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OZ: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

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We gave it an A-

Before The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, HBO’s first original drama series confronted issues of crime and death with unfettered ferocity. Considering the show’s high mortality rate, it’s shocking how many of the current cons were around at the start, including sworn enemies Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) and Vern Schillinger (J.K. Simmons) in doughier forms; as Tergesen confesses on a giddy commentary with creator Tom Fontana, the actors got into shape once they realized how much nudity they’d have to do. Watch for glimmers of pre-Sopranos greatness from Edie Falco (as guard Diane Whittlesey) and Aida Turturro (as a prison PR flack, in deleted scenes). If HBO waits so long to release Oz’s next four seasons, it’ll be cruel and unusual punishment.