The season finale of HBO's prison series is strangely similar to the island showdown, says Bruce Fretts.
  • TV Show

”Survivor” cravings? Check out ”Oz”

Traditionally, late August is a time of great anticipation for TV fans. Summer rerun season is coming to an end, and we can look forward to the exciting new fall series. This year, the opposite is true. Having seen part or all of the freshman shows, I can testify that there’s very little of promise. Meanwhile, I’m in mourning over the recent season finales of two of TV’s most entertaining and innovative series: CBS’ ”Survivor” and HBO’s ”Oz.” (Tonight, 10 p.m.)

At first glance, these two programs might seem wildly different: One is a reality based game show set on a desert island, the other a superexplicit drama set inside a maximum security prison. But upon closer examination, shocking similarities start to emerge. Both series rack up alarmingly high body counts: Someone is voted off the island every week on ”Survivor,” and at least one prisoner is voted off the planet nearly every week on ”Oz.” Both provide insight into the human condition, proving nice guys finish last and ruthless bastards finish first. And both feature brilliantly chosen ensembles. In fact, almost every Survivor has a counterpart character on ”Oz.”

Richard matches up with Ryan O’Reilly (Dean Winters), the master of behind-the-scenes manipulation. Like the ultimate Survivor, O’Reilly is constantly hatching alliances to save his own skin and enrich himself.

Sean shares key traits with Cyril O’Reilly (Scott William Winters), Ryan’s brain damaged brother. Both are slow-witted, good-hearted chumps who just want to be liked by everyone — and often get exploited as a result.

Colleen and Greg try to deny their obvious love for each other, just like Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) and Chris Keller (Christopher Meloni). The inmates’ romance is a bit more tempestuous, however; lately, Keller’s been killing Beecher’s other boyfriends.

Rudy seems like a spiritual blood brother of white supremacist Vern Schillinger (J.K. Simmons). Both voice disdain for minorities (in Rudy’s case, it’s ”queers”) yet show glimmers of humanity (Rudy befriended Rich, Schillinger spared the life of his enemy Beecher’s kidnapped daughter).

Susan is a dead ringer for tough-talking guard Claire Howell (Kristin Rohde). Just be glad the truck driver didn’t bully any of the male castaways into a degrading affair the way Claire recently has with Ryan O’Reilly.

Gervase rolls through life like the paraplegic inmate Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau). Both attempt to get along with everybody while exerting minimal physical effort (Only for Gervase, it’s by choice).

B.B. and Sonja are aging eccentrics a la Robert Rebadow (George Morfogen) and Agamemnon Busmalis (Tom Mardirosian). Rebadow’s B.B.-like temper may mellow now that he’s had his brain tumor removed, but if Busmalis starts playing a ukulele like Sonja, he may be driven to kill again.

The parallels continue: Kelly was as morally conflicted as the once and future Emerald City unit manager Tim McManus (Terry Kinney); Jenna left her kids behind like the recently-executed Shirley Bellinger (Kathryn Erbe); Dirk wears his religion on his sleeve like Father Ray Mukada (B.D. Wong); Stacey‘s an attorney like jailhouse lawyer Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker); Joel enjoys working out like almost all the guys in Oz, etc. etc.

How will we survive without these series? The good news is, we only have to wait until January, when both ”Survivor” and ”Oz” will return with new episodes. Until then… hey, Craig T. Nelson’s got a new show!

  • TV Show