Oz—Season 1

oz season 1 cover episode guide
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 6/10

Great characters

Visuals and writing sometimes fail


Welcome to Oz! (It’s not a nice place to visit)

Welcome to Oswald State Correction Facility…A maximum security prison in New York which is trying an experimental way to deal with the prisoners.  Emerald City (or “Em City”) under Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson) and Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) tries to deal with the prisoners which range from drunk drivers to cannibals.  When a series of deaths begin occurring in Em City, tensions rise and the deaths just continue.

Oz—Season 1 aired from July 12, 1997 to August 25, 1997 and became one of HBO’s first TV series which started the television renaissance which continued with The Sopranos in 1999.

I had seen Oz once or twice (a random episode here and there) before deciding to sit down and watch it on-demand while on vacation…I ended up watching half of the season.  The show and the story is compelling, but there are a lot of faults with Oz at the same time.


Phasing out now as the talk continues…

Oz’s stories often break down into themes.  There is the “new guy” episode, a religion episode, a capital punishment episode, a riot episode, etc.  I don’t know if they continue this format throughout the series (I think they’d start to run short of main themes after a while), but this does kind of hinder some storyline. I like that they explore these ideas, but the themes seem forced at times.

I also find a lot of the writing forced.  The delivery is sometimes a bit  jarring as a result, and often some of the characters don’t line up well with their inflections on their situation in regards to their level of intelligence.  I also am not a big fan of the free-flowing Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau, Jr.) who serves as a narrator for the series.  I like his character, but I find a lot of his narrations pompous and over-written.  If the writers had conveyed the thoughts in a less pretentious manner, I could have taken in the messages better.


Well, they know how to party in Oz

Visually, Oz isn’t as gritty as I’d like it to be.  When compared to more modern shows like The Wire (which is another benefactor from Oz’s existence), Oz looks a lot cheaper.  I don’t like the speeches from the spinning glass block cell, so I don’t like the visual of the cell.  I think prison is enough of a visual world that the addition of a prisoner dangling in a cell comes off more silly than cool.

What does sell Oz is some great characters.  I could watch entire episodes focused on almost any of the characters in Oz or even many of the supporting characters.  The actors cast in the series are quite strong and their characters do feel real.  I like the blending idea of the series (with lots of different types of killers and criminals in Em City) and I think the creators did good job creating a lush and unique batch of players.

Oz does have its issues, but it is still worth checking out.  I think it will go down as an important show just because it was the start of the tide turning from network shows to premium channel shows that everyone had to watch.  Oz is rough at points, but that is the point of Oz.

Oz—Season 1 Complete Episode Guide:


“The Routine”

1.1       The Routine Airdate : 07/12/97

Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) finds himself in prison after killing a bicyclist while drunk driving…and discovers he is the new “friend” of Vernon Schillinger (J.K. Simmons).  Dino Ortolani (Jon Seda) finds enemies among the inmates and is transferred from food to medical for Tim McManus (Terry Kinney) where he tends to an A.I.D.S. patient.  Making a drastic decision, Ortolani finds his actions might have fatal consequences when he heads to solitary.


“Visits, Conjugal and Otherwise”

1.2       Visits, Conjugal and Otherwise Airdate:  07/14/97

The investigation into who killed Ortolani begins, and Jefferson Keane (Leon Robinson) hides his connection.  Beecher is granted a conjugal visit from his wife and receives a warning from Schillinger.  A government proposal to cut conjugal visits leads to unrest among the prisoners. Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau, Jr.) reveals how he ended up in jail and was crippled.  Jefferson remembers killing a couple on the wedding day, and when McManus is unable to help him get marry to his girlfriend Mavis, Jefferson asks Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker) to Warden Leo Glynn (Ernie Hudson).   Miguel Alvarez (Kirk Acevedo) prepares to be released into prison, and Father Ray Mukada (B.D. Wong) tries to get him to accept responsibility for his unborn child by going to his imprisoned grandfather Ricardo Alvarez (Tomas Milian).  Nino Schibetta (Tony Musante) seeks revenge for Ortolani’s death and contacts Dino’s enemy Johnny Post (Tim McAdams) to see who is responsible.


