This show is going to have our attention all summer. (Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)
By this point, you’ve probably heard the phrase “The Golden Age of Television.” In addition to being just about the most pretentious qualifier you can bequeath a TV show you watched live as opposed to on-demand, “The Golden Age of Television” refers to a Mount Rushmore grouping of TV shows that zigged insanely hard when the rest of mainstream television was zagging along nonchalantly.
While the list of shows allowed to carry the “Golden Age” banner varies from critic to critic, the venn diagrams overlap the most over “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Lost,” “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men.” These shows were very unique, very polarizing, and were not for everyone, but each shared one significant trait: they proved what a TV show was capable of being.
While time will tell if “The Night Of” enters the G.A.O.T.G.O.A.T.(Golden Age of Television Greatest of All Time) discussion, its very existence is due largely in part to the aforementioned list of shows. They held the door open for HBO’s newest project and our Sunday nights are better for it.
What we needed was as an episodic-junk-food-show to snack on between the end Game of Thrones and the debut Westworld, and what we’re getting is the eight-course-tasting-menu-at Babbo when Mario Batali just happens to be in the back making pizzas. Oh, and we’re eating with Action Bronson. The show is going to be good is what I’m trying to say.
Recently, the “limited series” has had its finger so squarely on the pulse of what is cool, it is altering the collective heartbeat of prestige pop culture. “Serial,” “The Jinx,” “Making a Murderer” and “True Detective” have each had a moment at the top of the queue of the collective pop culture connoisseur. Each of these limited series felt like genre-bending efforts, but that has more to do with the execution of the material than anything else; both True Crime fiction and nonfiction pre-date the audio and visual mediums themselves.
Like the series of events that make up “The Night Of,” the right things have to happen at the right time in order for a show like this to make an impact. At a time when new media — podcasts, blogging, instant reacting via social media, and content streaming — is at its apex, and a new series that resembles something we already know we like — a limited run mystery with a True Crime flavor — a gem like “The Night Of” has the chance to really lock in the Sleeper Hold on the pop culture conversation.
From the opening moments of the premiere, you can tell that you’re watching something that will go right up on the shelf between “The Wire” and “Homicide.” The pedigree on this show is ridiculous; the fingerprints of the creators of “The Wire,” “Clockers,” “Schindler’s List” and “The Sopranos” are all over this project.
The 75-minute premiere of “The Night Of” begins with the Pakistani college student from Queens “borrowing” his father’s car and livelihood — an NYC taxi cab — to go to a party in Manhattan, and ends with him in jail as the lone suspect in the murder of a 22-year-old woman from the Upper West Side. Each of those 75 minutes gives us the framework of what we’ll be getting over the next seven weeks: a painstaking examination of the case against Nasir Khan. We get to see the the version of Nasir we want to believe. We get to see the series of decisions that will come back to haunt him. We get to see hints of the portrait of Nasir the show is going to paint.
It was one hell of a 75 minutes.
DON’T @ ME – SPOILERS COMIN’
From the earliest frames of the trailer for “The Night Of,” you know something truly terrible has happened. As soon as we meet our protagonist, the pit-in-stomach feeling that accompanies any true crime story triples in size. There is something so instantly relatable about Nasir — or Naz for short — and instantly likable about Riz Ahmed (the actor portraying him) that you can’t help but feel awful that something bad is about to happen. It’s not anticipation of watching a well-acted drama that is seeping into our pores; it’s guilt for wanting to keep watching the life of this character unravel heartbreakingly quickly before our eyes. If it is possible to wash film in anxiety, the production team of “The Night Of” has figured out how.
Naz is the kind of New York kid even the staunchest of homers can get behind; a protagonist of near pre-radioactive spider bite Peter-Parkerian levels. The first few minutes of the episode establish him as a good student, a basketball team tutor, and a respectful son, so right there we know the events that befall Naz are going to be gut-wrenching.
The first 20 minutes of “The Night Of” is a fun house mirror version of a teen movie. We’ve seen it before: The studious kid finally gets invited to a real party downtown, makes a bold decision in his attempt to make this specific night one for the ages, meets a manic pixie dream girl and has the kind of experience his friends will never believe.
