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Oz: So good it's a crime
but don't expect to sleep

By Adam Buckman
The New York Post
July 2000

 "Oz" is so well-made, it's sometimes difficult to sit through an entire episode.

More than any other show on TV, "Oz" requires you to brace yourself before making a commitment to watching it.

It's so explosively gory, so profane, and so unflinching in its brute force that it can leave you drained and shaken no matter how much you prepare mentally for the experience.

And thanks to the late hour in which HBO schedules it, you often end up trying in vain to go to sleep while images of unspeakable suffering dance around inside your head.

And yet, this deeply disturbing series, which would receive at least a hard "R" rating if it was a movie playing in theaters, earns a four-star review due to the uncompromising quality of its production - acting, script-writing, direction, set design and any other category you care to name.

"Oz" tells the story of an experimental prison ward where hardened criminals live in Plexiglas cells and mingle in a common area under harsh flourescent lights. The futuristic setting - constructed in a studio on the west side of Manhattan - has either sprung from the imaginations of the show's creators or is based on some real prison ward they've heard about. Either way, the makers of "Oz" have managed to conjure up a world so hellish that it outstrips just about anything you've ever had a nightmare about.

In Oz (short for Oswald State Correctional Facility), white and black factions - each of them splintered into other sub-groups - are involved in a kind of continuous face off, in which various characters circle each other warily before springing like coiled snakes in a tense round-robin of revenge and counter-vengeance.

Tonight's episode inaugurates the show's fourth season. The show picks up where last season left off, with racial tensions on the brink of detonation.

If you're tuning in expecting to see a race riot, guess again - "Oz" would never be that predictable.

It gives nothing away to reveal that by the end of the episode, the tensions are still in place, but their nature has changed due to events that even the most dedicated fan could never have forecast.

Grotesque as "Oz" can be at times, it can also become addictive. That doesn't mean this show is for everybody. Among the mayhem on view tonight: An inmate in solitary will die from self-inflicted cannibalism - which means he took enough bites out of his own arm to bleed to death; and a number of people, particularly in flashback scenes, will die from bullets fired at close range.

Shows such as "Oz" and "The Sopranos" make HBO worth subscribing to, even if some of its other shows, and especially its movies, do not.

It's just as well. If HBO had many more shows as intense as these two, I'd never get any sleep.


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