HBO's 'The Night Of' Will Raise the Bar for NYC Crime Shows

John Turturro, Steve Zaillian, Richard Price, and Riz Ahmed explain why HBO's new show 'The Night Of' is so special.

by Christine Jun

We saw the North American pilot premiere of HBO’s outstanding new whodunnit miniseries The Night Of this week, and the episode made it easy to understand the term “golden age of TV”.

At the Q&A afterward, hosted by none other than Matt Zoller Seitz, series director Steve Zaillian, writer Richard Price, and co-stars John Turturro and Riz Ahmed described making their detective thriller in Manhattan and Queens. The show’s meticulous attention to New York detail and thrills could allow The Night Of to do for New York City what The Wire did for Baltimore — and yeah, we just brought up The Wire. Despite all those wannabe contenders out there like CSI and Law & Order, here are 5 reasons why The Night Of may just be the next great NYC-based show:

Yep, it was actually filmed entirely in New York City

At the screening, director Zaillian bragged: “We shot everything in New York. Every interior, every exterior, for 150 days. And it shows. You can’t fake it in Toronto. I’m really proud of that. I’m proud to have made a New York movie.” He then added: We shot everywhere. We shot at the courthouse. We shot at the prisons. We shot in the subway.”

Actor Ahmed, originally from the UK, also mentioned his research into his role as a Pakistani-American involving spending a good deal of time with locals in Queens: “It was indispensable for me.” Writer Price emphasized the authenticity of shooting on location in NYC, and not, say, Toronto: “The thing is, you can have all New York actors with the heaviest New York accents, and they’re drinking cwah-fee, but you see one bush, and you go, ‘Fuck, we’re in Canada.’ A bush will give you away.”

Nearly the entire cast is composed of authentic New Yorkers

The Night Of boasts a cast of 230 actors, almost all of whom hail originally from New York. Turturro, a lifelong New Yorker who plays a wisecracking lawyer suffering from a serious bout of foot eczema, commented: “It’s a vast city and there’s all kinds of people in New York. I always think that no one can be a real foreigner here. It’s a city of immigrants. There’s all kinds of different people, and they keep coming. Jackson Heights, for example, wasn’t like that when I grew up. Queens was completely different from the world that I grew up in… There’s more diversity in Queens than anywhere else in the United States.”

Through a South-Asian protagonist, it concerns itself with the immigrant experience and community in Jackson Heights, Queens

Apparently, the specific cultural strata of protagonist Ras (played by Riz Ahmed) and his family — which proves integral to the story — is the result of asking: “What would a New York cab driver look like?” Although The Night Of is originally based on a four-hour UK series called Criminal Justice, Price decided to change the main character’s ethnic background from white to South Asian. Price further explained: “At the beginning, Nas takes his father’s cab. In London, you’re going to have white guys driving cabs. You’re not going to find a white working class guy driving a cab [in NYC]. You’re going to find a Bangladeshi, a Pakistani, an Indian, or a West African. It had to be true to New York.”

It draws on a rich tradition of tense 70s New York films like ‘Taxi Driver’

The raw, urban ‘70s movie tied to life has a deep aesthetic influence on The Night Of. After referencing Serpico as a touchstone, Zaillan confirmed: “The movies of the ‘70s are my favorites…It was a conscious thing while we were making this film.” Price praised the “unvarnished rawness” of ‘70s cinematic visuals, mentioning Panic in Needle Park and Midnight Cowboy as examples: “Those are the movies that so excited me because you’re looking at something, and you want to jump up and say, ‘I know that! I know that guy! I know this corner! I know that slang!’”

Price also described the format of “the original Scorsese trinity of Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and Mean Streets” as “the highest compliment I could give to any story in any form,” then added, “I’m very happy to try it.” Turturro, a self-professed movie addict, also cited the acting quality in Dog Day Afternoon and (the original, hopefully) The Taking of Pelham 123 as his standard.

In exploring the criminal justice system, it also interweaves a detailed portrait of class, race, and urban politics

The Night Of offers a refreshingly un-glamorized presentation of people working and moving through the criminal justice system: struggling through security to a rather hilarious court trial. After he is sentenced to 3 years in prison, an African-American youth complains to the judge that the Wall Street type on trial before him was only given 18 months: “How come I can’t do time like the Jewish guy?”

Irately, the white male judge retorts: “You want Jew time? Do a Jew crime!” Price also pointed out the reality of the show’s routine, hurry-up-and-wait quality: “Being in the justice system, it’s like combat…95 percent boredom and 5 percent adrenaline dump…It’s a job just like any other.” Turturro also added: “There’s a lot of different worlds that you see. [Detective] Vox’s world, Nas’s world, his family, and the world of the prison, which is a whole different society.”

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