HBO’s most recent series, The Night Of, is not like any other crime drama you might have watched. The eight part series might begin with a murder and end with a murder trial, but it takes a different approach to the genre that proves refreshing and engrossing.

College student Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed) steals his father’s taxi to drive to a party on the other side of New York City. On the way, Andrea (Sofia Black D’Elia) mistakes him for an actual cab driver, hopping inside and asking to go to the beach. One thing leads to another and Naz finds himself inside her apartment later that night. Drinking, drug use and dangerous knife games precede the pair sleeping together. Naz wakes up downstairs in the kitchen and walks back upstairs, only to find Andrea brutally stabbed to death on her own bed. Naz panics and flees the house, but is pulled over by police for an illegal turn.

Over the course of the next seven episodes, Senior Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) tries to piece together the events leading up to the murder. With Naz as the only person of interest, Box expects his last case before retirement to be relatively straightforward, but he has a suspicion he is not seeing the full picture. Also investigating that night is John Stone (John Turturro in a role originally meant for James Gandolfini), Naz’s lawyer, who is way out of his depth in a murder trial.

Detective Box (Bill Camp) speaks to Nasir in prison
Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) speaks to Nasir in prison

Instead of a usual crime show where a ‘case of the week’ is solved every episode, The Night Of extends the process to examine every aspect of the American judicial system, from the police precinct offices to the jails. What the series reveals as Naz is processed through the system is a number of deeply flawed, understaffed and corrupt institutions that currently look after more than a million people in the United States. This wide-eyed engineering student is the audience’s insight into this dark environment, where prison guards and their prisoners grow up in the same neighbourhoods, and where state prosecutors coach medical experts how to present evidence in a certain manner.

But just how innocent is Naz? Never before had he been arrested, but he had a history of selling Adderall – an amphetamine used as a stimulant by college students – to his classmates for a profit. Once inside the walls of prison, Naz shaves his head, gains some tattoos and develops an appetite for drugs. Even fellow inmate Freddy, is surprised by Naz’s violent abilities when he brutally bashes another prisoner who threw burning water on him. “A man is in ICU, and you are here sleeping like a baby. You got some secrets in you don’t you? And some rage”.

Naz is deeply troubled by his inability to remember the whole night, going so far as to say “I don’t know” when asked during the final episode’s murder trial if he had killed Andrea. By this stage, even the audience is wondering whether this seemingly innocent college kid actually committed this horrible crime. The resolution to the trial is worth the eight-episode wait; chances are you will be hooked from the very beginning.