Posts Tagged ‘the night of’

The 20 Best TV Characters of 2016

December 20, 2016

Dr. Robert Ford, ‘Westworld’

Smile, and smile, and be a villain. As the co-founder and chief narrative architect of the Westworld theme park, Dr. Robert Ford is not unfamiliar with Shakespeare; he’d recognize Hamlet’s description of evil every time he looked in the mirror. Or would he? As played by Anthony Hopkins, who taps the quiet menace he mined so effectively decades ago as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, Ford spends the bulk of the HBO hit’s first season manipulating and murdering everyone, human or android, who threatens his control. But late-game twists hint at an even more disturbing truth behind Ford’s highly erudite villainy, this time one out of Nietzsche: To fight monsters, is it necessary to become a monster yourself?

I wrote about Cottonmouth, the Punisher, Agent Dom DiPierro, Sarah Wittel, Detective Dennis Box, and Dr. Robert Ford for Rolling Stone’s list of the 20 best new TV characters of the year.

“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Eight: “The Call of the Wild”

August 31, 2016

But no one here is more poorly served than Andrea, the actual victim of the murder. Repeatedly shown through surveillance footage, crime-scene photos, a bikini snapshot, and Naz’s flashbacks — culminating in him remembering her sweet and seductive smile just as he smokes heroin at the spot near the bridge where they hung out together that fateful night, like it’s her fault he’s there doing that now — she is rendered ethereal and ill-omened, like a fairy-tale creature who lures men to their doom and is doomed herself. Never mind that Don Taylor estranged her from her dying mother and made life in the house she was left a living hell. Never mind that her financial advisor slash boyfriend stole her entire fortune, then stabbed her to death between beating prostitutes. Never mind the countless shots of her nude and mutilated corpse throughout the length of the series, or the reduction of her life to the drug problems every character makes a point of saying “no no, don’t reduce her to just her drug problems” about without ever saying anything else. No, the important things to remember are Naz, the man who was wrongfully accused of killing her; John, Box, and Freddy, the men who cleared his name and saved his life; and the DA, his mom, and Chandra, the women who damn near fucked it all up for him. She’s a footnote in her own story — a tragedy for her as a person, and for The Night Of as a purported hard look at criminal justice. It barely gave its most important character a second glance.

I reviewed The Night Of’s (season?) finale for Decider. A thoroughly disappointing show from start to finish.

“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Seven: “Ordinary Death”

August 22, 2016

Even by the deeply degraded human-behavior plausibility standards of The Night Of, the jailhouse kiss shared by Nasir Khan and his attorney — his attorney! — Chandra Kapoor in “Ordinary Death,” this week’s episode, strains credulity beyond the breaking point and well into the realm of “you’ve got to be fucking shitting me.” Not that I’d expect anything more from Naz, who later in the episode becomes an accessory to murder, for real this time. Nor, frankly, would I hope for much better from Chandra, who despite her law degree and work on a high-profile case for a prestigious firm has been depicted to be green as the summer grass time and time again. (Remember when she didn’t know what ketamine was?)

But from Richard Price and Steven Zaillian, the two highly acclaimed auteurs behind this turkey, I think “not having a brilliant young lawyer make out with the murder suspect she’s representing in full view of Rikers Island security cameras” is the least we could demand. Naz is a handsome guy, sure, and I suppose I could understand how transference could cause Chandra’s protective instincts toward him — at this point, she’s one of the few people alive who believe he’s not guilty — to transmute into attraction. But he’s no more the only eligible bachelor in town than his dad was the only delivery guy capable of bringing her dinner the other week. Yet here we are, once again forcing a plot contrivance the way a prowler would jimmy open a lock. And for what? So Naz can have a series of gruesome flashbacks and visions of Andrea and her bloody corpse during and after the kiss? Whether to deepen our suspicion that he’s guilty or to simply exploit the perverse charge of seeing a woman maimed once again, it’s no more necessary than the kiss itself.

I reviewed last night’s The Night Of, which seems to have caused many in the audience to throw their hands up in despair, and for good reason, for Decider.

