Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Monday 20 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Andrew Kim Taegon and Companions
home iconNews
line break icon

HBO hits home run with new drama “The Night Of”

Matthew Becklo - published on 07/08/16 - updated on 06/07/17

The new fictional series feeds a growing national obsession with true crime stories

HBO’s philosophical crime series True Detective inspired not one, not two, not three, not four, but five of my articles on Aleteia. Obviously, I couldn’t say enough about it.

But after a sub-par second season and mounting doubts about a third season, critics generally agree that HBO has dropped the ball in the drama department. The fantasy Game of Thrones may be the talk of the town, but the star-studded Vinyl was cancelled after just one season, while the meandering and hollow The Leftovers approaches its third and final season next year.

Enter The Night Of.

The series formally premieres this Sunday at 9 pm, but the first episode has been available on HBO streaming services since last week. In it, we follow a young Pakistani-American student named Naz on a fateful trip from Queens to Manhattan that results in a grisly murder.

This slow burning seventy-nine minutes doesn’t just pick the ball back up. It knocks it straight out of the park.

The show itself has an interesting backstory. An earlier pilot starred James Gandolfini as defense lawyer John Stone, but after Gandolfini died unexpectedly in 2013, Robert De Niro stepped in to play the role. When a scheduling conflict took De Niro off the project, the role was offered to Gandolfini’s friend and collaborator John Turturro.

That tragic twist of fate ends up being one of the many things in the show’s plus column. It would’ve been hard to watch Gandolfini without seeing Tony Soprano, and De Niro’s star power might’ve overpowered the storyline. But Turturro’s well-seasoned acting chops and average-New-Yorker manner ends up being just what this story needed. Turturro is also the perfect counter-balance to Bill Camp, who brings a gritty, street-smart stoicism to the role of Detective Box.

The Night Of also plugs into a growing national obsession with true crime stories like Serial, Making a Murderer, and The Jinx. The case itself is fictional, but a press release describes The Night Of as delving “into the intricacies of a complex New York City murder case with cultural and political overtones. The story examines the police investigation, the legal proceedings, the criminal justice system and the feral purgatory of Rikers Island, where the accused await trial for felony crimes.”

But right out of the gate, the show’s greatest asset is its writing. The cinematography and even some of the acting is not at the level it could be, but with Richard Price (The Wire) and Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List) sharing writing duties, it doesn’t matter. The suspense of the whole episode is not the murder (which is not shown), but the aftermath, as path-crossing neighbors, relatives, witnesses, cops, EMTs, detectives, and even the suspect himself all start to realize what just happened and what it means. The gradual, almost real-time unfolding of these events is as gripping as television gets, and a gold standard of what good writing looks and feels like. Every character is well-drawn, but there are no clear good guys and bad guys – just a collection of frail human beings that, as Pascal put it, straddle greatness and wretchedness.

By the time the episode comes to a close, we’re left with a thousand swirling implications: in the foreground, the vacuity and dangers of drug use and the unwieldy and sometimes bizarre procedures of criminal justice; in the background, the racial, cultural, and religious tensions that will inevitably surface as the show evolves.

More than anything, we’re left with that gnawing question that all great shows feed on: what happens next?

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Domitille Farret d'Astiès
Attacked with acid as a baby, Anmol Rodriguez overcomes and inspi...
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Pope considers what to do with pro-abortion Catholic politicians
Esteban Pittaro
Argentine “Mother Teresa” was a former model and actress who embr...
Philip Kosloski
Your body is not a “shell” for your spirit
Kathleen N. Hattrup
On same-sex unions, Pope says Church doesn’t have power to change...
Cerith Gardiner
12 Habits of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati that every young adult...
Visalia CHURCH
J-P Mauro
The largest Catholic parish church in the US will soon be in Cali...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.