: I’m quoted in this week’s TV Guide as Tom Fontana recalls the critical reception for the premiere of his series, Oz:
For me, Oz became a microcosm of our society. And that annoyed some people. While the New York Times found the show “gripping,” the former TV Guide critic Jeff Jarvis believed that Oz was “insulting.”
Good, I thought. My goal was to provoke debate. I’ve never pretended to have any answers, only uneasy questions. By creating fictitious characters in a fictitious prison, I’ve tried to approximate the truth…
I didn’t like Oz when it premiered in 1997. I can’t find my review of it now, but I remember complaining that I could not see the value in watching evil battle evil every week; there were no lessons to be learned from these empty souls; there was no sympathy to be found in this place. And if all Mr. Fontana wanted to do was provoke a reaction, well, I can’t stand that performance-art M.O.: art as manipulation.
In the beginning, I took Oz to be a cynical act — either trying to shock us with its evil or to manipulate us with its shock value.
But in time, I saw that quite to the contrary, Oz usually gave us exactly what Fontana now says he set out to deliver: truth. It is an honest show, brutally, cravenly honest. And I crave honesty on TV, in media, in entertainment, for there is too damned little of it. That is why I like Howard Stern and that is why I like so many of HBO’s shows and that is why I enjoy FoxNews. They say what they think and don’t fear what we think. That is far from “insulting.”
Perhaps back in ’97, I also had a different view of the world. Maybe I was too optimistic and refused to see Oz as the microcosm it, unfortunately, frequently is. Perhaps I was too pessimistic — not enough of a humanist, or a populist… or a Christian — and could not see the small flicker of humanity even in these dark souls. Whatever.
Oz is simply great entertainment. Today, I spent 20 minutes in the office reliving the great lines and scenes from last night’s final-season premiere with a fellow fan. This weekend (in Church!) I shared my confession with another fan: that watching Oz has probably made us all more law-abiding citizens, for we sure as hell don’t want to end up in that hell on earth, which looks worse than any hell God may have created. I’m not driving drunk. I’m not cheating on taxes. I’m not breaking any laws. So, sir, not me. I’m not going to be Hank’s bitch!
I left TV Guide soon after I wrote my original review and so I never got the chance to recant my view on Oz — or at least to acknowledge that I got sucked into the series and now find that it does have value. Depending on how you look at that, either I’m admitting I was wrong (which, as a critic, I did often) or I’m arguing the show got better. Whatever. I like Oz. I’m a fan.