July 10, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Night Of”


THE NIGHT OF:  Sunday 9PM on HBO – DVR Alert

“Noisy” is the byword of the television moment, and HBO makes noise as well as any programming service, whether its shows are laden with dragons, foul-mouthed politicians or coke-snorting record executives.  Every so often, though, the network demonstrates that it can also deliver unadorned old-fashioned excellence.  That was the case with last year’s Show Me A Hero, and based on its opening installment, it’s very much the news of THE NIGHT OF, which kicks off tonight with a superbly gripping 79-minute thriller of an episode.

The Night Of is adapted from a British series called Criminal Justice, but it’s been not just thoroughly Americanized, but specifically New York-ized, so much so that it earns comparison with the classic police dramas of Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Prince of the City) and the novels and screenplays of Richard Price (Clockers, Sea of Love, not to mention a TV apprenticeship as a writer/producer of Baltimore-based The Wire).  That last comparison is far from coincidental, since Price co-created The Night Of with Steven Zaillian, whose own screenwriting credits include Schindler’s List.  No one is better at getting into the heads of cops, lawyers and other denizens of the system than Price, and handing them dialogue that’s succinct, pungent and often side-of-the-mouth hilarious.

The opening episode of The Night Of, though, mostly puts us into the headspace of Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed), who goes by Naz.  He’s a naive, uncool college student of Pakistani extraction who lives with his family in Queens, and we meet him as he’s about to embark on the best and then most horrific night of his life.  Naz has uncharacteristically borrowed his dad’s yellow cab without permission, tempted by an invitation to a hot Manhattan party from some of the basketball players he tutors.  Dreamgirl Andrea (Sofia Black D’Elia) gets in the cab–Naz can’t find the switch for the Off-Duty light–and what begins as a rom-com turns into a Hitchcockian exercise in suspense.  Because we know what kind of story this is, we watch Naz make every impulsive yet understandable error in judgment possible and feel rising dread for him, yet Price (who wrote the opening episode) and Zaillian (who directed), as well as cinematographer Robert Elswit, a longtime associate of Paul Thomas Anderson, and editor Jay Cassidy, a David O. Russell stalwart, tantalize us dramatically and visually with the possibility that Naz may yet make it through the night and avoid disaster by sheer chance.

No such luck, of course.  At least for now, Price and Zaillian are keeping the details of what Naz was doing during the crucial minutes to themselves, because their interest is really in what happens afterward, the steady drip-drip of process and character that tighten the shackles around Naz’s fate.  What keeps all this from feeling like a mere procedural, or a depressing pile-up of fatalism, is the array of sharply-drawn characters and dialogue.  Ahmed is the centerpiece of the story, and his quiet charisma keeps us on Naz’s side even as his mistakes keep mounting, but the rest of the cast, in a very Lumet-like way, is filled with a who’s who of “that guy” actors, including Bill Camp, Ben Shenkman and Kevin Dunn.  A late arrival to the episode is the other lead, Naz’s shambling attorney Jack Stone, played by John Turturro in the role originally intended for James Gandolfini (who developed the project and retains a posthumous Executive Producer credit), briefly seen but a natural for this ensemble.

The Night Of is intended as a 8-part limited series, although Gandolfini originally developed it as a continuing anthology.  If the rest of its narrative lives up to its tense, crackling introduction, we may not want it to vanish anytime soon.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."