Spoiler Alert: This is a full season review!
“The Night Of” on HBO started off strong and with so much promise. The first episode was the perfect setup. What could have gone wrong? As an audience member, I could see the trap being set and I wanted to know how Nasir “Naz” Khan, the deer-in-headlights kid from Queens would come out alive.
Episode One starts by setting up Nasir’s character. It’s great. It’s detailed, well-paced, and gives you everything you need to solve the murder that Nasir is being accused of. That is, everything you need if Nasir did the crime. Each character was well-rounded and full, from the Nasir’s family to the night cops on duty to the guy who called the cops in the first place. And John Tuturro (always a personal favorite) was so good, so perfectly schluppy, greasy, and cynical, I couldn’t even imagine James Gandolfini in the part (RIP). But Nasir, as played by British actor/rapper Riz Ahmed, is by far the most compelling performance in this series. His transformation from beginning to end will surely be worth an Emmy nod next year.
The next few episodes focus on the law-and-order type ordeals. Getting a lawyer, getting the plea, getting a new lawyer, changing the plea. The detective gets more evidence. John Tuturro gets a cat. You see the case form and unfold before your very eyes. This is reason we watch SVU and CSI. But it never seems like a soap opera. The show’s vibe, it’s delicate pacing and it’s attention to detail make it all the more intriguing as the audience. The style is perfect crime-noir drama. It was like Luther, Prime Suspect, and True Detective all over again, but this time set in my own back yard. I was hooked.
Episodes 4-7 is where the show started to lose me. John Stone (John Tuturo) is off the case, but still following evidence. A new lawyer Chandra is there, following new leads. Some of which are boring and obvious; one of which is incredibly creepy and downright scary. When Nasir was arrested, the lawyers (and writers) initially made his case a race issue, using it to showcase the Islamic-phobia of America.
But after that, this aspect is dropped as quickly as his plea deal.
The show is best when it’s not a morality tale on “post-racial” America, but when it’s about a family, a kid, a lawyer with dreams, and a seemingly perfect crime. Too bad the style of the of changes as often as the new suspects. The plots meander and the show makes pit stops in genres like Who-Dun-It, Cop Procedurals, Courtroom Drama and Prison Drama.
When Nasir goes the prison, the focus changes.
The focus is on Nasir and not only his ability to adapt. It becomes about his willingness to become a harder, tougher person. He feeds into the toxic masculinity of prison. And for me, that change was not interesting. There was no struggle for him. He was so quick to become a gang banger, I was sure that it was not just for survival. We already know from the first episode that Naz desperately want to fit in, to be cool. It’s the impotence for him going out on “the night of”.
But when the show went from crime drama to psycho-prison thriller I got very bored.
And when he delved into drugs, I literally fell asleep. Like, my boyfriend and I were watching and I fell asleep on him. I did miss a few big moments, but nothing he couldn’t explain after in a few sentences.
There’s a pseudo-romance between the Naz and his lawyer Chandra which pissed me off to no end. Because a young female lawyer definitely has the capacity NOT to fall for her young, suddenly very fit, client. But not in this world. In this world, Chandra needs the help of an older man to do her research and she can’t help but break all the ethics and laws for the man she’s trying to prove is innocent.
Shame on you, writers.
Not only did you waste precious time, you also allowed fallacy into argument. Could she have been flawed? Sure! She could have been power-hungry, conniving, a liar. But weak in the face of a doe-eyed possible murderer? Didn’t work.
One of the themes of this show is about the incompetency of the justice system. But the only people held accountable for their actions were two young Muslims: Naz and Chandra, a woman of color. They’re the only people who literally or metaphorically go on trial for their wrongdoings. That was lazy and frankly infuriating.
From that point on, the show lost me.
They never regained the meticulous nature of the pilot. The “big twist” at the end wasn’t big at all. It was predictable. They find the real guy, and Naz goes free. And in truth, the ending presented isn’t happy. Naz and his family are fractured, Naz clearly has PTSD, his lady lawyer has her career in the trashcan, and John Stone is still a ambulance chancer.
But everyone is changed and in a profound way.
Which might be enough for you. But not for me.