The opening credits montage shown throughout season two of HBO’s prison drama Oz offers tantalising glimpses of scenes that will eventually occur. One of these is a full-frontal nude shot of Chris Keller (Christopher Meloni) being thrown in the hole, Oswald Correctional Facility’s special punishment cell. While the naked hole scene isn’t happening for a couple of weeks in the current SBS schedule, this Monday 19 July you can enjoy Meloni’s first official penis shot of the series. The dick so familiar to opening credits watchers comes out in a nude shower scene with the inmate who will eventually become Keller’s bitch, Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen).

From the beginning we realise Keller’s affair with Beecher is part of a revenge plot devised by arch villain Vern Shillinger (J.K. Simmons). Eventually their love affair becomes a central storyline -“ be patient, it’s not in season two -“ which partially explains the show’s cult gay following in the US. Oh, and did we mention the abundant full-frontal nudity?

The really revolutionary thing about Oz is the fearlessness of the actors. Meloni’s role is particularly juicy, and he doesn’t hold back. The best characters tend to be simultaneously scary and funny: Dean Winters, riveting as handsome Ryan O’Reilly, whose love for prison doctor Gloria Nathan transcends the typical soap opera material; Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as the powerful black warrior Simon Adebisi, prone to unpredictable violence and unusual sexual practices; and Kirk Acevedo as the plucky yet hapless Miguel Alvarez, perpetually caught between a rock and a hard place.

Oz suffers from weak scripts and poor production values -“ this was HBO’s very first drama series and their budgets were a lot lower than for their recent Angels In America. Plot lines are hurriedly introduced, then hastily dropped. Harold Perrineau’s Greek chorus schtick is often laboured. Acting and direction are uneven, with stars like Rita Moreno, B.D. Wong and Eamonn Walker regularly guilty of hammy moments.

Nevertheless, the series really hits its stride in SBS’s current season, culminating in a magnificently intense season finale (scheduled for 30 August) which is full of Oz’s trademark over-the-top violence -“ eye-gouging, a graphic crucifixion, and Shillinger’s bone-crunching revenge.

SBS is showing the first three Oz seasons back-to-back. The last three seasons will be shown in 2005.

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