Oz (HBO, Wednesday, summer series)

Ever since I saw my first episode of "Oz" two summers ago, I haven't been able to figure out if it's one of the best television shows I've ever seen or one of the worst. I think it's both. I've never seen a more graphic, horrific show than this one, from the creators of NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street." And from a moralistic standpoint, there's never been a worse series: every sin imaginable is shown in explicit detail. But that's exactly the strength of this show. It's a true shock to the system. I've never been more confronted with the brutal reality of sin and its consequences than I have been through this show. No fictional television program has made me lie in my bed thinking about issues of justice before. I cannot recommend the show. In fact, I strongly recommend against watching it. All I can say is that it's the most powerful hour of television I've ever seen.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB, Tuesday)

Plenty of caveats for this one, too. Yes, the show has shown increasing deference to Wicca this year. And yes, it sometimes speaks out of both sides of its mouth on the violence issue. But for adult viewers, the show's strengths surpass its surface weaknesses. Taken as a whole, the writing is simply brilliant, mastering metaphor, parable, and actual drama more deftly than any film I saw this year. And, in a striking difference between "Buffy" and most other shows, the characters actually change over time. Good characters succumb to temptation and are forever changed. Evil characters experience redemption (usually through sacrifice). All characters learn from their experiences.

The Simpsons (Fox, Sunday)

Ten years old and it's still funny week after week. In 1992, George Bush (the one ...

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