It’s no secret that the legal world provides endless content for movies and television alike. From To Kill a Mockingbird, Presumed Innocent, and A Few Good Men to Law and Order, The Good Wife, and L.A. Law, we are inspired, moved, and riveted by stories from all areas of law.
The Golden Globes honored several of such shows last night. For instance, Bob Odenkirk of Better Call Saul was nominated for best action in a television series drama. Also, The People v. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime Story won for best mini-series or TV movie. HBO’s miniseries The Night Of was also nominated in that category and, much to the surprise of many television critics and fans, it lost.
However, The Night Of certainly won in many other ways—in fact, lawyers say that the series about a murder case in New York City was one of the most realistic portrays of the criminal justice system they’ve ever seen. “This eight-part limited series is the first crime show I’ve seen in a while that rings true to my experience as a lawyer and what my clients experience as they go through a trial,” writes Robert Perry, senior associate and head of criminal litigation at Rosenberg | Perry & Associates, LLC in New Jersey.
A huge part of the show covers what Nazir “Naz” Khan, the defendant, experiences while in Rikers Island as he awaits trial. The portrayal of what life is like in that notorious prison seems to be spot on. Perry says the show “did an exceptional job at telling the story of the American incarceration experience.” He says, “Sadly, I’ve seen what Naz has been through many times with my clients. I know from personal experience that incarceration does change people. For defendants like Naz, who are largely upstanding citizens, the experience comes as a rude awakening.”
Toni Messina, a criminal defense attorney in New York City, agrees. As she wrote in Above the Law, “The Night Of is a nuanced portrayal of what happens when a basically good kid from a good family gets busted and thrown into Riker’s Island. While the story touches on how the crime and its aftermath affect his family and his community (the Muslim community in NYC), it most significantly depicts how a stint in a tough prison—where you need to pal up with somebody for protection—damages your own morality and destroys your ability to ever go back to being the person you once were, even if you are acquitted.”
John Turturro’s performance as John Stone, Naz’s defense lawyer, is also spot on. Danny Cevallos, a legal analyst for CNN and co-founder of the law firm Cevallos & Wong, LLP in Philadelphia, actually calls his portrayal “perfect.” Cevallos also highlights the realistic portrayal of the detective on the case, and says the broken down plea-agreement was the “most accurate moment of the series.” However, it actually was the overall take-home message that really rang true. As Cevallos writes, “The most glaring overall truth of The Night Of is this: There are few winners in the criminal justice system. There is rarely a Shawshank-style redemption for prisoners, with a big money payday and a retirement to a Mexican resort town. The defense lawyers return to the grind, having earned just enough to hold them until the next client.” Cevallos adds that prosecutors typically move on right away to the next trial, while the defendant has to live on with the effects of their prison-time, whether or not they are found innocent or guilty.
Bottom line: The Night Of might have lost the Golden Globe award (though it’s racking up plenty of others, such as one of the top ten television shows of 2016, according to the American Film Institute.) However, it certainly won as a superb portrayal of the legal system and an all-around excellent show. Maybe that’s why there are rumors that HBO wants a second season. Let’s hope so.