The set-up is simple enough, a young college student named Naz (Riz Ahmed) from Jackson Heights, New York, lives with his parents in a traditional Pakistani home, helps out with the family garment business and mostly lives a pretty modest life, until THE NIGHT OF comes into play.
Naz decides to go out at night into the city for a party, much to his parents’ chagrin, and sneakily takes his dad’s taxi cab. Along the way, a mysterious woman named Andrea (Sofia Black-D’Elia, effective in her allure), gets into his cab in Manhattan. Immediately, Naz is drawn by her beauty and taken by her aloofness. The encounter sets into motion the events that will propel the series until the end of the season.
Later that night, Sofia’s allure reveals a darker edge when they spend a night at her place involving heavy drinking, drug use, and an eerie game involving a knife. After having sex, Naz wakes up downstairs in a confused haze. Eventually, he discovers that Andrea is dead in her bedroom and with multiple stab wounds. Out of fear, Naz flees the scene of the crime in the middle of the night.
As Naz rushes down the street in the cab, a series of unfortunate events take place: getting pulled over for making an illegal left turn, being brought to the scene of the crime to witness the cops discovering Andrea’s body, being taken into the police station for driving under the influence. All of this leads to a detective named Dennis Box (Bill Camp) being brought on to the murder case. The tension from Naz getting caught builds to an incredible scene where a weary female cop (played terrifically by Afton Williamson) frisks Naz as Box reads the description of the murder weapon, just as the cop is pulling said knife out of Naz’s jacket (he hid it out of fear and naiveté).
Now that Naz is officially in police custody, Dennis begins his interrogation, which shows Dennis as level-headed yet manipulative in gaining information. Naz is in a bad spot, since a lot of his actions post-crime make him appear guilty. Just as things have gotten worse, in enters Jack Stone, a charismatic/sarcastic attorney who takes pity on Naz, based on his demeanor, and takes him on as a client, only to realize that he may have bitten more than he can chew with the evidence stacked against his new client.
On paper, the set-up may appear simple, but the way the events play out will keep viewers on the edge of their couches. I have seen many strong pilots in this golden-age of television, but I have to say this was one of the best ones I have come across. From the gripping opening credit sequence, with its intense violin instruments and haunting imagery of New York City at night, we are plunged into the foreboding danger. Co-creators Richard Price (The Wire) and Steven Zaillian (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) bring an authenticity to the proceedings that feels spot-on in its attention to detail. Zaillian, who directed the episode, stages many gripping scenes of how a regular guy gets caught up in the wild night of the city, only to see his life forever changed.
The writing and acting is of the highest caliber. The cast assembled bring a lived-in quality to the characters, which allows us to be sucked into the action. All praise to Ahmed, who is fantastic in portraying Naz’s fear and panic of his quicksand predicament. Turturro (stepping into the role after James Gandolfini’s passing) is a force of nature of charm and cynicism. He comes in towards the end to make a lasting impression. The most surprising figure is Bill Camp’s performance, who on paper, could’ve played the standard detective, but manages to bring a warmth and practicality, along with a shifting nature, to transform Dennis into a riveting character to follow.
The show has slow-burn quality, but it doesn’t take away from the tension and gripping nature of the proceedings. The pieces are in order and we are left with many questions: did Naz kill Andrea? Did someone set him up? Who was Andrea connected to? Will Naz’s race be played into question? Will Jack be able to work his lawyer magic and get Naz set free? Will we get the full story about the events between Naz’s sexual encounter and when he woke up? How will Naz’s family play a role in all of this?
There are many tantalizing questions and I can’t wait to see where the night takes us. We have have our new summer water cooler series.
Cristian is a lover and a fighter for the quest of finding quality TV shows and some guilty pleasures along the way.
Cristian Barros | Contributor