Since the conclusion of the most recent season for Game of Thrones, HBO has somewhat struggled in finding their next big series hit. Their mini-series department on the other hand has consistently met expectations with its engrossing storytelling and committed performances. The premiere episode of the network’s latest miniseries, The Night Of, highlights those aforementioned aspects in full force, and provides an immaculately detailed beginning to procedural storytelling at its finest.
Loosely based on the British drama series, Criminal Justice, The Night Of is set in present-day New York City, and follows Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed), a Pakistani-American college student who one night takes his father’s taxi cab to attend a party outside of the Queens borough he and his family live in. Struggling to find his way to the party’s address, he inadvertently picks up a young woman. She later invites him to a night of sex and drugs at her apartment, which helps shed him of his relatively shy personality. On a night that is too good to be true for Naz, he wakes up to a scene of horror when he finds the woman stabbed to death. He can’t recollect what happened and frantically flees the scene of the crime. His escape is short-lived as he is arrested for a traffic violation, which lands him at one of the city’s night watch stations. Naz’s luck worsens when evidence from the murder is all on him, and he is also singled out as the suspect by several witnesses. Refusing to talk anymore to the officers and detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp), he asks for a lawyer and finds one in cynical schlub, Jack Stone (John Turturro).
Co-created by Oscar-winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian and acclaimed novelist Richard Price, The Night Of presents a mountain of intrigue in its pilot. Similar to The Wire, which Price wrote multiple episodes, the show develops an intricate procedural that also functions as an indictment of flaws in the criminal justice system. The law enforcement characters act a lot more on impulse rather taking a certain amount of time to think about how to handle various situations, and their questionable decisions factor highly into the anxiety-inducing reveals of mounting evidence from the murder. Although it’s almost too easy to confidently assume Naz killed the woman, Zaillian and Price take no time to point out other potential suspects, which are ingeniously hinted at in briefs cuts of the episode’s crisp editing. Race is also bound to be a recurring theme where Naz’s Pakistani background is frowned upon a few times, which smartly allegorizes the ongoing, post-9/11 era of NYC.
Ahmed shows early brilliance in his portrayal of Naz, who’s subdued in his eagerness to live on the edge for what seems to be the first time in his life. Once discovering the dead girl, the fear kicks in and the emotion is elegantly conveyed in his distressed eye contact with others, in addition to a skittish line delivery that expresses either pure innocence or an act to hide the guilt. Turturro, one of the greatest working character actors, fully eats up his solo scene that shows Stone’s intention to immediately inflict a firm control of Naz’s damaged psyche.
The premiere for The Night Of is slowly paced, but once the credits roll you’ll be avidly waiting for the second episode’s air date. Both its plot and realistic atmosphere are nothing short of absorbing and it’ll very likely be a sympathy gift from HBO to those that were disappointed by the second and likely final season of True Detective. If you have a subscription to HBO Go or HBO Now, I highly implore you take to take advantage of early access to the episode before its July 10th TV airing.