"I can't be alone tonight."
There's a scene in season one of The Wire where paperwork is being filled in order to secure a wiretap from the court. Showrunner David Simon jokes on the commentary that this is the only show that stresses paperwork. But he touches on something that draws me into these types of crime dramas: the process. The horror of watching an individual get churned through the gears of an indifferent system. The Night Of is another one of those shows that stresses that very process.
The director Steve Zaillian has made a handful of features, some very underrated (Searching For Bobby Fischer, A Civil Action), but nothing really prepared me for this. Right at the start of Pakistani college student Nasir 'Naz' Khan's journey through New York in his father's cab, we are shown through various perspectives of surveillance. All timestamped. The toll booth, the gas station, the police stop later on. You get the sense that you are being prepared for something or Naz is unknowingly being prepared. Things lock into place. Wheels set into motion.
So much so, that after an event like a girl wanting to have him stab her hand has one thinking "how will this ripple outward into this man's life? How will it effect later events?" Zaillian wisely takes that notion and ratchets it up throughout the rest of the hour.
We've had plenty of true crime dramas play out in documentary form: The Thin Blue Line, the Paradise Lost Trilogy, Making A Murderer, The Jinx and most recently O.J. Made In America. What keeps me coming back to The Night Of is Zallian's directorial choices and Richard Price's writing. It's not a perfect opener but it's a hell of a lot better than many other crime shows.