Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Karl Puschmann: The Night Of is quality beyond all reasonable doubt

Riz Ahmed (left) is utterly convincing as the accused murderer and his lawyer John Turturro is superb in  The Night Of.
Riz Ahmed (left) is utterly convincing as the accused murderer and his lawyer John Turturro is superb in The Night Of.

It's a nightmare scenario. You go out one evening, meet someone, take a bunch of recreational pharmaceuticals and then, after some euphoric yet superficially deep chit-chat, spend a large part of the night making sweet, sweet love before passing out.

Okay, that part doesn't sound so bad but stay with me here ... it's when you wake up that the nightmare begins.

Groggily rousing from the black of your narcotic slumber you find your new lover lying in bed bloody and lifeless and you find a very sharp, very bloody knife in your hands. The only thing you don't find is any recollection of how this happened. Panicking, you lam it outside to your parked car.

Bad: a neighbour sees you leaving the victim's house. Worse: the cops pull you over for drunk driving. Disastrous: you're still holding the bloody knife.

Things do not look good. It'd be hard to make them look any worse. The police see it as an open and shut case.

All the evidence says you did it. Whether you did or not is moot. You're guilty until proven innocent.

Verily, you're having what can only be classified as one of the worst comedowns of all time.

This scenario is what drives Soho's gripping new crime drama The Night Of (Wednesdays, 8:30pm) and is the unenviable position Nasir Khan, a Pakistani-American college student, finds himself in after a night out turns into a nightmare.

Still, bad as things are, they could always be worse. He could have also been murdered, right? Unless, of course, it actually was him that did the killing. So did he? Didn't he? Don't look at me, I dunno.

It's this uncertainty that makes up the crux of the series. Did Nasir murder Andrea Cornish? Innocent or guilty? Murderer or patsy?

The opening episode follows Nasir's wild night out in great detail, right up until he passes out. It then fades back in to a disoriented Nasir waking in Andrea's kitchen with the bloody knife there in front of him. And while the events leading directly to his arrest and subsequent imprisonment are improbable they're not entirely unbelievable. And they do make for some extremely tension-filled viewing.

Regardless, he's now in the slammer, frightened out of his wits and singing like a canary when he catches the eye of schlub lawyer John Stone. Stone's a small time, 'no win, no fee' barrister who scrounges a living representing ladies of the night and street hustlers. The nerdish and clueless Pakistani boy staring down the barrel of a murder charge is well beyond his expertise but promises a juicy payday. Stone gets involved, tells Nasir to shut his trap and offers to take on the case. And then things start to get interesting ...

As you can tell, I'm all in on The Night Of. Finding out the truth of what happened is just maddeningly compelling television. Especially as the mystery surrounding Nasir's innocence gets foggier and more obfuscated with each passing episode.

As the wheels of justice slowly turn we see both sides preparing their arguments with only victory - not truth - their driving factor. At the same time we see Nasir slipping from naive hapless student to prison hardman as he adjusts to life behind bars and waits for his trial.

Actor Riz Ahmed (Jason Bourne) is very good as Nasir, utterly convincing as the totally innocent wide-eyed student and the totally guilty prison thug. Without that believability and depth of character the whole show would just fall apart. It's crucial you buy that there's more to this nerd than first meets the eye.

But it's John Turturro's loser lawyer John Stone who entirely steals the show whenever he shuffles dejectedly onscreen. His droopy, unshaven hangdog face and ill-fitting, off-the-shelf suit giving him the air of a bummed out hobo rather than a smug and successful lawyer.

Add in the roman sandals he wears because of the extreme eczema on his feet and you have a picture of the exact kind of representation you wouldn't want if your life depended on it. Which, for Nasir, it of course does.

Tuturro brings great pathos to the part, but also street smarts and moments of humour. Whether he's furiously scratching his flaking foot with a chopstick or arguing with his pharmacist over a Viagra prescription he's just wonderful.

But back to the murder ... Did Nasir kill that girl? Didn't he? And if not him, then who? The show's nudging us towards the murderous involvement of a third party but my hunch is that's a red herring.

So while I have no idea about Nasir's guilt I can tell you that the quality of The Night Of is far beyond reasonable doubt. Watch it.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 09 Dec 2016 08:34:12 Processing Time: 691ms