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  • Anvilicious: The creator's thoughts on capital punishment and prison reform are made very obvious. The fact that Governor Devlin is a pretty blatant Straw Character based on mid-late 90's Republican governors doesn't exactly help.
  • Base-Breaking Character:
    • Alvarez. Some fans see him as a Jerkass Woobie and a Butt-Monkey who keeps getting himself screwed over as he tries to survive in Oz. Others see him as your everyday Jerkass who blames all the misfortunes he goes through on other prisoners, despite his impulsive decisions, like the eye gouge incident.
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    • Also Ryan O'Reilly. He is both disliked immensely and very popular due to how slick he is. Then you have those who believe him to be even worse than Schillinger since the latter at least loves his sons albeit not enough to deter the death of his younger one and his granddaughter while the former is all about himself with his Morality Pets being ineffective and/or dead.
  • Best Known for the Fanservice: The way people talk about the show you'd think the whole series was just a looping 30 minute clip of a man getting raped in the showers after dropping his soap.
  • Better on DVD: The arcs and loads of characters are easier to follow on DVD, though the fixed setting can feel repetitive when watching a lot of episodes in a row... or put you in the right mood to take it all in.
  • Bizarro Episode: The Season 5 episode "Variety" has Hill's narration segments replaced with various characters singing classic numbers.
  • Complete Monster: Even in this Crapsack World inside a Hellhole Prison, a few characters stand out:
    • Timmy Kirk is a sociopathic murderer who gets by in Oz despite his mediocre intellect and physical strength, due to his sheer ruthlessness and treachery. A flashback shows that he was incarcerated for homicide after putting a baby, implied to be his own, in a rat-infested dumpster, over the desperate protests of its mother. Initially a low-ranking member of the Irish gang, he makes a name for himself in prison by routinely betraying one gang for another. He seals Jeremiah Cloutier in a wall to die a slow and painful death in response to the latter casting Kirk out of his gang for his erratic behavior. After Father Mukada refuses to accept Kirk's reversion to Catholicism, Kirk responds by burning down Mukada's church in hopes of killing him. When Mukada survives the attack, Kirk continues to hound him with absurd allegations of sexual molestation. Kirk, by now facing execution, is simply happy that he might die knowing that the allegations could see Mukada permanently stripped of his priesthood.
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    • Malcolm "Snake" Coyle from season 3, a member of the Homeboys, is a sociopathic murderer with no regard for human life. Originally imprisoned for armed robbery, Coyle's dark secret was revealed when he sadistically admitted to Augustus Hill that he murdered an Italian-American family one night for fun, while his friend recorded it on a videotape. First, as we see in flashbacks, he slit the mother's throat, proceeded to rape her dying corpse, then murdered the baby when the cries of fear started to get on his nerves. After Hill snitches on Warden Leo Glynn about Coyle's crimes, the other gangs, including the Aryans, disgusted by Coyle's crimes, unanimously agree to protect Hill from the Homeboys. Coyle's eventual death is mourned by none and he stands out as one of the few inmates in the series with no redeeming qualities.
  • Creator's Pet: Ryan O'Reilly. He manipulates everyone he comes into contact with for his own personal gain (including his own brother), is treated to a semi-sympathetic battle with breast cancer, is rarely in the crosshairs of anyone, arranges or is somehow connected to several deaths in the prison (including Dr. Nathan's husband, who treated him when he had cancer) and ends up with her in the end.
  • Critical Research Failure: Paidraig Connelly fears he will be hanged if deported back to Britain. Capital punishment was abolished in the '60s with the last executions taking place in 1964.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: This is bound to happen due to being a very cynical drama about an extremely violence-infested prison. Most characters are hardened criminals who are simultaneously sympathetic and unsympathetic (but mostly unsympathetic), and they constantly perpetuate a never-ending cycle of despair against each other. It seems that nobody, not even the surviving characters, are allowed to have a happy ending by the time of the series finale. The idealists in Oswald's staff (McManus, Mukada, Peter-Marie, etc.) really want to believe they can rehabilitate the inmates into better human beings. But in the end, only a few of them can be considered decent or redeemable people; most of the prisoners, even if they have some sympathetic qualities, are still largely unrepentant scumbags who just won't even bother to reform their evil ways.
  • Foe Yay:
    • Schillinger, Beecher, and Keller tend to have a triangle of this - lampshaded with Beecher and Schillinger in their song duet in "Variety".
    • A general intimidation tactic by Adebisi, with the implication of rape (see "Never live it down" below), seen with Beecher, Said, and Peter Schibetta — which comes to a brutal end when Adebisi rapes Schibetta.
  • Genre Turning Point: The first HBO original series, Oz was one of the first TV shows to prove that television could compete with films in the storytelling department with season long arcs and dark storytelling that didn't treat it's audience like simpletons. The show inspired countless other TV shows in that vein.
