Cult TV Essentials

Cult TV Essentials: Oz

Oz was an American television drama series created by Tom Fontana, who also wrote or co-wrote all of the series’ 56 episodes. It was the first one-hour dramatic television series to be produced by the premium cable network HBO. The show offered a no holds barred account of prison life and was seen as shocking and controversial when it was first shown, premiering on July 12th 1997. It ran for six seasons with the series finale airing on February 23rd 2003.

In the show we visit “Oz” – the nickname for the Oswald State Correctional Facility, a fictional level 4 maximum-security state prison, in New York. The show is narrated by the wheelchair-bound inmate Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau), who explains all of the show’s plots, subplots, and conflicts, and provides context, and thematic analysis.

A lot of the episodes take place in an experimental unit of the prison “Emerald City” under the eyes of unit manager Tim McManus (played by Terry Kinney). He is overseen by Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson). McManus emphasizes rehabilitation and learning responsibility during incarceration, rather than carrying out purely punitive measures. Emerald City is an extremely controlled environment, with a carefully managed balance of members from each racial and social group, intended to ease tensions among these various factions which includes African American Homeboys (Wangler, Redding, Poet, Keane, Supreme Allah) and Muslims (Said, Arif, Hamid Khan), the Wiseguys (Pancamo, Nappa, Schibetta, Zanghi, Urbano), the Aryan Brotherhood (Schillinger, Robson, Mark Mack), the Latinos of El Norte (Alvarez, Morales, Guerra, Hernandez), the Irish (the O’Reily brothers), the gays (Hanlon, Cramer), the bikers (Hoyt, Sands), and many other individuals not completely affiliated with one particular group (Rebadow, Busmalis, Keller, Stanislofsky).

We are introduced to “Oz” through the eyes of Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen), a lawyer who made one fatal drunk-driving mistake and arrives to serve his sentence in the first episode. 

The ensemble cast includes Christopher Meloni, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Harold Perrineau Jr., Eamonn Walker,Rita Moreno, Terry Kinney, Betty Buckley, Kathryn Erbe, Lee Tergesen, B. D. Wong, J.D. Williams, J. K. Simmons, Dean Winters,Scott William Winters, Kirk Acevedo, Erik King, Evan Seinfeld, David Zayas, Lauren Vélez, Otto Sanchez, Robert Clohessy, and Edie Falco.

Eric Roberts, Joyce Van Patten, Lord Jamar, Method Man, Luke Perry, Master P, Treach, LL Cool J, Rick Fox, Dana Ivey, Elaine Stritch, and Peter Criss have made appearances on the show.

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