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A long time ago, I was still living at home, going to high school, when we were flipping the channels one day, and to our surprise, we were getting HBO. We hadn’t asked for it, and it wasn’t showing up on the bill, so we sure as hell wasn’t going to complain about it. We continued to receive not only free HBO but also free Pay Per View for the next several years. Over the years, HBO has made several shows about terrible people. You have the Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sex in the City, etc. But there was one show that we watched. A show that set the standard for putting terrible people on TV. And that show, was OZ.

Far from the land of singing munchkins, OZ takes place in the Oswald Maximum Security Penitentiary, a land of murderers, rapists, drug dealers, thieves, and ever other type of low life you can think of. If there is one thing HBO is good at, it’s making a great show out of terrible people, and almost everybody in OZ, be they guard, or inmate, is a terrible person.

My girlfriend refuses to watch this show for two reasons. The first being, that she likes Law and Order: SVU, and I have a habit of telling her which actors on that show were first on OZ (It’s about half the cast). The other reason is because of just how much of a dirt bag everybody is. There are no redeeming qualities, and the lessons learned are typically harsh. Christopher Meloni doesn’t play a shining white knight like on SVU, instead he plays a psychopath who destroys everybody that gets close to him.

OZ follows a specific group of inmates, those who live in M-Block, also known as M-City, or Emerald City. A new, special type of prison facility, where the inmates live a more structured life. They have mandatory classes and drug counseling, and they all work in various positions in the prison. In return, they live in a much nicer area with more freedoms than they would have in general population.

The inmates themselves are separated into a few groups:

There’s the homeboys. Gang bangers and thugs, normally too busy fighting each other and getting high to be a big threat, but now and then they get their act together and then they really get shit done. They are normally led by a giant Nigerian by the name of Adabesi.

Then there are the Latinos. They have a little less infighting than the Homeboys, and they do what they can to be big players, but they tend to be out muscled or outmaneuvered by everybody else.

The Aryans are led by an older Nazi named Shillinger. They don’t do drugs, more do they sell them. They do, however, seem to have a thing for raping other guys.

The Muslims tend to sit on the sidelines, but Said is always planning something whether its planning riots, or filing a class action lawsuit against the state.

The Wiseguys have it almost as good as they do in Goodfellas. Plus there is the rule of not killing Wiseguys. It’s probably he most broken rule in the prison. The real rule isn’t don’t kill, its don’t get caught. So each kill is a long, drawn out slow death. One gets unknowingly fed powdered glass, making him bleed to death internally over the course of a month or two, another is raped and driven insane, another infected with aids. They may run the place, but I don’t know if it worth it.

The Irish come next, though usually that just means Ryan O’Reilly. If there is something happening, he’s probably a part of it. He’s the grand schemer. Always friends with everybody while plotting behind their backs. You’ll watch just to see what he does next.

Last, there are the unaligned, the others. They aren’t in gangs and don’t have any racial background to cling to. My favorite character, Beecher, falls into this category. He started off as a “prag”, their term for bitch, for the nazis; but after biting off a guy’s dick and shitting in another’s mouth, most people learned to leave him alone. After the first season, its him and Shillinger getting revenge on each other again and again.

The guards are just as bad as the inmates. When they aren’t being paid to look the other way, they are actively assisting the inmates in their schemes, anything from smuggling guns into the prison to even the occasional murder.

It’s an amazing show, so I definitely recommend watching it. And if you don’t like it, you can at least spend your time trying yo figure out how Adabesi’s hat stays on…

simon adebisi