With HBO’s latest scripted drama premiering this week, many are saying that it’s a sign that there’s life for the network beyond “Game of Thrones.” That’s a bit bizarre to say about a network that had five seasons of a show regularly labeled “the greatest show of all time” to its airwaves before, but let’s interrogate this deeper.
“The Night Of” follows Nasir Khan through the titular night, where he spends a dreamy night with an attractive stranger only to wake up and find her dead. He has no memory of what happened after they started hooking up, thanks to the countless drinks and drugs the two did, and flees the scene. He’s caught by the end of the first episode, and from here only two things are clear: A girl is dead, and no one has any idea what the truth is.
I know what you’re thinking: What a cliche. And you’d be right. “The Night Of” is, on paper, a classic formula, with a pinch of unreliable narrator and a dash of modern racial politics. But to its fans, “The Night Of” is proof that a concept is never truly dead, only done poorly.
It’s a concept I personally believe. For every person that said zombies are done and rom-coms are over, I invite you to look at the consistently highest-rated television show and the new, raunchier face of modern romance. “X-Men: Apocalypse” was atrocious, but the ideas behind it held promise. It’s a cliche but it’s a cliche for a reason: There’s only bad execution. And one thing you can’t say about “The Night Of” is that it has poor execution.
If the devil’s in the details, “The Night Of” is dancing on his lab. It revels in the small reveals, the meticulous uncombing of plot. It’s careful with every corner of world, from plot and characters to backdrop and props. If it keeps this up, it’ll no doubt result in a turning point for the genre, or at least a fleet of network copycats.
For now I’m unconvinced that “The Night Of” is the promised one. I enjoyed the pilot immensely, but I have a soft spot for slow, brooding crime drama (or just crime shows in general) and it’s only been 90 minutes of plot development. While this show may be the successor to HBO’s crime procedural hole after “True Detective” stumbled, it’s not the only thing “breathing life” into the genre. And in fact, it may be the most reductive thing: Where “The Night Of” brings the definitive detective wireframe, “Serial” and “Making a Murderer” have completely upended the discussion. Where the new HBO show presents yet another dose for dead girl fatigue, “Jessica Jones” flips the script. And where “The Night Of” follows HBO’s gloom in the cinematography, “Hannibal” danced in stunning disquiet.
Like I said, it’s only been one episode. And given that crime procedurals are a dime a dozen, this is probably just one more flavor of the week that its up to the viewer to decide if it’s good enough. I’ll be watching along every weekend with everyone else, eagerly anticipating a new morsel, clue, or twist. But I’m not sure the case is closed on procedurals.