character in the form
of Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen), a lawyer convicted of killing
a young girl whilst drunk behind the wheel. In this he is
unlike the career criminals, which allows the audience to
identify with the character. Beecher's lack of preparation
for the reality of Oz mirrors our own, making the violence
and indignities heaped upon him seem all the more horrific.
Episode two, Visits: Conjugal and Otherwise: Beecher
gets a visit from his wife whilst Alverez (Kirk Acevedo),
who is recovering in hospital from his introductory stabbing,
discovers that he is going to be a father.
Episode three, God's Chillin': With the prison already
in a high state of tension following a number of killings,
governor Devlin (Zeljko Ivanek), who had previously banned
both smoking and conjugal visits decides to pay a call. It
can't be just me that thinks that this rates as one of the
worst decisions I've ever heard.
Episode four, Capital 1, and we wade through a particularly
disturbing episode. Devlin continues his mandate of harsh
treatment by reinstating the death sentence in Oz, his political
toadying will cost two of the inmates their lives.
Episode five, Straight Life: Drugs have always been
a problem in Oz, but for the warden and the administrator
things have defiantly gotten out of hand.
six, To Your Health, and more than one of the inmates
is having a few medical problems. Said has a heart attack
after refusing his medication, the Italian Boss suspects that
someone has put ground glass in his food and Beecher, who's
indignity has reach an all time low as a dress wearing neo-Nazi's
girlfriend, finally flips out on PCP.
seven, Plan B, and the fallout from the previous episode
plays to its violent conclusion, with an inevitable death.
Episode eight, A game of Checkers, and hell is released
in Emerald city. The growing tensions that have built up over
the preceding episodes have no outlet other than a full scale
The discs come with Dutch, English, French and Italian subtitles,
with an audio track in English, French or Italian. The show
is presented in the original 4:3 with stereo sound track.
Although the picture isn't as sharp as it could be, this actually
works in the show's favour. This, combined with the Steady
Cam shots and often extreme angles used, forces the audience
away from the position of uninvolved participant to complicit
Oddly enough for such a successful show, the discs come with
absolutely no extras, which really knocks points off this
otherwise excellent box set.