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Monty Does 'Oz'

Seems like I can't turn around without somebody telling me how great Oz is. For some reason, every time a year ends, pundits crawl out of the woodwork (that's where pundits live: the woodwork) to start on their "This is great" and "You should watch this" talk. It's like they take it as a personal insult that I watch Black Scorpion. And I'm not saying they're wrong.

And fairly consistently on or near the top of the list, you always see Oz. It's usually near phrases like "eye-popping and visceral" or "disturbing and brilliant". I suppose it's my own fault for spending so much time on the Internet, but sometimes it seems like glowing reviews of Oz almost outnumber pictures of young women with unnatural attachments to livestock.

Well, I've been holding out for, um, however many years Oz has been on HBO, and I can't take it anymore. I'm not made of stone, people! So as I type this, I am preparing to watch Oz for the first time. And although I will, of course, uphold my vow as an internet television loudmouth to be scrupulously fair and unbiased, I have to admit that all this Oz hype has probably irrevocably soured me toward it. So if I don't like it, rest assured I shall be venting my spleen upon all those who insisted that it was the best show in the world.

Of course, if I do like Oz, I shall undoubtedly claim that if the pundits had really cared, they would have engaged in even more hype than they did, and it's all their fault that I never watched the show until now. I realize it's petty, but let's face it: I really just like to complain. It's what I'm good at.

So let's get on with it. I hear there's a lot of rape and defecation in this episode. Heck, I hear there's a lot of rape and defecation in everyepisode! Thank you; I'm here all week.

Tonight's episode (which actually aired yesterday, thanks to the magic of TiVo) is called "Revenge is Sweet." The preview says, "Alvarez offers to turn informant; Barlog may get leniency for testimony against Keller." I hope there won't be a quiz, because all these names start to sound like one of those really long-running soap operas with twenty main characters. Hey, but I notice that Ernie Hudson is a part of this show. I like Ernie Hudson.

0:01 The "on the last episode" section has too many things for me to keep track of, including at least one murder. I hate coming in in the middle of a drama; I'm always worried that there's some big important plot thread I don't know about that would radically change everything.

0:02 The opening credits have lots of violence and nudity and sex and stuff. If I were a generous person, I would assume that they do this to warn people what kind of this they might be about to see. However, since I'm not, I'm going to allege that they wanted to make sure that no one's prurient interests went away unfulfilled. Except mine, of course, because I happen to have hitherto unimagined reservoirs of prurient interests. And that's why I spend all that time on the internet.

0:06 Plot Thread Alpha is off and running, as Alvarez (a guy in a bandana) becomes an informer, as Warden Ernie Hudson calls him "the perfect snitch." Hey, that would be a great science fiction premise. "The Perfect Snitch," starring David Spade as a cybernetic informing machine. I'd watch it, but that's only because I watch anything that sounds terrible and has a vaguely science-fictiony premise.

0:08 Who's the guy talking to the camera telling me about the prison? For all the talk about how realistic the series is, that seems like an awfully postmodern touch. If I'm using the word "postmodern" correctly. Which I'm almost certainly not.

0:11 First sadistic warden forcing sex on a prisoner. It's always good when the standards of the form are followed. Although to make it a bit less like Reform School Girls, it's a female warden and a male prisoner.

0:12 First prisoner fight

0:16 The gym! Entertainment Weekly says that every time the actors see that they have a scene in the gym, they wonder what sick and disgusting thing they'll have to do, so I'm braced for something terrifying. Nothing much happens.

0:19 Prisoner attacks guards; goes to the hole.

0:22 The gym again! One guy is told "You cannot become a Muslim!" and gets punched.

0:24 The hole again. You can tell the prisoners are hard-boiled because they just look irritated when they get thrown in the hole. How come no one ever gets "gently placed" in the hole?

0:27 "Or Hoyt, he'll make sure you and Jesus have a face-to-face real soon. In Heaven." That's not a bad threat, but the "in Heaven!" part isn't necessary. It's like saying "We gave him a dirt nap... in a graveyard!" The threat has already been made; you don't need to be so specific.

0:31 The gym again. And this red-haired guy is coming onto Luke Perry. Hey, is that the guy from Fame? Nope. Not Paul McClane. That is Luke Perry, though. Luke Perry is a man of upright rectitude and turns down the offer of oral sex. Good for you, Luke. Our nation's children are in good hands.

0:36 They mention Alvarez again. Whatever happened to him? Now that I think of it, I have no idea what's going on. People are being paraded in front of me, but their problems either get solved right away (that one guy is already accepted as a new Muslim) or have been left by the wayside. I'm suddenly consumed with curiosity about what happened to Alvarez. Last I heard, he was supposed to become an informer, and he was also supposed to kill that other guy. In most shows, that would qualify as a pretty important plot point.

0:49 That guy's naked! That's the first nudity not in the credits. And it seemed like it was there just because they promised nudity in the TV-MA box before the show. I mean, yes, the guys in the shower were talking about sex, but still. It seemed less like shockingly real sex and more like contractual obligation sex. Like when Kevin Costner's butt gets dragged out.

0:53 What the?! It's Didi Conn! She's on a game show the prisoners are watching, but it's still Didi Conn!

0:57 Those two men are not having sexual relations, according to ex-President Clinton. But that guy on the floor is definitely dead. Well, that was the big climactic moment, I guess, with death and sex at the same time. And sure enough, the otherworldly narrator is back to remind us of the episode title and we're out.

Well, it was okay. It was a perfectly acceptable hour-long drama that addressed themes you don't ordinarily see on television. Important themes like religion and anal sex. But I have to be honest here. My bones were not chilled. My spine was not tingled. My toes did not curl and my guts did not churn. I will probably watch it again, but I have to think that the assembled pundits have been overstating the case a little.

It's mostly my fault for not knowing what's going on. If were shown all the characters, I probably couldn't identify more than two or three of them. The second part of the episode preview was "Barlog may get leniency for testimony against Keller," and I still don't know who Barlog and Keller are. My summary of this hour of television would be "a lot of stuff happened and one guy died."

I'll give the pundits one more chance, though. I hear The Sopranos is pretty good. Maybe I'll check that out sometime.


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