TV Review - The Night Of

The HBO series follows a young man of color who is falsely accused of murder. We see the shady and shabby lawyer who works to exonerate him, while we see the bright and good man be changed and roughened as he's forced to survive in the tough and brutal environment that is Riker's Island, one of the toughest and most brutal jails in the country.

Created by Steve Zaillian and Richard Price, the series seems to be operating in the same vein or tone as other HBO dramas like The Wire. This show at the same time stands as a kind of critique of the criminal justice system.

The series is divided into three sections. One section is devoted to what it's like in Riker's Island for this accused man of color. The second section is devoted to the lawyers working for and against the accused man of color. The third section is what the parents of the accused man are experiencing in the wake of it all. The latter two sections work in this overall critique. The stuff in Riker's Island aren't really that effective. Orange is the New Black feels more effective and authentic than this, and that show is mainly a comedy.

Riz Ahmed (Four Lions and Nightcrawler) stars as Nasir Khan or "Naz," a college-age student who was born and raised in Brooklyn. His parents are of Pakistani descent, if not straight Pakistani immigrants. He happens to be Muslim. He's good and kind of a quiet kid otherwise.

One day, Naz is invited to a party with the jocks from his school in Manhattan somewhere. He has no way of getting there. He either has no time or no money to take the subway. He decides to steal his father's taxi cab. He does so but gets lost in the city. A strange girl gets into the cab and entices him back to her home on west 87th Street. They do drugs and have sex. Naz blacks out. When he wakes up, he's down in the kitchen and she's upstairs dead having been stabbed 22 times in her bed. Instead of calling the police, he panics and runs, but he accidentally takes the murder weapon and leaves a lot of evidence. He acts weird, gets pulled over and is eventually arrested for the crime.

John Turturro (O Brother, Where Art Thou and Transformers) co-stars as John Stone, the shabby lawyer who is a Columbo-like character. He's more of an ambulance chaser or takes cases like street-walkers and prostitutes. He happens to be in the jail when Naz is brought in and he sees potential for some reason, so he jumps on the case. Meanwhile, he's dealing with an annoying and rather disgusting skin rash on his feet. John also has an allergy to cats. Yet, he adopts the cat abandoned on 87th Street.

Seeing John go to Naz's parents and talk about being paid, as well as hitting the streets to build a defense is interesting, exciting and even funny. Watching the prosecution do the same is also funny in that it feels like the case against Naz is being built on biased opinion and lies. There is a scene over a naked, black corpse's genitalia that exemplifies this. It contrasts what John is doing, which is expose lies, not encourage them.

Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire and Boardwalk Empire) also co-stars as Freddy, an inmate who clearly has a lot of power in the jail. He promises to protect Naz from three hostile black guys. Freddy wants to turn Naz into one of his gang who will help him sneak drugs and whatever into the jail. It would make sense that Freddy set up Naz to be threatened to scare him, but the series shows no evidence of that.

In Part 4, Naz is attacked. An inmate who at first gives him advice then turns on Naz and burns him. Something that defies belief is the fact that Naz doesn't report who did it. Naz knows who did this, but he doesn't tell the warden or whoever is in charge. Naz keeps quiet. He doesn't snitch, which is a cultural thing that young men do, but it makes no sense here, unless he instantly planned to exact revenge, which also feels contrived.

Also, the design of the jail is such that Naz and a lot of the inmates sleep on cots in a huge, open floor where everyone can see everything. The prison guards have full view of everything presumably. Yet, we are led to believe that all the prison guards either don't care or are all corrupt. No one, not any guard, sees anything or realizes what's happening, and it's ridiculous. Even though its tone suggests seriousness, the show is more ridiculous than Orange is the New Black when it comes to the portrayal of the guards here.

Amara Karan (The Darjeeling Limited) plays Chandra Kapoor, a woman who works at a big law firm who takes on Naz's case. Besides having a pre-existing relationship with the Muslim community, and being relatively new, not much is learned about her. It makes her ridiculous when all of a sudden she kisses Naz. Ultimately, the kiss is meaningless. It seems designed to push John to give the closing statement, but having her kiss Naz didn't need to happen.

Jeannie Berlin (The Heartbreak Kid and Cafe Society) plays Helen Weiss, the prosecutor whose best moments are the scenes when she's cross-examining witnesses, specifically Naz himself. There's a lot of time wasted on John's home life, his sad personal life of him caring for a cat to which he's allergic and his skin condition. It's time that could have been devoted to learning more about the prosecutor.

Riz Ahmed is having a good year. He's getting a lot of acclaim for this role. He appeared in Jason Bourne and he's going to appear in Rogue One, the next Star Wars movie, which will certainly up his profile. This is simply evidence that he's a good actor but only as much as the first episode. and the last. The middle six episodes are not all that compelling.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 8 eps.
Available on HBO and DVD.


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