  • He Really Can Act: This was the first role that showed how much Luke Perry was able to move beyond his "brooding bad boy" role in Beverly Hills, 90210.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • CO Armstrong's helping a Christian inmate destroy the printing press that the Muslim inmates were using for a prison industry business, on orders of a rival business/gang leader, and his line "I guess this is one of those times you don't ask "What Would Jesus Do?"." The actor playing Armstrong, Tim Brown, is an ex-NYC firefighter and one of the main dissenting voices in the debate over whether to allow the building of a mosque near WTC ground zero.
    • The main protagonist is a prisoner named Tobias and his difficulties adjusting to prison life. A few years later, another man named Tobias who is clearly out of his element would be sent to prison, albeit this time to prepare for the role of "Frightened Inmate #2.
    • Tobias declines to fill out his swastika brand into a grid, as it meant a lot more burned flesh. Twenty years later, the lead character of another iconic prison series decided to go through with this very thing.
    • Fans of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and/or Law & Order: Criminal Intent will find it funny (if not downright jarring) to see that at least one of the actors who would go on to star as a lead detective (Christopher Meloni for the former, Kathryn Erbe for the latter) on both shows had portrayed a vicious killer here, particularly if they viewed/heard of SVU or Criminal Intent prior to Oz. note  Not to mention Dr. Skoda as the vicious Aryan leader Schillinger. The Bad Guys Are Cops, indeed.
  • Jerkass Woobie: A trademark of the series. Every character is loathsome but is invested with a story or acting performance to show that They are still human and have suffered Their own tragedies.
    • Schillinger stands out the most. He's crossed the Moral Event Horizon God knows how many times but J. K. Simmons' acting is so good and the writing is strong enough that he can still be sympathetic while ordering the deaths of children.
    • Other examples are: Dino Ortolani, Donald Groves, Miguel Alvarez, Nino Schibetta, Peter Schibetta, Jefferson Keene, Andrew Schillinger, Chris Keller, Burr Redding, James Robson and Shirley Bellinger.
  • Love to Hate: Scum and despicable doesn't begin to describe Vern Schillinger, but J. K. Simmons' performance is so good that he turns a repugnant rapist into a surprisingly fascinating character.
  • Magnificent Bastard:
    • Ryan O'Reilly is an Irish convict in the Emerald City wing of the Oswald State Correctional Facility. More than any other inmate, O'Reilly is frequently at the center of whatever intrique is going in the prison, forming alliances with other inmates to take over the drug trade inside Oz by arranging the deaths of various gang leaders and even becoming a major figure in a prison riot. O'Reilly also gets Dr. Gloria Nathan to fall in love with him after putting out a hit on her husband, later personally murdering a criminal who raped her, uses various dirty methods to ensure that his brother Cyrill will win the prison boxing championship, and has Officer Claire Howell—whom O'Reilly is sleeping with—kill his rival Stanislofsky after a dispute over a contraband cell phone turns sour. Ryan O'Reilly possesses a sense of charm and bravado unmatched by many of the thuggish inmates in Oz, and his uncanny ability to get others to do his dirty work for him and turning his enemies against each other makes him one of the few characters to successfully survive the entire run of the show.
    • Enrique Morales establishes himself as one of the most cunning and pragmatic prisoners on the show. After arriving in Oswald State prison, he usurped control over the Latinos by forcing the kindly old prisoner Bob Rebadow to kill his unpopular predecessor El Cid, then takes over the drug trade inside the prison with the Homeboys and Italians and proves himself more wary to attempts by the authorities to infiltrate the organization than his associates. When Morales develops a feud with Homeboys leader Burr Redding, he manipulates Chinese refugees housed in the prison against him with false claims of race hatred and attempts to have Redding framed for a murder. A capable fighter as well when the chips are down, Morales swiftly foils an attempt on his own life by killing the assassin, and lulls his late sister's abusive husband into a false sense of security before pounding the everloving crap out of him. Always a persuasive and purpose-driven man despite being a murderer and gang leader, under the clever rule of Morales, El Norte truly became a force to be reckoned with within Oz.
  • Mind Game Ship: Chris Keller/Tobias Beecher. Ryan with whomever he is manipulating, to an extent.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Hoo Boy.. Schillinger and Ryan O'Reily both could fit a whole page with this.
    • Beecher selling off Adam Guenzel to the Aryans in Season 5. While there are plenty who say it was a completely justified thing to do after Gunzel humiliated Beecher, and that Guenzel merely got what was coming to him, there are many others who feel like nothing could justify letting something like that happen, especially after Beecher's experience in the first season.
      • Beecher's manipulation of Andrew (who was a jerk) would normally count, but doesn't because Beecher's responsibility is a bit cloudy, and the realization of his contributions causes Beecher to feel genuinely guilty.
    • Kenny crossed it in the Season 2 finale when he killed Jara. Before then, Kenny was starting to go through Character Development and actually seemed like he could redeem himself. But when Season 3 started, he became an irritating and despicable punk with a stupid nickname who only cared about himself.
    • In-universe, Coyle's murder of an innocent family, including the rape of the wife and the murder of small children, is treated as such. You know you've spectacularly blown past the MEH when the black Muslims, the white supremacists, the Latino gang and the Italian Mafia all pre-emptively get together and agree to protect the guy who snitched. And when someone pulls a Pay Evil unto Evil on Coyle by brutally murdering him in his cell, no one including the prison staff particularly seems to give a shit.