“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Six: “Samson and Delilah”

August 18, 2016

Six episodes in, two episodes to go, and it’s time to admit it: I don’t understand The Night Of. Like, at all. I don’t understand its pacing — what happens, and when, and for how long. I don’t understand its characters — who gets centered, and when, and what we do or don’t learn about them. I don’t understand the dividing lines between episodes — why last week’s installment ended with John Stone in a dark basement with a lead pipe in his hand and a convict on the run, only for nothing to come of it, and why this week’s ended with him looking at a personal trainer possibly putting the moves on a client of a certain age with a hip-hop song based on Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” playing on the soundtrack. I don’t know why every black man is menacing. I don’t know why every decision Naz makes is transparently idiotic. I don’t know why it continues to pull casting stunts with HBO veterans — all rise for the Honorable Yellow King presiding, for example. I can’t even begin to fathom its fascination with John Stone’s feet — maybe the single biggest discrepancy between the time and effort placed into a plot element by a show and its emotional, thematic, and narrative payoff for the audience. For me, at least, the mystery at the center of The Night Of — including last night’s episode, “Samson and Delilah” — is what the hell The Night Of is trying to do. For a miniseries that’s 75% complete, that’s a bad place to be.

I reviewed this week’s baffling The Night Of for Decider.

“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Five: “The Season of the Witch”

August 12, 2016

Of all the ways prestige cable dramas could redress the woeful full-frontal-nudity gender imbalance — and I’m sure we’ve all thought of several, many of them involving Kit Harington — using the penis of a dead, nude black man for a raunchy bit of prop comedy is probably last on the list. And yet! This is the road The Night Of has chosen to go down. In “The Season of the Witch,” overall the series’ most awkward combination of hardcore crime drama and gross-out humor to date, a district attorney and a medical examiner debate the origin of a knife wound in a photograph placed, for no apparent reason other than laughs, next to the exposed genitalia of a corpse in the middle of getting the fluids from its eyeballs and bladder drained. Shit, I’ve already complained about the overabundance of sexualized shots of the unclothed body of the female murder victim at the heart of the story; “sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” is not the remedy I had in mind.

And hey, this isn’t even the only nude, brutalized black male body on display this week! Earlier in the episode, Naz is offered the opportunity of revenge against the man who burned him last week by his benefactor Freddy, who has the assailant naked, prostrate, and trapped in the showers. Naz gets a half-hearted kick or two in on his tormenter and is ready to walk away — until the man, unwisely given his circumstances at the time, taunts the kid as a “faggot.” Since there’s nothing more menacing than having your sexuality threatened by a black man, Naz goes berserk, pounding the guy into a bloody pulp until Freddy’s goons have to pull him off to keep him from committing “another” murder. Later, Freddy expresses admiration for the “secrets and rage” that motivate his new apprentice; this conversation, at least, does not take place in front of a dead or injured person’s penis for no apparent reason, so thank heaven for small favors.

I had real problems with last Sunday’s The Night Of, which I reviewed for Decider.

“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Four: “The Art of War”

August 1, 2016

Say what you will about what happens in this week’s The Night Of: At least you can see it, for a change. Titled “The Art of War,” this episode was directed by The Theory of Everything and Man on Wire’s James Marsh — the only episode in the series not helmed by co-creator and, as of next week’s installment, co-writer Steven Zaillian. Marsh eschews the ostentatious, obfuscatory camerawork that has marked Zaillian’s contributions: no characters talking while out of focus, no shots of the back of people’s heads, no endless series of close-ups of inanimate objects, no random portraiture of brick walls or puddles. When he does isolate elements of the setting — a dripping hot-water faucet, cigarette smoke wafting up to the ceiling, the harsh overhead lights of the cellblock — these shots have meaning to the characters. You can, and probably should, complain that that meaning is getting doled out with a trowel (the episode ends with a shot of smoke right after Naz makes a deal with the devil! Get it???), but it sure beats spending multiple minutes of screentime zoomed in on the corners of tables just to prove that this is a gritty environment, or whatever.

There’s good news and bad news about last night’s The Night Of. The good news is above. The bad news you can read in my review for Decider.

“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Three: “Part 3: A Dark Crate”

July 25, 2016

I’m similarly baffled by their insistence on what I referred to last week as uncommunicatively artsy framing. I actually lost count of the number of close-ups of the rear of someone’s head as they 3/4-cheated their faces away from the camera. What idea or mood or character insight is this intended to convey? Why cut yourself off from the ability to capture the nuances of the human face unless you’ve got a damn good reason? I’m stumped.

