Monday, August 15, 2016


I had decided not to watch this new HBO series, THE NIGHT OF, because the ads made it look too dark, both mode wise and lighting, and that's not what I'm looking for in entertainment these days. Well, it's not the darkness I mind as much as the cynicism and easy use of violence, usually against women, that seem to make all crime procedurals similarly negative.

But, I was out to dinner with friends and they were all raving about THE NIGHT OF so I binge watched the first five episodes and caught the sixth last night. And, indeed, it is bleak and cynical and even somewhat contrived in its portrayal of the "dark realities" of life and death as seen through the prism of cops, court officers, prison guards, prisoners and "civilians."

There's inconstancies that I'm assuming are meant to misdirect viewers and keep some mystery going despite the often predictable plot points. But there are also some sparks in the writing and the characters from creator Richard Price and director and co-writer Steven Zallian. And enough good acting to keep me coming back, so far, though the add-water-for-instant-thug transition of the lead, played terrifically by Riz Ahmed, almost makes me want to drop out.

John Torturo is the real star as an obviously-brilliant-but-nonetheless-low-end-bargain-basement defense attorney (a role initially intended for James Gandolfini before he passed) whose character's quirkiness is almost tiresomely quirky for me, but he manages to pull it off with his usual artistry. Along with Michael Kenneth Williams (best known to most of us for the perfection of his performance as Omar on THE WIRE) whose artistry also makes the most of the thankless role of the violent thug, again, playing second fiddle to drug paraphernalia and other prison bad guy props and bursts of violence and/or calculated coldness.

But it's the actors in the minor roles that are compelling me to keep watching, like Jeannie Berlin as the prosecutor, an Emmy deserving performance to my mind, and Amara Karan as a novice defense attorney, and Sofia Black-D'Elia in what almost amounts to a cameo but an incredibly memorable one. And Poorna Jagannathan as the accused's mother (one of our most versatile and skilled film actors, or actresses if you still prefer that separating term). And others.

So, I'll tune in next Sunday while hoping it lightens up on the now tired cable TV fascination with bloody violence, drug rituals, and the dark at the end of the tunnel.

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