It’s a rare thing when a TV show possesses all the right ingredients; from great acting, top-notch writing and directing, to an enthralling storyline. “The Night Of” has all this and more; it’s depressing, it’s moving, and it’s gripping – I haven’t binge-watched a TV show since “Breaking Bad”, but after viewing the first episode last night, I was compelled to watch the next and then the next until the birds started chirping and the sun came up.
“The Night Of” is a miniseries comprised of eight episodes (which was shown on HBO in America back in July) but it has only just been aired in the UK on Sky Atlantic. If you haven’t watched it, I urge you to do so, and if you have some time, you can download the entire series on Sky and watch all the episodes back-to-back.
The plot of the show concerns the consequences of a few random and bad decisions made one night by Business student Nasir Khan (played by Riz Ahmed). I won’t go into too much detail but the plot surrounds a chance encounter with a beautiful woman named Andrea, some drugs, some sex, passing out, and waking up to a murder scene. With Nasir being charged for a crime he may or may not have committed, the plot-line is enough to put you off a one-night stand for the rest of your life.
The show then follows Nas from the precinct to the prison, he encounters cops, lawyers, and inmates along the way, and the storyline shows how race, religion, money, and hierarchy affects every level of life. It shows the perils and the flaws in the judicial system, and you witness the transformation of a timid college kid to an inmate in Riker’s Island.
The show makes some important comments about society and life. Similar to Ahmed’s other great work “Nightcrawler”, “The Night Of” shows the legal system in the same light as the news media – a cut-throat business where people are immoral, where people ignore what’s right for the furtherance of their careers. “The Night Of” also shows the similarities between institutions; from the Prison system to the Medical system (and I would add Hospitals and Schools to this mix) – the fact that people are pushed through a conveyor belt without any attention paid to the consequences, so long as certain people ‘higher up’ benefit… here’s what you can and can’t do, here’s what you wear, obey authority, obey the rules – going through the system without consideration for people’s feelings or the end result for the individual.
There’s also great comments about post-9/11 prejudice, from outright bigotry to “ethnic-banter” (as Wiley would call it). Since the central character is a Muslim-American, “The Night Of” does a particularly good job at showing casual Islamophobia in the present day, it also makes clear that a Muslim person of colour being accused of a crime in contemporary society is treated differently than let’s say a white Christian.
The great thing about the portrayal of racism in “The Night Of” is that it’s shown from all races and all sections of society; every race and every class has good and bad people, and just when you think a particular type of person thinks or acts in a certain way, another person of the same demographic says or does something to change your perception.
The programme also reinforces the idea of Reasonable Doubt and similar to “12 Angry Men“, “The Night Of” asks the jury and the viewer to keep in mind that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution and that everybody is innocent until proven guilty. The show also features brilliant and almost poetic metaphors like Nas (a small-framed, weak, and intimidated lad) being locked amongst seasoned felons and Andrea’s cat being placed into a predominantly dog-filled animal shelter.
Aside from the poetry there’s also poignancy, “The Night Of” contains tonnes of emotion, the first few episodes are completely bleak and depressing (which is apt considering the plot) and this is thanks to the brilliant acting and directing. The show also features a great cast including Michael Kenneth Williams playing the ex-boxer and lifer at Riker’s who befreinds Nas, there’s of course a fantastic performance by Riz Ahmed in the lead role, and John Turturro is also great as the eczema-suffering lawyer John Stone. Ahmed, an Actor and a part-time Rapper must have been in his element alongside a cast that includes Brand Nubian’s Lord Jamar, Onyx’s Sticky Fingaz, Naughty By Natures’ Treach, and Grime artist Bashy.
“The Night Of” is just the right mixture of intrigue, thrills, and drama, the miniseries is captivating from the start and it keeps you engrossed in the unfolding plot, it also makes you care about almost all the characters involved. So not to be an obvious, straight-forward storyline, there’s also a slight did-he/didn’t-he plot, and as you witness bursts of anger and violence from Khan, you begin to wonder if he did indeed commit the crime. There’s also sub-plots surrounding Stone’s family and Khan’s family, and everybody’s jobs, money problems, and ailments are intertwined with the main investigation and incarceration to make for an absorbing and compelling TV Show. “The Night Of” is very bleak and dispiriting, but not in a stylised way, and this makes the story all the more believable. Like real life there isn’t a Hollywood-style contrived happy ending, and the final few scenes with Turturro’s closing statement to the jury and then Khan sitting by “the beach” with and without Andrea brings a tear to the eye.
The end which features a retired detective being encouraged to further his investigation is ever-so-slightly open-ended, I just hope they don’t ruin it if HBO convince the writer and director (Richard Price and Steven Zaillian) to make a second series, I feel that “The Night Of” is great as a standalone show and should be left as it is – an engrossing, credible, convincing, and satisfying piece.
A Night Of Intrigue.