There’s no place like Oz

In the game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon – The TV Edition, Oz must hold a special place: it seems like every other character is played by an actor who later turned up in The Wire, Dexter or (apparently) Law & Order: SVU. It’s also the first of the heavily serialised HBO programming, a trailblazer for later series such as The Sopranos, Deadwood and the aforementioned Bawlmore epic, The Wire.

Arguably, it’s also the weakest of all of these series, the one that holds up least well. No doubt about it – the people involved in this series are smart and talented, and there are wonderful moments throughout… but the longer the more, the individual moments of great writing or brilliant acting are hampered by the series’ tone. It tries too hard to be brave, hard-hitting, ironic, poignant, human, cynical, all mixed into one, and the result is that Oz can feel, clumsy hysterical and inauthentic. I don’t mean ‘unrealistic’ – I have no problem with a stylised approach. What the series does at times is manipulate the plot, characters and presentation To Make A Point. These moments come across as a mix between a heavy-handed editorial on social issues and a stand-up comedy routine by someone who’s less funny than he thinks he is.

It’s a shame, because the material is there, the actors are there, the themes are there. If the show runners had trusted Oz more to achieve what it sets out to do without trying so goddamn hard, the series would be up there with the best of HBO, I believe. Even as it is, there are moments that are fantastic TV – but then the next scene is likely to be as blaring and obvious as the soundtrack. Oh, the soundtrack. It’s as bad as the music in a Mike Leigh film, but more embarrassing.

We’ve got 2 1/2 seasons to go, and I’m by no means at a point where I resent the series. It’s still watchable and worth it for the moments when it all comes alive, when what the series could be isn’t weighed down by what its makers think it ought to be, and what it ought to express, turned up to 11.

But I’m sure that by the last episode, one question will remain, a question that puts all the mysteries of Lost to shame… Just how does Adebisi keep that ridiculous cap of his on his head?

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