“God’s Chillin'”

1.3       God’s Chillin Airdate:  07/21/97

Tensions are rising after the death of Johnny Post, and Jefferson’s crew is facing off against Schibetta’s crew.  Ryan O’Reily (Dean Winters) tries to get out of Em City and goes to Beecher for legal help.  Beecher is contacted by Sister Peter Marie (Rita Moreno) for help with her work and Beecher questions if God is in the Em City.  Donald Groves (Sean Whitesell) goes to Father Mukada about Catholicism and tells him that it follows his cannibalism.  Kenny Wrangler (J.D. Williams) is transferred to Oz at age sixteen and tries to get in with Jefferson or Said’s men.  Jefferson seeks religion and undergoes a change.  When Schibetta forces Jefferson (the newly Christened Tizi Ouzou) into a corner, Jefferson is forced to make a step that leads to a visit from Governor James Devlin (Zeljko Ivanek) who has plans for Oz.  Federal Investigators come to Oz to check out the murders, and McManus finds he’s a suspect in possible prison corruption.  Miguel Alvarez welcomes the birth of his son but learns there are complications…which he sees as punishment by God.


“Capital P”

1.4       Capital P Airdate:  07/28/97

The Governor prepares to execute Jefferson Keane and Oz prepares for the state’s first execution…which prompts Sister Pete Marie to resign.  When Beecher learns from O’Reily that Keane could have killed in self-defense, he sets out to find a way to save his life…which means getting a copy of the video of the murder.  Bob Rebadow (George Morfogen) reveals how he was the last man executed in 1965 and joins Beecher in the searching for the tape.  When Jefferson’s sister begins to suffer kidney failure, Jefferson could be his last hope.  Alvarez learns his son cannot be saved, and Father Mukada and McManus try to get him to come to terms with it.  McManus and Dr. Gloria Nathan (Lauren Vélez) find themselves at odds over the execution when leads McManus to an encounter with Diane Wittlesey (Edie Falco).  A second inmate facing death named Richard L’Italien (Eric Roberts) prepares for his death and admits to a series of other murders.


“Straight Life”

1.5       Straight Life Airdate:  08/04/97

Drugs are becoming a problem in Oz and McManus and Sister Pete try to find allies in Said and Nino.  When Nino loses his men, he is forced to turn to Markstram (O.L. Duke) and Adebisi (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje) for help getting the drugs into the prison.  When Markstram is murdered, McManus learns that he was an undercover officer.  Diane learns that her husband’s old friend Scott Ross (Stephen Gevedon) is now in Oz, but Diane tells Ross that she gives no favors.  When overtime and hours are cut Diane realizes she might have to make a deal with Ross.  Said faces high blood pressure but refuses to take medication to due to his religion.  Beecher finds himself more pulled into drugs to cope with Schillinger, and Sister Pete tries to set him straight.


“To Your Health”

1.6       To Your Health Airdate : 08/11/97

Kenny attacks Bob Rebadow and prompts Oz to consider options to deal with the aging population.  The workers notice that McManus seems to be having personality changes.  Ricardo Alvarez suffers from Alzheimer’s, and Miguel questions how to get closer to his grandfather.  Groves gets a tooth pulled and learns that it could earn him money from collectors.  Beecher tries to come to terms with the death that put him in prison, but when Schillinger pushes him, Beecher might crack.  O’Reily secretly works with Adebisi to take down Nino.  Basketball player Jackson Vahue (Rick Fox) is headed to prison and Augustus gets assigned as his sponsor.  The workers try to get Said to take his blood pressure medicine, and Said is assigned a militant Muslim named Huseni Mershah (Roger Guenveur Smith) who attacked Jewish worshippers.


“Plan B”

1.7       Plan B Airdate:  08/18/97

Said recovers from his heart attack and reenters Em City to exile Huseni Mershah from his followers for not helping him.  As Huseni Mershah tries to stir up allies against Said, tensions begin to rise in the prison as McManus is forced to do a shakedown to clear out the drugs.  Mershah commits suicide, and Said uses the death to go to the media about the inequities in Oz.  Said’s power begins to grow over the prisoners, and Said finds a new follower in Groves…leading to a drastic decision.  When an officer is murdered, the guards begin more attacks on prisoners.  Augustus finds himself at odds with Vahue while trying to help a cellist named Eugene Dobbins (  ) but has his plans backfire.  O’Reily and Adebisi’s plan of secretly feeding ground glass to Nino comes to fruition as they try to take over his drug trade.  Beecher strikes out at Schillinger again.


“A Game of Checkers”

1.8       A Game of Checkers Airdate:  08/25/97

Beecher and Schillinger are back in Em City and Schillinger claims that he is just trying to serve his time before parole.  McManus learns about Diane’s deal with Ross, but Ross threatens to go to Warden Glynn about the cigarettes if she cuts him off.  A riot breaks out over a chess game and the prisoners take control of Em City.  As the prisoner break into factions, control of the prison is up to the inmates.  McManus exchanges places with some of the injured guards and debates the prison system with Said while the Governor pushes for security to move in on the prison.


Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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