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Why has HBO's newest crime program 'The Night Of' won over critics?

'Night,' a miniseries that debuted on July 10, tells the story of a college student who finds himself accused of murder. It stars Riz Ahmed and John Turturro.

Barry Wetcher/HBO
'The Night Of' stars Riz Ahmed.

“The Night Of,” HBO’s newest program centering on crime, premiered on July 10 and has been the subject of positive reviews. 

“Night,” a miniseries that will air for eight episodes, centers on a college student (Riz Ahmed) who finds himself accused of a crime he doesn’t believe he committed. It co-stars John Turturro, Peyman Moaadi, and Bill Camp. 

Crime shows are of course nothing new on television and continue to be big business, with programs like CBS’s “NCIS,” “NCIS: New Orleans,” and “Blue Bloods” becoming some of the highest-rated shows for the 2015-2016 TV season for total viewers.

And crime has been part of HBO’s original programming for decades, with the network airing shows like “The Sopranos,” which centers on members of the mob; “Boardwalk Empire,” which depicts the efforts of Nucky Thompson to take charge of the crime in Atlantic City; and “True Detective,” which centers on police detectives in Louisiana and California. 

What about “The Night Of,” a show about someone being accused of a crime, won over critics?

New York Times critic James Poniewozik suggests that the show is interesting because it echoes themes recently seen in the Netflix program “Making a Murderer” and the “Serial” podcast, exploring how the justice system works. Mr. Poniewozik called it “tense, exquisite.” 

“The biggest suspect is the notion of egalitarian justice,” he writes, saying the series “excels at laying out the snowballing costs of a case, financial and psychological.” 

Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic also notes that the show avoids pointing fingers at easy antagonists. 

“Islam, immigration, and criminal justice would necessarily give the tale political charge, and the show embraces it by making prejudice a real issue,” he wrote. “But the most radical thing about 'The Night Of,' at least from the episodes I’ve seen, is how it studiously avoids the notion of bad actors, villains, or even governmental incompetence among its main players… The mounting conflict of the plot is therefore a comment on a larger system – and whether that comment ends up amounting to indictment or endorsement, perhaps surprisingly, remains to be seen.” 

USA Today critic Robert Bianco notes that the show examines the prison system, as well. 

“With relentless precision, ‘The Night Of’ uses every cinematic tool at its command to convey the dehumanizing aspects of Naz's imprisonment,” Mr. Bianco writes.

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