America is enthralled with murder and crime as it always has been. In the early 2000s, it was The Wire; those who had HBO watched Oz religiously; Netflix’s twin power-hit series Orange is the New Black and Making a Murderer dominated social media and conversation (multiple times for Orange) upon their releases, so you might think, what’s another homicide story?
Well, there are some who say that no one should dismiss The Night Of too quickly.
The eight-part miniseries airs on HBO Sunday night, and the buzz is already in the air about it. The Night Of follows the aftermath when a young girl is found stabbed in a bed. The suspect, Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed), is apprehended almost immediately for drunk driving, which he was only doing because he was fleeing the gruesome scene. Naz has no memory of what happened, specifically how a girl could be dead in the same bed as him.
The series is based off a 2008 BBC miniseries Criminal Justice, with lead Ben Whishaw, that followed a highly similar plot; the son of a cab driver heads to a party, gets drunk, comes to with a murder scene before him without any memory of how that could be, and is then arrested for the crime.
What makes the American version separate from its British predecessor, however, is its unflinching lens on real-life discrimination in the justice system. Naz is a Muslim, which in 21st century America can be a dangerous person to be placed vulnerably in the hands of the federal system.
On how the show plays into post 9-11 America, Khan said this in an interview with Variety. “I thought it’s just very unflinchingly authentic, very uncompromising in its authenticity, really, in its detail.”
He continued, “When the writing for something is real, then it can’t help but reflect back some of the themes that are around us in day-to-day life. I just loved it. It just felt very nuanced. They just bring you into a world.”
Ahmed’s starring role in The Night Of is not the Pakistani-British actor’s first dip into Hollywood. He took on the supporting role as Jake Gyllenhaal’s assistant in Nightcrawler (2014) and had a part in the latest Star Wars. This role now though, he makes clear, is just as important if not more.
“Growing up as a Muslim-American, post-9/11, you kind of have a very [unpleasant] relationship toward the authorities; you are told you are automatically a suspect,” Ahmed says. “It certainly does play into what you can expect in the criminal justice system. People view you as a threat.”
The Night Of debuts tonight at 9ET on HBO.