I used to see OZ on HBO and I could never stomach a full episode of it. I don’t know what it was about the show, but it just got to me. I would say, until I was given OZ: The Complete 4th Season to review, I had never seen an entire episode of the show. Well, as you can guess, this has obviously changed, and my opinions about the show have been severely altered.
Lets just say that I am no longer “scared” of the show. That I find things easier to stomach. Maybe it is because I have been doing background work on and off for the past 4 years, or maybe it’s because I know people who have actually been to both jail and prison or maybe it’s just because HBO cannot make a show without having it “mirror” society in such a way that it hyper realizes everything and ends up sadly making the show not believable. I hate to say it, but around the 3rd or 4th episode, I found myself wondering, “Why can’t they just make a show with a little bit more reality?”
From the moment the Augustus Hill character(thank the good lord the actor playing him shaved his dreadlocks after doing the Matrix movies) comes on to give us the “skinny” about what’s happening on Level Four of the Oswald Correctional Facility aka OZ aka Emerald city, I just find myself taken out of this show almost completely. Episode after episode I just see things that I found hard to believe. I only say this because I have had extensive conversations with friends of mine who have been in both jail and prison. This isn’t to say that what happens on the show is 100% totally out of the realm of possibility, but man, seeing inmates with guns, seeing the prisoners move around so freely, seeing prison being such a clean place, seeing everyone so wellspoken...I mean, everyone seems like they are an actor, acting how they think they should act in prison. Nothing about this show seems too grounded in reality.
The creators try and for that I give them a lot of credit, but everything just seems contrived. I do give the show credit for dealing with the black, white, mexican gang issues in the prison. This is something that the (I find) politically correct HBO has not shied away from in the slightest. In fact, it is the times when the White Power guys and the Muslims have meetings, or fights, that I find the is show really interesting. Other then that, it just seems like a joke. Don’t get me wrong...as actors, these people playing roles are great. I particularly like the Simon Adebisi character. I feel that his portrayal of a Muslim character in that situation is quite good. Mind you, I don’t think it’s that “real”, it’s more or less that I like the intensity he brings to the role of a man trying to reassert his power. He is a lone warrior trying to circumvent the very system he has created. Other favorites are the Tobias “Toby” Beecher character played by the always good Lee Tergesen. I remember seeing part of the first episode of OZ when it first aired, and he seemed like an accountant or something who was wrongly imprisoned. He also looked scared out of his mind. Whatever the case, his character has developed into a man who knows the rules of the game in this institution. He seems to only be playing by them because if he doesn’t he’s dead. Lastly, there is Dean Winters as the cunning Ryan O’Reily. He seems to me to be the best drawn character. He is someone who is always working every angle. The kind of guy that you don’t want as friend, but you need because without him you’d be walking a tightrope without a net, especially in place like Emerald City.
I just have never believed this show. I have never been able to watch it without wondering how a place that is this High Security, how could it let the things happen that happen throughout the show? The killings, the drug trade, the organized meetings between Muslims and the White Power guys...I mean this show is truly an example of the inmates running the asylum. I will say however that despite my ability to 100% suspend my disbelief, I do find this show very easy to watch. It is so out there, so always pushing itself(to seemingly see what it can or can’t get away with) that it makes a spectacle of itself. It is really a great example of a crash on highway. You put it on and you think ”Okay, I am going to turn this off...”, but you can’t. I honestly had to force myself to stop watching it when I was younger. I don’t know if it was because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, or maybe before I got a little older, I could suspend my disbelief...but if nothing else, OZ: The Complete 4th Season, is good storytelling and I guess at the end of the day, inspite of my MANY problems with this show, that is all that matters.
Two Audio Commentaries
They only did two audio commentaries for 2 of the 16 episodes.
“You Bet Your Life”
This was a commentary with the show’s creator Tom Fontana and Rita Moreno. I don’t like commentary tracks that seem thrown together. Don’t get me wrong, I like to hear people that have been involved with a movie or show kick up there heels, but listening to these two, I would have much rather have seen their banter a conversation as part of a featurette instead of hearing it over a commentary. I say this because it’s like hearing two friends(which I am sure they are) just dish with one another, and personally I would have rather seen this thing and be able to see these two people bantering about. There were some interesting parts hearing about how they met, hearing about when Moreno was somewhat scared(at first) by how her costars for this prison show look, how certain shots with a man’s penis came about, etc... . I almost always enjoy commentary tracks and I did enjoy this one, I guess, like my general complaint with the show I just wanted more.
“Famous Last Words”
Again Fontana is back with Lee Tergesen and Dean Winters. I never knew that Lee Tergesen was such a wild man, but he starts off this DVD commentary with yell and his attitude always remains upbeat. I love that Dean’s phone rings and Fontana says, “That’s definitely not his agent”. These guys are just having fun here and I cannot deny them that. I guess that is the point of these things, to look back after all the long days and hard work is done and just be able to reflect with candor and happiness. I like that Fontana isn’t afraid that he doesn’t remember certain things, or when the actors see each other they say stuff like, “Look, look, there I am, there I am!!”. This is just a good a time. There are a lot of laughs(all throughout the commentary), inside jokes and just a general sense of people who enjoy being around one another. In fact, I found that out of all the things on this disc set, this was the most enjoyable part. I am always easy for a good laugh, though.
