The season 2 premiere of HBO’s The Leftovers (which aired last October) used the interesting tactic of dedicating almost an entire hour-long episode to new, previously unknown characters and saving its main star- Justin Theroux- for the final 10 minutes of the episode. Viewers were caught off guard by this revolutionary, inverted storytelling tactic; only on HBO can a show hide its biggest name for 50 minutes without losing viewers. The Night Of, a new 6-part miniseries from the same prestigious network, is being sold on the back of the great John Turturro, occupying a lawyer role once attached to James Gandolfini (credited posthumously as Executive Producer) and Robert De Niro. Yet Turturro doesn’t appear on screen, nor is his character mentioned or implied, until the 67th minute of a 78-minute first episode. That’s called taking a risk.
And it pays off, for our leading man throughout this introductory episode is Riz Ahmed’s Naz, a young Pakistani-American man who gets caught up in a lot of nasty business involving his father’s borrowed taxi cab, reasonable consumption of cocaine and a horrific murder. By dedicating a full hour to “the suspect”, with their pursuant detective as only a peripheral character, The Night Of is breaking countless rules of crime television, and it does so with immense style and virtuoso.
This episode is shot with the same dark contrasts used on True Detective (both seasons) and much of The Wire. The decision to shoot in New York City pays off enormously, with the show’s consecutively, consistently engrossing scenes rooted firmly in their locations: the gridded landscape of the city portrayed in the opening titles houses this story of procedural nightmare. Naz’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad night- where everything that can go wrong does go wrong- sets the stage for 5 more gripping instalments of unraveling suffering and suspense. Turturro may only appear in one scene of Episode 1, but his character’s wry, dry conversation with the charming but (for obvious reasons) unreliable Naz has us sold on a whole series.