‘The Night Of’ Is the Best Show You’re Not Watching

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A couple of weeks ago, everything in your TV world was just fine. Jon Snow was putting his fist through Ramsay Bolton’s stupid face, Cersei was doing next-level Cersei shit, and dragons were burning things down, as dragons are wont to do. Then Game of Thrones ended. Now you’re adrift in a TV wasteland without a Tyrion or a Stark to hold. Well, it’s time to meet your summer savior.

The Night Of was hyped by HBO through a couple of dark, mysterious trailers, which you probably saw while waiting for this music to start. Perhaps it was the lack of action in those trailers, or the fact that you cursed them for not being shorter so your precious Thrones show could start, but there was little palpable buzz for the brooding new series. It is a summer television show after all, so that’s kind of to be expected. But, after one 80-minute premiere, we’re confident in saying your prayers for a summer obsession have been answered.

The Night Of is a murder mystery more in line with the once-popular podcast Serial and the once-popular show True Detective than something like Murder, She Wrote, which was also popular once. The show centers around a Nasir “Nas” Khan, a Pakistani American college student living in New York, who, through events that transpire in the first episode, gets thrown in jail for a murder he doesn’t believe he committed. We don’t want to give too much away, but the show introduces you to enough questionable characters for you to start stringing together your own fan theory on what happened.

It should be noted that Riz Ahmed, the English actor who plays Nasir, is beyond great. He’s great to the extent that you’ll wonder why he hasn’t made more of a name for himself yet. That will change. The actor—and rapper, apparently, who goes by the name Riz MC—will be in the Star Wars Rogue One movie and in the new Jason Bourne flick. If you watch him as Nas, you’ll understand why he’s about to become a household name. Ahmed makes Nas’s actions so understandable, justifiable, and human that you can’t help but get emotionally invested in what’s going to happen to the character—and he does it in the span of an hour and a half.

The miniseries (there will be 8 episodes) is based on Criminal Justice, a British show that aired in 2008-2009, and it has some serious firepower behind it. The Night Of is written by Richard Price, one of the most celebrated crime writers working today, a man who contributed to the greatest show of all time, The Wire, and Steven Zaillian, who’s been involved with such epic films as Gangs of New YorkSchindler’s ListSearching for Bobby Fischer, and many more. Ahmed and the other actors bring the words to life, but Price and Zaillian feed them gold. This isn’t amateur hour. This isn’t someone’s first rodeo. The show, from the jump, is polished.

We’re keeping this post pretty much free of spoilers, as a murder mystery becomes a lot less fun when the mystery part gets removed, so we aren’t going deep into plot, but we will say the writers know how to play with you. You’ll expect things around corners. You’ll get hit with cliffhangers. You’ll need a script for Xanax. It’s the kind of treatment that makes for a completely bingeable show—but that would mean waiting a few weeks to start watching and we’d urge you not to do that.

Episode 2 airs Sunday at 9pm.

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