In the 25 years since we first met Tobias, Vern, Ryan and the rest of the distinctive, damaged (and distinctively damaged) inmates in television’s most terrifying prison, there's no doubt that Oz left its mark on prestige TV. Raw, unfiltered and brutally honest, Oz anticipated the coming wave of serialized drama. Below, a few other HBO shows that followed its lead:
Before there was anti-hero Tony Soprano, there was Vern Schillinger, demented Aryan gang menace. Vern was ruthless and manipulative, but illustrating his motives and psychosis gave viewers a window into how and why he came to be. So it was with Tony Soprano, whose understanding of his motivations came with the added benefit of professional therapy.
David Simon’s crime epic famously dared to present an expansive, all-encompassing perspective on how people are failed by their institutions. Oz, honing in on the system’s failure to rehabilitate and restore its inhabitants, presented a template for modern dramatic narratives that seek to understand the reasons why.
Oz’s collection of villainous inmates has much in common with Boardwalk Empire’s motley crew of evildoers. Gyp Rosetti and Valentin Narcisse had hair-trigger tempers that bear similarities to Vern Schillinger and James Robson’s compulsions for vengeance.
The Night Of
Oz notably presented an unflinching (though admittedly hyperbolic) window into prison violence. In The Night Of, Nasir Khan lives in a specter of jailhouse brutality that like Tobias, both victimizes him and mutates him into a tragically different person.
Game of Thrones
In Oz, anyone could die, even the series’ ostensible lead in the first episode. The idea that no one is safe carries forward on Game of Thrones, which has no qualms about saying goodbye to principal characters. The two shows also share a medieval approach when it comes to depicting these deaths; a throat slit by sharp fingernails, a facing melting away on Oz would not feel out of place in Westeros.
Spend some time inside: Watch every episode of HBO’s first hour-long drama on HBO NOW.