The Night Of began life as an American remake of a 2008 British series called Criminal Justice, which was also the original name of the American version. For a long time, James Gandolfini was set to star, until the Sopranos leading man’s sudden death in June of 2013 threw the project – an eight-episode limited series for HBO – into uncertainty.
Eventually the project was revived, with John Turturro stepping into Gandolfini’s role as a lawyer defending a Pakistani-American client on murder charges, and given the new title The Night Of. Steven Zaillian (the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Schindler’s List, Moneyball, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, among other acclaimed films) is the executive producer and director of multiple episodes, while Richard Price – the noted crime novelist also known for writing annual episodes of The Wire – is the series’ writer.
HBO has been running cryptic teasers for the show each week before and after Game of Thrones season 6, and the network debuted a full 90-second trailer for The Night Of (see above) along with the Thrones episode ‘No One’.
The trailer, while in a similar style as the earlier teasers, features someone, possibly a police interrogator, interviewing the accused (Riz Ahmed), in which he admits that “it looks like” he’s guilty of the crime. Then Turturro arrives, reminding his client “Don’t talk to anybody, anymore- shut it!” The second half is taken up by scenes of the jail and of the possible crime scene, and there’s also a glimpse of HBO TV show veteran character actor Michael K. Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire), who has a supporting role in the show.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, The Night Of looks outstanding. There’s nothing like a good New York crime story, and it’s hard not to get excited about the creative team of Zaillian and Price. Price’s Wire scripts were among the best episodes of that show, and here is again working on an HBO crime series. Turturro hasn’t had a high-profile leading role, or a part he can really sink his teeth into, in far too long, and Ahmed is a top young actor, memorable as Jake Gyllenhaal’s sidekick in Nightcrawler. HBO is clearly hoping this can be a limited series that gets people talking, like The Jinx did last year and the first season of True Detective did the year before that.
Of course, the one elephant in the room hanging over this project is, “Would the James Gandolfini version have been better?” I know a lot of people will watch this wondering that (at least in the beginning), and while it was a very different sort of show, Showtime went ahead with Happyish following the death of its beloved planned star, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and it was a single-season failure. The Night Of will have to be very good, right out of the gate, to avoid a similar fate.
The Night Of premieres Sunday, July 10 on HBO, and runs for eight weeks.