The technique reaches its nadir during Naz’s bizarre scene with the jail’s resident kingpin, Freddy (a thoroughly wasted Michael K. Williams, naturally introduced with a series of closeups of seemingly every inanimate object in his room, beginning with — rimshot! — a wire). A prizefighter turned druglord turned unofficial lord of Rikers, he’s bribing the male guards, fucking the female ones, and intimidating everyone else into line. For some reason he’s taken an interest in Naz, and he offers him protection after a strange Luciferian monologue in which he tells the kid, “Close your eyes, give me your hand,” like he’s singing the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” and makes him feel a handful of veal. As he makes his offer, in the stilted language a vampire might use when demanding to be invited into someone’s home, the scene is shot from the back of Naz’s head, with Freddy completely out of focus. Maybe you can make the sophomore-year film-student argument that the latter choice conveys the man’s inscrutability to Naz. But why obscure Naz, too? Why hide his face, when it’s all we have to go on?

I reviewed last night’s The Night Of for Decider. I don’t think it’s what it’s cracked up to be.

“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode Two: “Part 2: Subtle Beast”

July 21, 2016

Faced with the challenge of explaining why something is or is not “hard-core pornography,” Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart punted, famously. In the 1964 case Jacobellis v. Ohio, Potter wrote “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” In attempting to evaluate “Subtle Beast,” the second episode of The Night Of, I find myself returning to the good justice’s words. By many external markers — classy cinematography, gritty subject matter, a cast drawn from basically every noteworthy HBO drama and crime show of the past 20 years — this is a good show. But I know good shows when I see them, and the program involved in this case is not that.

Let’s focus on the cinematography at first, since I think that’s the biggest headfake at play here. Characters are situated low in the frame, or off to one side. Scene transitions are marked with close-ups of individual objects in the environment, abstracted and imbued with significance by their sudden centrality to what’s on screen. Fade-transition shots of the murder scene are overlaid with the sounds of the events leading up to the murder. New York City is depicted as an overcast hellscape. Lots and lots and lots of characters are shot stylishly smoking with their backs to alley walls. Twenty seconds of people walking are shot as an upside-down reflection in a puddle…just because.

Director Steven Zaillian checks off item after item from the “how to make your crime film look fancy” playbook, but it’s all resolutely uncommunicative in its artsiness. Now here’s where we get into “I know it when I see it” territory, but here goes: Shows like Better Call SaulHannibal, and Mr. Robot use unconventional framing not just to class up their potboiler plots, but to externalize the emotions of the characters, to present a visually cohesive worldview, to emphasize isolation and mental illness. They’re expressionist TV.The Night Of, by contrast, takes a pointlessly pointillist approach to a vision of Noo Yawk we’ve all seen a million times. These shots do little but pad out the running time.

I reviewed this week’s episode of The Night Of, with which I remain deeply disappointed, for Decider.

“The Night Of” thoughts, Episode One: “Part 1: The Beach”

July 11, 2016

The Night Of is being hailed as a truly great drama, perhaps the first HBO has aired in half a decade that isn’t set in Westeros. It’s being compared to all manner of acclaimed crime stories, even documentaries, from Making a Murderer to Serial to O.J.: Made in America to The Jinx to American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson toFargo and on and on and on. And who knows? To extent that the critics making these comparisons have seen the whole shebang, they may well be proved right. But as of “The Beach,” the series premiere, I’m about as optimistic about this series becoming one for the ages as poor wrongfully accused Nasir Khan is about getting released on his own recognizance. One overlong episode in, The Night Of is a deeply okay show.

Which comes as something of a shock even if you don’t factor in its rapturous reception. For a series with such a writerly pedigree — Price is an acclaimed novelist in addition to his work writing for The Wire; Zaillian is an A-list screenwriter with credits like Schindler’s ListGangs of New YorkMoneyball, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo under his belt — what’s on offer here is surprisingly, disappointingly rote. The biggest problem is Andrea Cornish, the murder victim. A sort of manic-depressive pixie dream girl, she waltzes into Naz’s purloined cab mouthing vague, poetic, patently unrealistic dialogue: proclaiming “I can’t be alone tonight,” citing her destination as simply “the beach,” and so on. You know, like you do when you’re a woman hopping alone into a complete stranger’s car in the middle of the night.

As the night goes on she becomes even more of a magical mystery tour in female form — dispensing drugs, inviting him back to her sumptuously appointed apartment, lending a sympathetic ear when he’s mocked by an Islamophobic passer-by, dispensing more drugs, indulging in a bit of erotic mumbletypeg with Mazzy Star’s “Into Dust” cooing in the background, and finally fucking him. As far as the show’s concerned, she died as she lived: a glamorous cipher for the advancement of the male protagonist’s plot.

I reviewed the premiere of The Night Of for Decider. I was not a big fan.