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OZ: The Complete 6th Season

Genre: ,

Cast: Kirk Acevedo, Ernie Hudson, Terry Kinney, Rita Moreno, Harold Perrineau, J.K. Simmons, Lee Tergesen, Eamonn Walker, Dean Winters, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Edie Falco, George Morfogen, Lauren Velez, B.D. Wong

Creator: Gregory Dark, Adam Bernstein

Rated: NR

Release Date: September 5th, 2006
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Overall Grade: A-

OZ: The Complete 6th Season

Review By: Staff

OZ: The Complete Sixth Season

For six long years, HBO's award-winning series OZ violated various taboos in regard to televised content by displaying a brutal, uncompromising look inside prison society. OZ is short for Oswald State Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in an undisclosed location. Much of the action takes place inside an experimental unit of the prison nicknamed "Emerald City" where the self-righteous Unit Manager Tim McMannus (Terry Kinney) strives to emphasize rehabilitation and productivity over purely restrictive incarceration.

The lengthy opening credit sequence before every episode incorporates every element of the show that's likely to put off viewers: sodomy, shiv-inflicted murder, execution, self-mutilation and nudity. You can't fault OZ for showing its cards up front: if you can sit through this, it's a pretty good indicator that you'll be able to stomach an entire episode.

The sixth and final season begins Sunset Boulevard-style, with the recently deceased Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau) narrating from beyond the grave. In the cliffhanger season five finale, Augustus sacrificed himself to save a fellow inmate during a heated prison brawl. In the previous seasons, Augustus narrated every episode through on-screen direct address in a series of segments scattered throughout, usually expounding upon a central theme within the specific episode. In this last season, Augustus still narrates about half the episodes but sits out for a couple in order to allow for guest narrators. The squatters are similarly made up of former inhabitants of OZ who met their demise one way or another within the prison. Past characters like Dino Ortolani (John Seda) and Shirley Bellinger (Kathryn Erbe) return to wax philosophic on subjects ranging from forgiveness to the art of communication, making suitable surrogates for Augustus.

Each episode houses a myriad of characters and a wealth of plotlines run concurrently. Occasionally it can be difficult to keep track of the different characters and their different plights but the acting is so universally strong that most of the actors manage to make their characters regularly distinguishable. Also of help is the show's built-in episode recap structure that incorporates flashbacks to previous episodes and seasons to help chronicle the various plots.

On average, each episode has two moments of utter shield-your-eyes-and-cock-you-head repulsion: usually one violent and one sexual. The conclusion of episode 2, entitled "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Smell No Evil," incorporates both simultaneously and is one of the most horrifying things I've ever seen. However, the writing by show creator Tom Fontana is so consistently good that it's hard to let a little unwanted sodomy stop you from tuning in to the next episode.

The grand question that is raised throughout the series is whether the show subscribes to Aristotelian existentialism (essence precedes existence) or Sartrean existentialism (existence precedes essence). Every day in OZ is a struggle to survive and the prisoners employ several different theories on how to get by. In the

series finale, "Exeunt Omines," the actions of Chris Keller (Christopher Meloni) that not only directly affect two of the show's major characters but also his posthumous imprint on the facility of OZ itself suggests Sartrean existentialism.

Either way, life is fragile in OZ and murder is so frequent an occurrence it's often rendered frivolous. So, when we get an episode like "A Day in the Death," (the standout episode of the season) that chronicles the impending execution of mentally challenged inmate Cyril O'Reilly (Scott William Winters), it looks at life in such a minute manner that the remaining episodes are given extra resonance.

In many ways, OZ is akin to Lars Von Trier's mid-90s Danish miniseries The Kingdom. Trier's show took place almost-exclusively within the confines of a Danish hospital erected upon haunted ground. Both shows delve deep into the inner-workings of institutionalized living and in the case of OZ, it casts an analytical eye on both the convicts and the staff "” the truth being that the two worlds are often not that far removed.

Special Features:

Each of the three discs features an episode boasting an Audio Commentary track. On disc one, we have the season premier, "Dead Man Talking," featuring Tom Fontana and Eamonn Walker, who plays Kareem Said. Fontana explains that the idea for season six's guest narrators stemmed from Perrineau's scheduling conflicts while shooting The Matrix sequels in New Zealand. This leads Fontana to further explain how he often had to write character arcs based around the actor's schedules. On disc two, "A Day in the Death," features actors Dean Winters, Scott William Winters and writer Brad Winters. All three are brothers in real life and they discuss the joy of getting to work together on this episode. Finally, disc three features Tom Fontana and Terry Kinney discussing the finale, "Exeunt Omnes." Fontana does most of the talking and frequently recounts various stages in the show's history. Overall, everyone seems to have genuinely enjoyed working on the show and they share some fond memories from the set.

Disc three houses the remainder of the bonus material. You can find 22 minutes of Deleted Scenes featuring excised footage from episodes two through eight. The scenes are presented in relatively good quality and for a show with so many characters, it's nice to have the opportunity to see more of their backgrounds.

There's also Original Cast Audition Tapes for viewers interested to see Perinneau and Walker's audition footage from 1997. This feature is presented with a before-and-after structure that allows us to see the video footage followed by excerpts from season one showcasing the final product.

Lastly, there's the option to watch an Exclusive Extended Cut of the Series Finale. This is highly recommended. Even though the reinserted footage is of lower quality and still has the timestamp imprinted on the left hand corner, the episode now runs about

20 minutes longer and gives the opportunity to tie up some loose ends concerning a few of the minor characters.

Show Grade: A-

DVD Grade: B+

Overall Grade: A-

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