“Oz” begins through the doe eyes of Beecher (Lee Tergesen), a former lawyer sentenced to 15 years in Oz for killing a 9-year-old girl while driving drunk. The prison assigns Beecher, who initially appears timid and meek, to bunk with Adebisi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an intimidating roommate in both physicality and presence. Schillinger (J.K. Simmons) “saves” Beecher from this tense situation, only to be revealed as a member of the Aryan Brotherhood soon after. Over the course of eight episodes, Beecher goes from being branded and raped to defecating on his attacker. Suffice to say, a lot happens in the first season, concluding in a mad finale when a riot breaks loose in Em City.
Difficult to top, the debut season of “Oz” presented a healthy challenge for every subsequent season (with Season 4, Part 1 as truly the lone competitor). At the time, the series felt fresh and new, pushing the boundaries of storytelling that blurred the lines between film and television. With audiences spoiled for choice, a show like “Oz” might be easily taken for granted today, but what Tom Fontana and HBO pioneered set in motion a tidal wave of shows that eventually changed the industry and audiences alike. And it all started with eight episodes of television that found the perfect balance between outrageous, sadistic, thrilling, grotesque, and at times, even comical.