The first episode of The Night Of (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD), the HBO mini-series created by Oscar-winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian and acclaimed author and screenwriter Richard Price, plunges the audience into the skin of a Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed), a nerdy first-generation Pakistani-American college boy and tutor to the football star whose first adventure being a part of the popular crowd ends up with a wild night of drugs, sex, and the violent murder of his date. He looks so guilty that he flees with the murder weapon and by end of the extended episode, which plays out at a measured, deliberate pace that draws out the tension to anxiety-inducing levels, he is arrested for the murder and begins his long, grueling ordeal in the justice system. The case is tabloid bait—an Arab-American Muslim accused of brutally murdering a pretty but troubled white girl—and Naz’s panic has only made him look more guilty in eyes of both the law and public opinion.
John Turturro is Jack Stone, a bottom-feeding lawyer who routinely represents drug slingers, hookers, and low-level criminals, negotiating plea deals for flat fee. When he spots a nervous Naz in a police station cell, he figures he’s just another kid swept up in the system and he offers to represent him, only to find himself in the midst of a huge murder trial. Bill Camp is the old-school police detective who puts the case together piece by piece, convinced that the accumulation of evidence has put the right man on trial, and Jeannie Berlin is the D.A. who takes it to trial with the same conviction and professionalism.
Stone is a character—divorced, a regular client of a hooker he often represents, suffering from a near-crippling skin condition on his feet—and he’s no legal mastermind but he understands the cops, the prosecutors, and the streets. Much to his own surprise, he becomes committed to his client even when he’s pushed aside by a legal heavyweight (Glenne Headly) who takes the case pro-bono for the publicity. When the big-time lawyer shuffles the case off to a junior associate (Amara Karan), Stone is second chair but takes the lead in the investigation.
Part procedural, part character piece, part dark drama of an innocent young man tossed into the brutal world of prison where he’s a walking target, already pronounced guilty by the press, this is a crime drama with the depth and detail of a novel. This isn’t about a miscarriage of justice—the prosecution is presented with as much respect and dignity and honorable intentions as the defense—but about how the slow gears of justice grind up those caught in its wheels. Though ostensibly based on the British series Criminal Justice, this series is very much the creation of Zaillian and Price. It’s their voices that define the story and the characters.
Not rated, features nudity, sexual situations, drugs, and brutal violence and violent imagery. 8 episodes on DVD and Blu-ray, with no supplements.
Elementary: The Fourth Season (ABC, DVD) of the modern take on Sherlock Holmes in contemporary New York City opens with Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) recovering from his relapse into heroin addiction and facing criminal charges while Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) tries to help him repair relations with the NYPD, which has lost trust in him. But along with the cases, both as police consultants and private investigators, they face a new challenge: Sherlock’s estranged father Morland (John Noble, superb casting as the emotionally distant power broker) arrives, ostensibly to reconnect with his brilliant but troubled son. A powerful businessman with international connections, Morland uses his influence to have Sherlock reinstated with the police, which only raises Sherlock’s suspicions of his father motives, which Joan begins to share as well.
Along with the family drama of Morland, who has been targeted by an international criminal organization, this season features an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles updated with modern technology, and a romantic relationship for Sherlock, a brilliant woman (Betty Gilpin) with social disorder that makes it difficult to interact socially. It’s an issue Sherlock understands all too well and his tentative courtship (his first since the series began) is nicely handled. Aidan Quinn and Jon Michael Hill have less to do this season as Captain Gregson and Detective Bell and the season ends with Morland poised to return, possibly in a more confrontational capacity. The strength of the show, however, remains Miller’s superb interpretation of the iconic detective in a modern context and his relationship with Liu’s sharp Watson, who is still protective of Holmes.
Though it gets less acclaim than the BBC Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, this show offers a more interesting interpretation of Holmes and a deeper exploration of his personality and his emotional struggles.
24 episodes on six discs on DVD, with five featurettes, a gag reel, and deleted scenes.