Act One of “The Night Of”: “Can’t Hardly Wait” crossed with “Dazed and Confused.”
What teen movies rarely show the audience are the dire circumstances that follow these seemingly lighthearted choices, the consequences of which make up the remaining 55 minutes. Every questionable decision, every seemingly out-of-character move Naz makes gets stacked like an elaborate pattern of dominos. By the time we’ve watched Naz rescue a girl from unknown evil, take pills of unknown origin and chase tequila with cocaine, something bad happening to Naz is as inevitable as the sun coming up. These actions stand so staunchly opposed to the actions we would normally associate with a “good kid from a good family” we can’t help but feel like we want to scream at him, “Naz! Get Outta There!”
Act Two of The Night Of: Every horrible thing your parents warned you would happen when you break curfew.
What follows is what great TV shows are made of: agonizing detail portrayed by brilliantly cast actors acting against beautiful set pieces all designed to oscillate that pit in your stomach that’s been growing since the opening credits.
And the dominoes fall.
And everything unravels.
And you know you’re in real trouble now.
In the final act of the premiere, fate connects Naz with John Stone (played by John Turturro), a lawyer whose whole body is screaming “I HAVE SEEN TOO MUCH,” as he’s crushing an outfit that includes a trenchcoat and open-toed sandals worn to aerate the eczema on his feet; a general demeanor is one of I’m-Getting-Too-Old-For-This-Stuff-Of-Which-I’m-Getting-Too-Old.
Stone is starting from the deep, dark place that Naz has fallen to, and the audience feels, much like Stone does, that he has been down there in the deep for far too long. Sheer coincidence has paired these two together and a lifeline the width of dental floss have them bound to the floor.
Act Three ends with the sun coming up on the worst night in the life of our main character and dominoes falling all around every person his life touches. Guaranteed all the clues we need to solve this mystery have already been shown to us.
Did you see them?
Clues and Questions We’re Tracking During ‘The Night Of’
- Naz is writing with his left hand on his math class — seems inconsequential, but will most likely be important.
- Naz seems like a good kid, but is he? He takes a pill with a happy face on it and starts doing bumps of cocaine awful quick for a math tutor who lives at home with his parents and little brother.
- How does Andrea (the victim) have her own brownstone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan?
- Theory: She’s the daughter of a 9/11 victim. She inherited the house, or received a settlement and was able to buy it. How else would a 22-year old live on 87th street by herself?
- Naz parks in front of a fire hydrant and gets a ticket. What time did he get the ticket? How long was he in the house?
- The timeline will become very important. There are several time stamped events in Episode One:
When Naz leaves Queens:
When Naz gets pulled over after fleeing the scene of the crime:
When the police find the knife on Naz in the station, Detective Box asks the arresting officers what time they picked him up. The officers respond with, “at about oh-two-hundred,” or 2:00 a.m.
The arresting officer listing the discovery of the body at 2:30 a.m.:
The whole thing took place in less than five hours?
- Due to the amount of substances that Naz took, are we dealing with an unreliable narrator? Are we seeing his version of the story and only what he is able to remember?
- How did Naz end up in the kitchen? And how is he not covered in blood?
- The knife and presumed murder weapon is on the coffee table where Naz and Andrea left it when they went upstairs.
- Coroner lists the fatal wounds on Andrea to be chest, stomach, and hands. Are the hand wounds defensive wounds or is it the wound from when she and Naz played the knife game from Alien and she lost incredibly badly?
- WHAT IS WITH THE CAT?!
Andrea lets her cat out prior to she and Naz getting after it:
An eerily similar-looking cat stalks around Naz’s house the morning after all of these events take place:
- The cat has gone from the Upper West Side of Manhattan/ The scene of the crime, to Queens/ The home of the prime suspect in approximately six hours.
- A unknown party — The “Jay of The Night Of”‘ — has moved the cat on purpose.
- The cat is a literary device to show that the truth is closer than you think/ under our noses the whole time/ it’s some sort of Malcolm Gladwell “What The Dog Saw” type of clue.