'The Night Of'
HBO, July 17th
Like so many New York crime stories, this one begins with a nice guy who never did anything crazy in his life before tonight ... which is when things get bloody. A mild-mannered Pakistani high-school kid from Queens borrows his dad's cab to go to a downtown club. He picks up a passenger: a mystery girl who lures him into bed. Fade to black — until he wakes up and finds her extremely dead body. Did he kill her? Or is somebody setting him up?
Written by noir mastermind Richard Price, The Night Of gets its tension from the two hard-boiled cranks playing mind games over this case. John Turturro is fantastically scuzzy as the ambulance chaser who scams onto the case as the defense attorney, the kind of guy who picks the scabs on his eczema-infected feet, with his pencil, on the subway. Bill Camp is the equally rumpled and manic detective convinced he's got this kid red-handed — both these guys make Lieutenant Columbo look like James Bond. (And the ever-welcome Kevin Dunn shows up as one of the cops, satisfying HBO's requirement that every show needs at least one cynical asshole played by Kevin Dunn.)
When Nasir (Riz Ahmed) threatens to start telling the cops the truth, Turturro has a conniption fit: "I wanna tell you something and it's the most important thing you'll ever hear in your entire life so don't not hear it," he yells at the kid. "Shut it. They come up with their story, we come up with ours." This criminal justice system turns everybody into a wiseguy, even the judge; when a black prisoner complains he got a stiffer sentence than the Jewish guy ahead of him in line, His Honor smirks, "You want Jew time? Do Jew crime." But Turturro steals the show — and considering his role was originally built for James Gandolfini, who tragically died before it came to pass, the actor's achievement is twice as impressive.