In Review

The Night Of: New police crime drama is 'magnificent'

Riz Ahmed and John Turturro shine in a 'tense' and 'gripping' TV series that 'could be the best show you watch this year'

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After enthralling US audiences, HBO's crime drama The Night Of is coming to UK screens this week. But in a television era awash with brooding antiheroes, what makes this show stand out?

The eight-part drama, written by Richard Price (The Wire) and Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List, Gangs of New York, Moneyball), is based on the British television series Criminal Justice. It follows Nasir "Naz" Khan (Riz Ahmed), a naive college student living in New York who takes his father's taxi for a night out. He picks up a mysterious girl and goes back to her house for a night of sex and drugs, but wakes up to find her stabbed to death and is charged with her murder. Monk star John Turturro plays Naz's world-weary defence attorney John Stone.

Critics have hailed the series a triumph.

The ill-shaven, dimly lit, brooding antihero has become something of a cliche, which makes the "simple beauty and unexpected power" of The Night Of even more remarkable, says Mary McNamara in the Los Angeles Times. That and Turturro's extraordinary performance.

The series is crammed with familiar tropes, from the beautiful young woman brutally stabbed to the many HBO alumni including Price, and it uses HBO's array of sped-up street scenes and dark, urban-weary tones. Then there's the fact that James Gandolfini was originally cast in the Turturro role before his death, adding to the weight of expectation.

However, instead of sinking, the series "sings", says McNamara – "mournfully, triumphantly, poignantly" of failed dreams and second chances, but also as "an anthem to television's unique power to turn a series of understated performances into sustained magnificence".

James Poniewozik of the New York Times calls The Night Of a "tense and exquisite" series that is also a detailed procedural "with a difference". He says the series has more in common philosophically with the podcast Serial or Netflix's Making a Murderer, or even this year's OJ Simpson series.

It's akin to the true-crime stories "that suggest that who is locked up, for what, is largely a matter of resources and random fate".

The Night Of is powerful because it draws on real life miscarriages of justice and puts the viewer in the shoes of someone in this terrible predicament, says Benji Wilson in the Daily Telegraph. And it's "gripping" drama because it is meticulously plotted with "the steady, inescapable momentum of an oncoming train".

It's all done "at a stately pace and with a fixation on detail", says Wilson, who compares it to a barrister, accumulating apparent incidentals that build up to create a compelling narrative.

Wilson adds: "It could be the best show you watch this year."

The Night Of starts on 1 September at 9pm on Sky Atlantic, with all episodes available on Sky Box Sets.

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