Taut, detailed and gripping account of a young New Yorker accused of murder
★★★★ HBO in the US, Sky Atlantic in the UK, coming in September
THE PREMISE is nothing to write home about. Young guy on a night out ends up being accused of a murder he may or may not have committed.
What makes HBO’s new series so compelling is that it is superbly written and acted, and very tense. It’s created by Steven Zaillian and Richard Price, which is a formidable team, with Zaillian having won an Oscar for his Schindler’s List screenplay and Price being a superb novelist (Clockers, Lush Life) who’s also written for The Wire.
Price has done the teleplay for the extended opening episode of The Night of, in which we meet Nasir Khan, a young guy who ventures into Manhattan from Jackson Heights in Queens to go to a party. Naz comes from a Pakistani community in the neighbourhood and his parents are not happy about his going.
Without his father’s permission, Naz borrows his dad’s taxi to get there. However, he gets lost and keeps being flagged down by would-be fares because he doesn’t know how to turn off the for-hire light.
Riz Ahmed as Nasir
The night takes an unforeseen turn when a young woman jumps into the yellow cab and asks to be taken to the beach. The woman is beautiful and says cryptically that she can’t be alone on this night. Naz – played with great appeal by Riz Ahmed – is somewhat innocent and gobsmacked by her.
His muslim background also ensures that he does not take drugs or drink alcohol, but before the night is done he has indulged in both back at her Upper West Side apartment, along with having sex with her.
In time-honoured fashion, when Naz comes to he discovers that the young woman has been stabbed horribly to death. Having done as much as possible to incriminate himself, he eventually crosses paths with a police patrol.
It’s a tense watch as the guileless Naz slowly collides with the callous justice machine, the cynical cops, brutalised arrestees and hard-bitten detectives. He’s going to be mincemeat – all because he wanted to go to a party and meet girls.
John Turturro as Jack Stone
About an hour in, we have the drama’s star turn as John Turturro shambles into the precinct as Jack Stone, down-at-heel jailhouse lawyer on the lookout for clients. He recognises a lamb to the slaughter when he sees one and foists himself on Naz, who desperately needs an ally. First bit of advice: don’t say anything to the cops (he already has).
The role of Stone was originally to be played by James Gandolfini, and, following his death, by Robert De Niro. Both would have been superb, but Turturro still sets an already fizzing story alight when he appears.
Richard Price is renowned for doing his research, and here it is the details that bring Naz’s predicament to life. The bickering between the station sergeant and the forensics guys, the lazy detectives trying to get out of attending the murder and so on. All of which makes Naz’s nightmare seem more haphazard and cruel.
The Night of, an eight-parter, is based on a 2008 BBC series from writer Peter Moffat called Criminal Justice, which was also very good and starred Maxine Peake and Ben Whishaw.
However, the new version is a terrific reinterpretation and should become one of 2016’s outstanding crime series.