As many wise people stated before me, we DO live in the era of television. The modern shows are not the cheap and schlocky soap operas that accompanied families during suppers. While still some may possess those lower-class qualities, HBO’s The Night Of belongs to the most appealing series of 2016.
Naz Khan (Riz Ahmed) is an exemplary son from a Muslim family, who lives in New York. One night, he sneaks out of his parents’ house, gets in his father’s cab and plans to go to a party he’s been invited to. Yet, a series of bad decisions lead Naz to a crime scene, where he seems to be the only suspect. His only hope is then John Stone (John Turturro) – an eccentric lawyer with serious health problems.
First things first – The Night Of doesn’t follow a typical whodunit scheme as it may seem after the pilot. As we are introduced to the brutal murder, there is already a feeling of distinctiveness of the story – it’s not the crime that really matters here. The focus is transferred from the crime itself to the surroundings, everyone involved. There is more emphasis put on the character development – mainly Naz and John – that gives space to the actors to fully chew on their roles. As a consequence, the performances of Riz Ahmed and John Turturro are the essence of HBO’s show – especially the second one is the glowing star, who melts in the role entirely, with his final monologue being one of the most memorable scenes of the year.
Nonetheless, there is beauty in this approach, this switch of the creator’s interest. Whilst Ahmed becomes the center of things in the pilot, the story reveals quickly that his wretched character progressively becomes a planet spiraling around bigger ones, never grasping as much attention as his representative in the face of the system – John Turturro – the covered-up protagonist of the show. Because at some point it becomes clear, that Naz is just a cog in the machine – sadly not that important, no matter what the verdict ends up being. The real main character is the juridical system and the racism present in it, which is contradicted and questioned by John. Thus, the crime is a platform to discuss, which is the most worrying of it all – the crime itself or how easily and hastily we wish to find the guilty one?
Even though it is a court drama in a vast part of the show, it’s far from 12 Angry Men or Witness For Prosecution, as it swiftly jumps from character to character, painting a broad image of the case, which also gives the freedom to mix genres. What’s more, the right chords are played thanks to the cinematography and soundtrack. The direction, the camerawork – all is in good shape, keeping the vibe of the various genres. The court scenes are portrayed with long, uncut shots, focusing our attention at the dialogues, whilst this manner changes as The Night Of transforms the tone to the social drama. This is also accompanied by the exquisiste and elegant soundtrack by Jeff Russo, with a memorable main theme (and what an intro this series has!).
Yet, HBO’s hot-shot is not free of drawbacks, with the main one being the number of plotholes. To fully enjoy the show, the viewer needs to accept some brachylogies. Undoubtedly, Naz’s transformation from a terrified boy to being a gangster’s right hand might be overly sketched and dramatic. However, it’s not as if it felt entirely artificial, as the point of the entire series is how the fallible system forges criminals. Nonetheless, it still feels exaggerated and could have been executed with more subtlety. Digging into some opinions regarding The Night Of, I also found that many viewers indicated a dissapointing ending – personally I found it one of the most satisfying endings in any TV show. No sugar-coating, no unncessary shocking – life. So you name it.
The plethora of notable shows that emerge each year proves, that some incredible changes took place in television. Whilst The Night Of certainly has its flaws, it’s a solid piece of work – well-crafted and thought-over series and another high-career peak for John Turturro. Even though it doesn’t leave a promising entry for a second season, I second that – not every remarkable show needs a follow-up of forced-out creations.