Have I mentioned before that in my head I have a running list of things that I like to call “poor choices theater”? Well, I do, and the point is that whenever I have to make a decision about something, I feel so often that I’ve made the wrong choice, and that I’ll end up worse off for this choice. Obviously I haven’t made too many poor choices because I have a lot of good things in my life, but perhaps that’s just my anxiety messing with me.
How does this relate to a television show? Well, let me explain. Earlier this summer, around the time that Game of Thrones wrapped up, the Boy and I started seeing adverts for a new program called “The Night Of.” It had a dark look, and seemed to be a crime show, and we were intrigued. The Boy was obsessed with the first season of True Detective, and we both slogged our way through season 2, hoping that it would get better (it didn’t). So this was an exciting development as a possible gritty crime show to fit into our Sunday night viewing schedule.
From the beginning, it felt different. As an example, the first episode is entirely that thing described in the title of the show – The Night Of. We see what happened, but we see it from the point of view of the protagonist, Nasir “Naz” Khan (played by Riz Ahmed, who we’re going to be seeing everywhere soon). And this is where the show relates to my own “poor choices theater”: Naz is caught up in the brutal murder of a young woman, and he doesn’t think that he did it. But over the span of that first episode, he makes so many many poor choices. Friend who was giving you a ride into town ditched you? Steal your dad’s cab! And don’t even figure out how to turn the light off so people won’t try to get in. Pick up a strange girl off the street who thinks you’re a cabby! Do drugs! Play dangerous games! More drugs! Sex with a stranger! Wake up and discover she’s been murdered? Don’t call the police! Grab the murder weapon! Forget your jacket and car keys inside when the door has locked behind you and so break into her house! Drive erratically! Behave strangely with the police! Resist arrest! Don’t call a lawyer, and tell them EVERYTHING! And that’s just that first episode. Naz continues to make poor decisions, and things get bad.
But it turns out that the poor decision making in this show isn’t just limited to Naz, but creeps out and even infects people around him as time goes on. The people who are close to him (mainly his parents) begin to suffer as time goes on. They have to make heartbreaking decisions about their life in order to continue supporting him…even when they’re not entirely sure whether to believe that he’s innocent. And that’s where this show shines – all the acting is stellar. Naz’s parents are just gut-wrenching in their portrayal, and they are played with extreme pathos by Peyman Moaadi and Poorna Jagannathan.
Naz ends up with two lawyers in the form of Amara Karan as Chandra, the big-firm-attorney doing a pro-bono case and John Turturro as Jack Stone, the fly-by-night guy who accidentally picked up the big fish case by being in the right place at the right time. Karan is fantastic at portraying Chandra’s discomfort with this case being her first big one, and with the choices that she ends up making as well (more poor choices – HOLY COW). John Stone is a mess all around, with an emotionally distant family that he is separated from, a disgusting case of eczema that he can’t escape (I can’t even fathom how this was a part of the storyline at all), and a tendency to hook up with ladies whose services aren’t entirely legal. He does get to make one good choice in the end regarding a cat, but even that choice comes with consequences.
And ladies and gents – Naz. Because it turns out that he didn’t save up his poor choices for that first “night of”. No – he lands at Rikers Island, and while there makes friends with a guy who runs the show from the inside – Michael K Williams as Freddy. But taking advantage of Freddy’s “kindness” means doing things that will change Naz. He continues to make more and more poor choices that inextricably lead him down a path that he was never heading for in the past, and will make his future a different one than it ever would have been. Watching the show becomes an exercise in identifying everything that Naz does wrong along the way, and hoping against hope that there’s some way to rectify all the mistakes that are made.
Was it a good show? Yes, sure. It wasn’t an easy to show to watch, and anything where you watch a (mostly innocent) young man get trampled down by the criminal judgment system is horrifying. Watching people make horrible decisions is excruciating. Watching the justice system steam roll along when maybe it’s not rolling in the right direction is infuriating. But maybe that’s what makes the show so good and worth watching – it gets you caring about these characters so much, even though they make terrible terrible mistakes. You want things to be better for them than they are. And the only way to find out if mistakes are fixed is to watch.
Details: The Night Of, available on HBO streaming services