    • In general, played with. While many appear to have crossed theirs (Keane, Adebisi and William Cudney being some examples) by virtue of the crimes they committed, the show's themes of morality and redemption work it in such a way that they are not as evil as they may have been portrayed otherwise. While most cross theirs while in prison (Schillinger, Robson and Keller to name a few), they are never explicitly viewed as beyond any redemption.
  • Narm:
    • Often Hill's narrations verge on this.
    • Thy name is Cyril O'Reilly, especially in later seasons. The forced tender moments start seeming ridiculous after he kills or incapacitates multiple people.
    • There was quite a bit in the last season, but the "Men of Death Row" photo shoot and Hoyt electrocuting Kirk with a light fixture was over the top even by Oz's standards.
  • Narm Charm: The series has tendency towards the melodramatic and can feel over-stylized at times... but most of the drama is compelling enough to make it work.
  • Never Live It Down: The show itself is mostly remembered in pop culture as being "that show with Prison Rape" and not for much else.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Eric Roberts' performance as a death row inmate at the end of the fourth episode is simultaneously terrifying and mesmerizing.
  • Rescued from the Scrappy Heap: Robson. After the gum incident at the end of Season 5, he became a prag. From that point on, Robson Took a Level in Kindness (no, really) and was the center of a realistic subplot involving prison rape.
  • Retroactive Recognition:
  • The Scrappy:
    • Kenny "Bricks" (eye roll) Wangler manages to piss away all his sympathetic character development by being generally evil, whiny, and insufferable. Only Poet and Pierce seem to care when he gets shot. Of course Pierce was only able to care for a few seconds.
    • Clayton Hughes and his character's rapid slide into insanity were poorly received.
    • Omar White probably embodies this trope better than anyone. While it's clear we were meant to have some kind of affection for him at times, his habit of always getting himself into trouble (despite given numerous "last chances" by McManus and Said to get his act together), blaming others for his own messes and generally spending a lot of time being an ungrateful jerk to those trying to help him meant that an awful lot of people end up glad to see him go by Season 6.
  • Seasonal Rot: Some fans felt that show's increasing usage of bizarre elements, most infamously the "aging drugs" straight out of a sci-fi story, jarred with the quirky but still generally gritty and realistic tone set in earlier seasons. A few fans also felt that the loss of fan-favorite Adebisi hit the show hard.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Quite a few because Anyone Can Die, especially at the beginning and end of the series. Season 1 was probably the biggest offender, killing off Dino Ortolani, Jefferson Keane, Donald Groves, Eugene Dobbins, and Scott Ross. Several characters introduced in Season 6, such as Torquemada and Jafree Neema, seemed to be placed for a prominent place in the storyline if the series continued.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot:
    • One can forgive the writers for not wanting to touch this with a 39 and a half foot pole, but a plot where Said and the other Muslims face increased discrimination in the wake of 9/11 would have been potentially brilliant, especially since Oz was one of the only shows running during the attacks to feature prominent Muslim characters.
    • Jia Kenmin's desire for vengeance against Morales is set up and then almost immediately forgotten.
  • Trapped by Mountain Lions: A chronic issue, possibly due to the large cast. Most prominent in Seasons 2 (Ryan's breast cancer and Peter Marie's dealings with Giles), 4 (Ageing drugs) and 5 (Alvarez and the dog training program, Omar's singing).
    • Cyril momentarily acquires a sock puppet named Jericho who speaks and behaves the way Cyril did before his brain trauma, and seemingly becomes consumed by it with some kind of split personality. ... Then Sister Marie says that's creepy, took it away and it was never addressed again.
  • Too Cool to Live: Due to the nature of Anyone Can Die, this is to be expected with despicable, but still enjoyable characters, some include: Simon Adebisi, Enrique Morales, Kareem Saïd, to name a few.
  • The Woobie: Beecher, Cyril, occasionally Alvarez, and Diane.
    • Also Father Mukada, sent to Oz because he questioned the conservative views of his powerful church patron, is clearly out of his depth in the madness and brutality of a maximum security prison.
    • Omar White could count as well, considering the fact that Mcmanus decides to stop giving him chances very soon after he actually begins earnestly heading in the right direction, and sends him back to solitary begging for forgiveness.
    • Eugene Dobbins. All he did while in Oz was play his cello and entertain everyone, and he became close friends with Augustus. But after his cello is destroyed simply because Vahue was angry, Eugene distances himself from everyone (including Hill) and just watches TV. And during the riot in Season 1, he's stabbed multiple times for no reason and ends up bleeding to death, despite Hill's desperate attempts to save him.
    • Guillaume Tarrant, while only appearing in a couple of episodes, could be considered one of the most tragic characters: Sent to a maximum security prison because of a minor crime (destroying a statue at a museum), he is instantly targeted by the stronger inmates (particularly Wangler). Then, he is manipulated by Adebisi into killing his tormentors (and a CO), and commits suicide immediately afterwards.


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