30 Minutes of Deleted Scenes
This is actually the best put together clip of deleted scenes I have ever screened. They are so organized in how they are laid out. We find out what the scenes are about through a brief description, we even get to see what episode they are from as well as the scene number. I have never seen a group of deleted scenes organized in such a nice way for the viewer. Some of the scenes are Said talking to Warden Glynn about taking on Jason Cramer’s case, or McManus visiting OZ when he’s no longer employed there, or Sister Pat finding out that Desmond Mobay is an undercover narc, etc. All of these deleted scenes are cut together very nicely, and the time code and bad sound actually add some of the grittiness that I think this show needs. It makes it all seem not so perfect and pristine. I almost wish, though HBO would never do is, is maybe they could do an episode where things are not so cleaned up. I believe the show is off the air but maybe they could do something with a show like “The Wire” where things are shot, minimally edited to fit the time constraints and then just aired that way? Yeah...like that’s gonna happen.
Presented in the 4:3 aspect ratio, this 3 disc set looks just as good as when I have seen OZ on HBO. I for some reason thought that the shows might be in widescreen but that is not the case. I had even read on some website that the double sided discs didn’t play that well. Now that is something I have to say was never an issue in my screening experience. I mean, everything played fine. As many of you who follow my reviews know, I don’t have the greatest setup in the world, but this disc set really didn’t have any problems. And this was after and during long pauses as I went through the discs to glean information to write my review. There was never any pixilation or loss of quality on any of the discs. I am very curious how these shows are compressed, because someone once told me that DVD degrades the quality but I never found this to a be factor. I even didn’t mind the 4:3 widescreen. I am also sure that HBO probably offers these in an HD format but I was just as happy screening them in the 4:3 aspect ratio.
The box doesn’t say what level of Stereo this is. In fact, all it does say in regards to that is...English 5.1, English 2.0, Spanish Mono. That all said, everything sounded fine. I did watch some of the episodes with the subtitles on(not for any volume reasons but just because when I turned the discs on the subtitles are always on my DVD player and I just didn’t turn them off) and I actually found that it was quite nice. I don’t have the greatest hearing so it was nice to be able to hear as well as read what the characters were saying. However, had the subtitles not been on, I think I would have had just as easy a time following the show. Lets be honest, when Warden Glynn is telling the inmates that they better shape up(and trust me, he used much more colorful language then that) it certainly isn’t hard to follow the conversation. In fact, I am willing to bet that I could turn the volume off completely, and I would probably not lose any of the gist of what he is saying.
A little disappointing here people. I mean, this is OZ. I was expecting there to be so much more. The cover is a typical prison picture(is it even Emerald City?) in washed out blue and white tones. You turn the box over over and you see pictures of characters such as Ryan O’Reily, Tim McManus, Warden Glynn, Vernon Schillinger, etc and then a brief description of what the show is about. I liked that it brought you easily into the story without having to dumb things down(or maybe I am just familiar with it?), and it also lists what else is on the disc. I do like how you easily open the box and the 3 discs just unfold out. Sadly, all that is there are the same colored backgrounds, the discs with nothing on them and then a picture behind each disc. I mean, come on HBO, you people can do better then this. What about adding a plastic knife or something? What about a list of prison etiquette(like “getting in your car”, knowing who the “shot caller” is or explaining the ramifications of a “phone check”?), or maybe an interview with real prisoners who have seen the show? Now that would be interesting. Hearing what people who are really “inside” think of this show. These are just some ideas to consider should you ever do a complete boxset of all the seasons of OZ.
OZ: The Complete 4th Season is good TV. It is brain candy. It is something you would put on and watch with friends. It is the kind of show that HBO makes very, very well. As HBO is not a station like ABC, but rather a cable channel, there is a lot of wiggle room. There is a great deal more that the characters on OZ can do. That said, I am not always thinking that they should .
What would I like to see?
Well, imagine a Director like William Friedkin(The French Connection) doing a prison show. Imagine it having the look and flair of his earlier work. Now that is a Director that is going to bring something to the table. Everyone talks about how “real” other TV shows are, Friedkin invented reality TV in my mind. Yes, I know that everything was staged, but it was in the way he shot it. In a documentary style that captured life seemingly right as it was happening. If the creators of OZ would allow for some of that “cinema realism”, now that would be a show that I could truly get on board with. That would be something that I could sink my teeth into.
As it is, I feel that HBO has given us a Bruckheimeresque Prison show. It looks great, it sounds great, the prisoners look right...but at the end of the show, when the story is done being told, we are left with an empty void. Some people are okay with this..., myself, I would just like a little bit more, you dig?
Oz was released .