Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bring 'OZ' Back Part 2

A couple days ago, I told you about my ambition to get the great HBO series OZ returned to the air. I promised to bring you a five part series on how awesome this show was and why it deserves a second chance at life. I then went on to quickly sum up the show as best I could. Today I am going to talk about the one thing that makes OZ stand out back then - and even today.
OZ was gritty, and not gritty in that family-friendly kinda way that NYPD Blue was. Those behind this iconic television series made sure that there was no envelope left unpushed. Like any prison or crime drama, there was rampant violence and drugs, but the show went deeper than that.

On the surface,  OZ looks like nothing more than a reason to show violence, drugs, and nudity for ratings. Every episode included one, if not all three, of those ratings boosters. The inmates of Oswald State Penitentiary were mostly looking for a way to make it from day to day. If this involved some murder and tit slinging (tits is the term for drugs within OZ), then so be it.

This violence was always increased when race was involved, which was a daily occurrence. The inmates generally associated with different groups, usually based on race. Within Emerald City, there was strict control over how many of each group is allowed in. Even though this measure was meant to reduce the race violence, it never seemed to work out that way.

Most of these groups are fighting for certain power, like the tit trade. Drugs are a major problem in Oswald. All day long inmates are either selling drugs, taking drugs, killing over drugs, or finding new ways to get drugs (no postage stamp is safe). The drug of choice among the inmates of OZ is heroin, but all sorts of drugs make an appearance.

This is all surface stuff, though. Below this, HBO and OZ take on a variety of deeper topics; the biggest of these topics being redemption and reform. Tim McManus, the man that runs Em City, has a heart of gold and tries everything he can to turn these prisoners into reformed members of society. Over and over, he gets burned by these lost causes; yet he continues to fight for them.

We get to watch the inmates as they struggle with doing the right thing and survival. You really begin to feel for these people. You actually realize that they are people. I understand this is a way over the top tale of life in prison, but it does make you wonder if it is possible to reform some people.

Still a hot topic today, capital punishment was another ongoing topic on the HBO series. Sister Peter Marie, a therapist and nun that worked at Oswald Prison, was strongly against capital punishment. A very vocal activist about capital punishment, she put her beliefs ahead of her job or any politics on a number of occasions. This really came to a head when she fought to save Cyrill O'Reily, a mentally ill prisoner, from being executed. Watching this man who has the mental capacity of a small child, try to deal with things like murder and execution, is a painful reminder of the real life problems of inmates such as Cyrill.

Other topics touched upon in OZ were religion, sexuality, homosexuality, love, and so much more. Nothing was off limits for the writers. This mentality is one that would play well in today's race for ratings. HBO has lost much of its foothold in the television drama market, and bringing back a show as gritty as OZ would be a ratings and cred boom for the cable network. The topics that could be touched upon are almost infinite.

Stay tuned for the rest of my Bring OZ Back series of blog posts. Make sure you sign and share the online petition to bring this classic series back.

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