Chicago Fire: Season Four (Paramount, DVD)
Chicago P.D.: Season Three (Paramount, DVD)
Chicago Fire launched growing universe of interconnected Chicago shows from executive producer Dick Wolf and continues to anchor the TV franchise with a mix of personal drama, character humor, and weekly rescue action where the team pulls together to save civilian lives and, sometimes, one another. Season Four opens with a suspicious fire in a crack den and the firehouse under investigation. Firefighter Casey (Jesse Spencer) deals with the aftermath of his undercover work for Chicago P.D. (in a series cross-over story), Rescue Squad leader Severide (Taylor Kinney) deals with being demoted, and Gabriela (Monica Raymond) transfers to arson to continue investigating the fire. There’s a pregnancy and a miscarriage, a new member of the firefighting squad, a conspiracy that targets the firehouse chief (Eammon Walker), a beloved veteran hovering near death after a stabbing, an election, a death, and more melodrama amidst the daily dangers of firefighting, rescues, and emergency calls. At the heart of the show is the team loyalty—they have one another’s back on the job and off, and often end up after shift in the bar opened by members of the squad—but it also deals with the emotional and physical toll of the job.
Jason Beghe leads the squad on Chicago P.D.: Season Three as Hank Voight, a tough, old-school cop who takes a paternal interest in his officers, especially Erin (Sophia Bush), who he mentored from an early age. As the season begins, Erin has turned in her badge and spiraled down into a life of alcohol and drugs under the influence of her mother (Markie Post), who blames Hank for turning Erin against her by joining the police, but she returns when her former boyfriend, an undercover cop with the gang squad, is captured and ransomed for police intelligence. Voight’s elite unit features Jon Seda as a veteran detective loyal to Hank, Jesse Lee Soffer as a younger detective, and Elias Koteas as another veteran from days of squad corruption who discovers that he has a daughter from an affair during his undercover days, but there are also stories involving other officers from the precinct, including Brian Geraghty as a patrolman who survives a shooting that threatens to keep him off the streets. There’s a grim crossover with Law & Order: SVU involving the escape of serial killer Greg Yates (Dallas Roberts), who they captured in a crossover in the second season, and the season ends with Hank going off the reservation to take on the mob the old Chicago way: with violence.
These are both throwbacks to an earlier brand of TV drama and the old-school approach to episodic television, with each episode focused on particular call or a new case and most of them are wrapped up by the credits, mixed with stories that spread across two or three episodes and character arcs that evolve through the season. Character cross over between Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., and Chicago Med for brief appearances and there are stories that carry over through the different series, making for an interesting mix of self-contained drama and sprawling storylines. It is kind of refreshing in the era of serialized TV drama.
Each series presents 23 episodes on DVD, with bonus crossover episodes of Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., and Chicago Med and behind the scenes featurettes.
The Blacklist: The Complete Third Season (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD) – The high-concept conspiracy / espionage thriller about an elite FBI team tasked with tracking down international criminals is ostensibly an ensemble action series with a crack team of agents and analysts but the overpowering presence of James Spader as renegade agent and international criminal turned FBI informant Raymond “Red” Reddington is still the real draw of the series. Red has come out of hiding to protect FBI profiler Liz Keen (Megan Boone), who discovered last season that she is actually the daughter of a deadly Russian agent and has been framed for murder by a powerful government cabal (called, of course, The Cabal).
The series continues the same formula established in the first season: each episode is focused on apprehending a different criminal on the blacklist provided by Red while the larger conspiracy plays out through the course of the season. This season begins with Liz on the run, hidden by Red while they try to clear her name and her former teammates are assigned to bring her in. Her outlaw life ends halfway through the season, when her name is cleared and she returns to active duty, but more twists come when she gives birth to a child and she and Tom (Ryan Eggold), her ex-husband and father of her child, attempt to create a normal life in a world filled with international supervillains, corrupt government figures, and all sorts of revenge-minded criminals. Along with Spader’s theatrical, larger than life performance, the show features inventive action scenes, impressive production values, and high-caliber guest stars, including David Strathairn, Christine Lahti, Fisher Stevens, Paul Reubens, Famke Jansen, Tony Shalhoub, and Brian Dennehy this season.
23 episodes on DVD and Blu-ray, with two featurettes; the Blu-ray edition includes additional featurettes plus commentary tracks and deleted and extended scenes.