For years, HBO has been one of the more distinguished networks helping blur the lines of rich, engaged storytelling seen in film with short-form charm found on television. With immaculate narratives and performances seen in its acclaimed body of programming, the network’s latest dramatic series breathes life into the summer boob tube as the show to binge watch this season. If the pilot is any indication of its appeal, The Night Of is one of the more compelling dramas to grace our summer.
Premiering this past July, The Night Of might look and feel like a normal story with its likeable protagonist at the helm of its plot, but under the very sharply written narrative lies a darkness that is equally enthralling and distressing.
After borrowing his father’s taxi without permission, college student, Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed) attempts to drive to a party in Manhattan but is stopped by an bemused, young woman named Andrea (Sofia Black-D’Elia) who mistakens him for a real cab driver. Though Nasir tries to remove her from the cab, she enamors him and eventually, the two spend a drug-fueled night together. However, when Nasir wakes up alone in the kitchen of her Upper West Side apartment and finds her stabbed to death in the bedroom, the normal college student’s life is turned upside down as he runs with the knife, leaving behind evidence that points to him as the perpetrator.
Based off the BBC series, Criminal Justice, and created and written by Richard Price and Steven Zaillian, the modern day film noir full of pessimism and fatalism borrows from a disconsolate atmospheric trait seen in past HBO shows like True Detective, Oz and The Wire, a program Price created.
While its premise might seem vaguely familiar and look like its borrowed material from a slew of Law and Order episodes or even the popular podcast, “Serial,” The Night Of is a compulsively watchable series that tangles viewers in a web of misperception, half-truths and of course, muddled memories. The pilot alone leaves you haunted by that gnawing feeling in your gut of wonderment and perplexity, inspiring another viewing for clues and character flaws.
As an amply crafted and intricately performed murder mystery, the eight-part series will definitely keep viewers highly engrossed and devastated. As critics and viewers catch on to the biggest summer hit, there are a variety of reasons to watch before the series ends this August. With the fifth episode airing this Sunday on HBO, we share five reasons why you need to watch The Night Of.
The critics are right
Receiving critical acclaim from the masses and audiences each week, The Night Of is fast becoming a favorite among many with viewers taking note of HBO’s freshest offering. A garden of critics at Rotten Tomatoes gave it a certified fresh rating with a score of 95 percent, while Metacritic cited its “universal acclaim” with 90 percent. If that wasn’t enough for you, IMDb gives it a 9.1. Now if that doesn’t spell out, “must watch,” we’re not quite sure what does.
A sharp look at the criminal justice system
While the dialogue and performances are a huge part of the show’s appeal, the gritty and often times, scary look at the flawed criminal justice system and jail is another selling point of this rich, desolate series. Similar to the realism and grit exhibited in The Wire and Oz, The Night Of cross-examines that portrait of race, cultural differences and criminal justice through its procedures, language, and jail time while never denying racism and prejudice are alive in America. As armchair detectives being briefed week-by-week with a new narrative, we learn that things are never what they seem and that includes our justice system.
Cinematography and location
Kind of like The Wire, which was shot entirely on location in Baltimore, The Night Of gives the viewer an incredible sense of place as it’s filmed in the nooks and crannies of New York. From Jackson Heights to the Upper West Side, the series pays attention to the small or often concealed locations in the gorgeous city, including neighborhoods, the police station, and Rikers Island. Moreover, the location adds to the depth and wonder of its stylish cinematography. Perfect and encompassing dark tones and lighting, the framing and artistic approach to editing and design is incredibly naturalistic.
The diverse cast and performances
The beauty of HBO is its diversity with its ensembles. From Bill Camp as the pessimistic detective; to Amara Karan, a young lawyer trying to do the right thing; Michael K. Williams as a mysterious imprisoned man, and Poorna Jagannathan and Peyman Mooadi as Nasir’s naïve parents — The Night Of boasts a stellar cast, each enjoyable to watch.
While the supporting cast is phenomenal and helps elevate the story to an enriched experience for the viewer, Riz Ahmed as the affable and adorable Naz is by far one of the best roles on television this year. You might not have heard of Ahmed, but you will — especially this year. The 33-year-old British actor (and rapper) might be new to the U.S., but he definitely doesn’t seem like it. Previously seen in Jason Bourne and next in Star Wars: Rogue One, Ahmed is a real scene-stealer and perhaps 2016’s “It Boy.” Full of a wide-eyed innocence and trepidation, it’s exciting to watch him in every scene no matter who he’s acting alongside. Sure the things Naz did were inexorable, but it’s interesting and heartbreaking to watch his character unfold over the weeks in every layer possible.
Of course, someone has to defend Naz right? John Turturro as the quirky, good-hearted ambulance-chaser-type attorney, Jack Stone lucks out when he finds Nasir. Similar to Ahmed’s performance, Turturro’s is one that could definitely garner award nominations next year. Stone is a sympathetic character, very likable and incredibly sharp — even if his own feet get in the way. (You’ll only understand when you watch it.) His presence and virtuoso is felt in every scene as he injects dry wit and a bit of eccentricity to the series, which is crushingly dark and distressing. It can be noted that while Turturro is a natural in the role, it was one originally to be portrayed by the late James Gandolfini, who is still credited as an executive producer to the series. After The Sopranos star’s death in 2013, Robert De Niro was a name in the casting hat before Turturro landed it.
Just eight episodes…
Summer always seems to be the shortest season, doesn’t it? So much can happen in 10 weeks and that’s exactly what we’re seeing with Naz’s story. While there have been reports about a second season for The Night Of in the style of an anthology like True Detective, the show is a limited series of eight episodes and is perfect for those who don’t want a long commitment or multiple season marathons. It might be an excellent work of fiction, but it presents a very dramatic real-world feel that will leave you at the edge of your seat.
Are you tuning into HBO’s hottest summer hit this season? What do you think of The Night Of? Share with us your thoughts in the comments below.