Saturday 10 December 2016

Television review: There's something missing from The Night Of...

* The Night Of (Sky Atlantic)

Published 17/10/2016 | 02:30

John Turturro in The Night Of
John Turturro in The Night Of

We have spent several weeks wondering whether Nasir 'Naz' Khan, the main man in The Night Of, is innocent or guilty. But certainly I am feeling guilty about the whole thing, because it seems that I just don't like it enough.

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Most of the stuff I have read about it has been wildly enthusiastic. So, when I first mentioned this a few weeks ago, I was thinking that I would surely start to like it more after the opening episode or two. That I would stop doubting it, and doubting myself.

But I've seen most of it now, week by week on Sky Atlantic as God intended, not in the one splurge on the box set, and increasingly the person I am thinking about is Mr Bruce Springsteen.

It is now largely forgotten - perhaps because a lot of his current fans never knew it in the first place - that when Bruce first came to England to play a gig at the Hammersmith Odeon, there was a banner outside the venue and posters all over the walls saying: "Finally, London is ready for Bruce Springsteen."

It is said that the Boss personally tore them down, so appalled was he by this dangerous raising of expectations by his record company's hype machine. Like, it's hard enough being any good in this life, without someone announcing you in advance as the greatest show on earth.

So I've been finding it difficult to watch The Night Of, without measuring it against this astounding show that I've been reading about, which I haven't really seen. Hence this strange form of guilt that the Germans may have a word for, the guilt of the viewer of the top-class American TV drama who is not reacting to the series in the "right" way, who does not like it as much as he should. Who just thinks that it's "very well done".

Indeed it is extraordinarily well done, if that is what you seek - and if I had happened upon it without any prior notice I might well have found it absorbing, it's just that I think I've seen much of it before.

The likeable guy, who may or may not have committed this terrible murder, the beautiful but eccentric young woman who was murdered, the various cops and lawyers of the maverick or the regular variety, the savagery of life in a high-security prison with its appalling machismo, its games of dominance and submission, these are all things I have been watching on the telly since I was a child.

And in The Night Of, there are perhaps two new twists on these tropes - there is a great stillness in Naz, and in his family who came to New York from Pakistan. And in the maverick lawyer John Stone, played by John Turturro, there is this terrible foot condition that I've never encountered before in my maverick lawyers.

There's also this truly great scene as Stone sits drinking in a bar with his fellow defence attorney Chandra Kapoor, advising her about the kind of people you don't want on a jury: "Anyone from law enforcement, anyone from a law enforcement family, anyone from a military family, no small business owners, no working class whites, no elderly blacks, they're tired of getting mugged, no one who knows anyone killed on 9/11, no one who listens to Fox News, no golfers, no bowlers, no sailors, and absolutely no lawyers..."

"I broke up with my boyfriend," Chandra interrupts. And Stone considers this before continuing......"F**k that, who cares, this is important... educated liberals are good unless they got a kid died of an overdose...Jews, but not the religious ones, same with Muslims... you know who you want?... the prize of all prizes? Young urban women... because they don't give a sh*t about anyone's opinion but their own, and odds are one of them is going to be on our side just by accident... and all we need... is one..."

They talk of love and other things for about a minute and the scene ends with this line from Chandra: "Why no sailors?"

Ah there is much greatness in it, but there is also this: we had about five scenes of such stature in every episode of The Sopranos or Mad Men.

Didn't we?

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