The Night Of series premiere recap/ review
A few spoilers below.
When beginning a television drama in these days, a viewer needs little more than a trailer and one-sentence summary before committing to a narrative. HBO’s newest mini-series “The Night Of” is no different. In the same vein of HBO’s other crime drama “True Detective,” “The Night Of” uses gritty, dark settings and flawed, misunderstood characters to twirl its yarn. New Yorker and crime screenwriter Michael Price (“The Wire,” Child 44) with Academy Award-winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) present a limited engagement series that examines a murder and each party involved with a seemingly objective point of view.
Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) stars as Naz, a bright university student living with his parents in Queens, New York, with his family. The son of Pakistani immigrants and entrepreneurs, Naz also volunteers as a tutor for athletes on his school’s basketball team. Director/ co-creator Zaillian perhaps spends a bit too much of the plot establishing how much the viewer needs to root for Naz, but accomplishes what he sets out to do nevertheless. A true New Yorker, he follows ‘Melo and travels via cab. Ahmed plays Naz as shy, but knowledgeable, and timid, but adventurous. This manifests best in the second act when he, with a companion, walks on the sidewalk and a bigoted passerby accuses our protagonist of being a terrorist simply because of his darker complexion. It’s easy to root for Naz…
…Until it just isn’t—and that’s where “The Night Of” propels with quality content. Destiny strikes when Naz boosts a cab co-owned by his father and heads deep into Manhattan for a party to which one of the basketball players invited him. A fare jumps into his cab and asks him to drive, and seeing that the fare is an attractive woman his age, he decides to just go with it. He hoped to meet a girl at the party and the cab accomplished this for him before he even arrived. A distant, almost disconnected girl, she never gives him a destination until they eventually wind up at her place to be alone together. A violent dare leads to experimental drugs leads to nearly-anonymous sex and when Naz comes down from his drug trip and wakes up to find his romantic partner violently stabbed to death in another room, he flees.
Naz panics, leaves, and finds himself eventually pulled over by cops for a traffic violation. Sitting in the back of the squad car, the police who arrest him are the same police who arrive first at the crime scene for his murdered rendezvous. He sits in the back of the car and we get the police reaction from Naz’s point of view. Exploring the entire spectrum of a murder certainly serves as a lofty goal for “The Night Of” and perhaps it’s a bit too lofty. The 78-minute episode drones on as Naz watches the crime scene unfold. One fact comes to mind as he sits in the back seat—we cannot count Naz out as a suspect. As far as the camera concerns itself, we faded from intimacy to waking up after the murder. A neighbor identifies Naz as leaving the premises in the cab, and the bigoted man also recognizes him at the station. The bigoted man also says he encountered Naz and the girl by himself, omitting the other man accompanying him on the sidewalk when later interrogated by police.
Pop culture staple and Coen brothers’ troupe performer John Turturro (The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) makes a brief appearance at the end of the episode. He sees Naz at the station and feels innately compelled to help. A defense attorney and fellow son of Pakistani immigrants, Turturro plays John Stone. Stone seems like a miracle for the terrified murder suspect and has no idea what sort of case he landed. He begs the age-old question: What have I gotten myself into this time?
Zaillian and Price present New York as it is: dark, exciting, full of wonder, and with just as much opportunity for success as tragedy. Ahmed leads a suspenseful, captivating drama with an empathetic performance as a seemingly good guy who winds up making the audience question everything presented regarding his character’s…well, character. The cameo from Turturro at the end promises for a broadened role to come. The untimely death of well-regarded character actor James Gandolfini set the production back a couple years; however, it was a pleasant tribute to see the late performer credited as an executive producer in such a quality series.