First Watch: The Night Of

First Watch: The Night Of

HBO has an exceptional batting average with new shows. It certainly helps that it is a premium cable channel, allowing showrunners to let a show breath and develop naturally without worrying about capturing huge viewing numbers right off the bat. Still, I think I speak for most when I say I will give just about any HBO series a chance; they just really know how to make great TV (see: Game of Thrones, True Detective, The Wire, Veep, The Sopranos, Silicon Valley, Deadwood, Eastbound and Down, Big Love, et cetera).

The debut episode of The Night Of has been available for a few weeks on HBO’s streaming services (Go and Now), but officially aired on the network this Sunday. And, holy shit, you guys. It’s really good. REALLY GOOD.

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Nasir “Nas” Khan (Riz Ahmed) seems like a smart guy. A nice, decent, seemingly smart guy. Everything he does in the pilot seems to point to the fact that he is not, in fact, a smart guy. He takes his father’s cab without permission – otherwise known as theft – to drive to a party he has been invited to somewhere in New York (dumb). He doesn’t know how to turn on the “off duty” light and ends up giving a depressed-looking girl a ride (dumb). He takes drugs with her (dumb) and accepts her invitation into her brownstone (dumb).

And then shit really gets real. I won’t spoil anymore of the plot for you – although the previews give quite a bit away – but I will try to convey a little about the viewing experience of The Night Of.

It was excruciating. I must have said “nope” a thousand times. Also, “stupid idiot.” The pilot is well over an hour, and the whole time the impending doom of the lead character builds until it eventually swallows you whole, leaving you wallowing in dread, shaking your head, and fighting to remember to breath. In other words, it’s fantastic. It is definitely a slow burn type of show – it’s not in a hurry to get to where you foresee it going. Instead, it subtly, gradually draws you in until it has its hooks sunk so far into your brain that you forget it’s just a television program (oh great, I’m sweating again).

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A lot of amazing character actors show up. JD Williams, who plays Bodie – one of my favorite TV characters of all time – in The Wire is a delight (obviously). The lead detective, Detective Box, is played wonderfully by Bill Camp. And then the gawd John Turturro shows up as the sandal-wearing, people’s champ lawyer Jack Stone. The casting director deserves an Emmy. The dialogue throughout, and the scenes with law enforcement, remind me so much of David Simon’s book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. That is probably the highest compliment I can give a television program concerning cops and perps.

This comparison isn’t surprising seeing as the co-creator and writer of The Night Of is Richard Price, one of the best crime novelists of all time. His novels Clockers and Lush Life are classics (or so I’m told, he is on my list of must-reads), and he also wrote for The Wire, naturally. 

The first episode The Night Of will you have you wishing it was a Netflix series so you could binge watch the whole season, or at least as much of it as possible before you inevitably broke down into a blubbering paranoid mess. It will most certainly fill the Sunday night TV viewing hole left by Game of Thrones. If you don’t find this to be the case I give you permission to curse at me on Twitter.

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