It’s been a week that I wrote about my Fall TV 2016 watching, and I’m no longer interested in 3 of the 6 shows that I said that I would watch. Yes, 50% of that post is no longer true.
You see, I’ve just finished The Night Of and I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be a shame to spend too much of my TV-watching time with shows of lesser-quality and/or formulaic material. After watching The Night Of, I can’t bring myself to watch Notorious (no matter how hot I find Daniel Sunjata). I am having a hard time justifying my watching of Notorious by saying that it’s better than the very bad Scandal. I don’t need to watch either one. I doubt that I will keep watching Pitch. As far as I’m concerned the main conflict was resolved in the pilot episode. As for This Is Us, I’m just not feeling it, no matter how close it is to Parenthood. In fact, maybe that’s precisely the problem. If I want to watch Parenthood again, I can. I don’t need to watch a close second.
That said, I’m definitely not turning into a TV drama snob. I love Jane the Virgin, for example. Although, it’s light fare, it’s original, well-written, well-acted, and downright hilarious. I’ll also keep watching Grey’s Anatomy. Yes, it’s soapy, but I’ve been watching too long to let it go now.
But, back to The Night Of. I loved the writing, acting, filming. It’s, without a doubt, one of the best tv series that I’ve ever watched. It left me with a great sense of satisfaction due to its high quality. But, it also left me thinking and with a deep sense of despair. While The Night Of is a work of fiction (adapted from a British TV series called Criminal Justice), it left me feeling similarly to when I watched Making a Murderer, a real-life documentary of a man accused and convicted of murder.
My feeling back then, as it is now, is that when it comes to the U.S. judicial system, the best thing that one can do is to never enter it. While the system claims a presumption of innocence, that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty, this is not really the way that it works, it’s the opposite that is true.
However, staying out of the justice system might be easier said than done these days. Let me explain. One of the things that really shocked me when I first started watching The Night Of was how Naz was treated by the police when they stopped him for making a wrong left turn. Even before they could smell that he had been drinking, even before they suspected him of murder, there was so much aggression in the way that the police officer spoke to Naz. They treated him like a criminal from the moment that they stopped him. Later, they chose to keep him in the backseat of a police car and in the precinct for hours, because it was convenient for them, a flagrant abuse of power. This might be fiction, but sadly it reflects the attitude that police officers too often have with civilians these days.
This made me wonder. When did the police change from “to serve and protect” to “scare and impair”, even kill without motive? I am not anti-police. I feel that there are good and bad police officers and all degrees in between, just like it’s the case for civilians in the general population. But, something has gone wrong somewhere, or perhaps some things have gone wrong everywhere. Maybe, the general population has become more disrespectful of authority, more verbally aggressive; the training and psychological counseling needed by police officers might not be adequate; certainly, the militarization of our police forces has placed us all in a system of “us vs. them”; and finally the racial inequalities that exist in the system, from the way minorities are profiled and treated, to the disparity in the % of incarcerations vs the general population, to the difference in the severity of the sentences between racial groups, all these point to too many wrongs.
Another aspect of the series that shocked me was to see the transformation of Naz from a sweet, naive, young man to a hardened convict, especially because he was innocent. Again, while fiction, this is too close to reality. Naz became a hardened convict because he was thrown in with criminals and had to survive in a hostile environment. Naz’s predicament made me think about what we could do to improve the prison system. If a person is truly considered innocent until proven guilty, could we not have separate facilities for those awaiting trial, and even have those facilities organized by type and severity of crime?
Then, The Night Of gives a realistic picture of the role of media, politics, and of course, money in the judicial process. When an accused person is poor there is very little chance that they will receive adequate legal representation. The court system is so backlogged that innocent people are encouraged to take deals to spend 10-15 years in prison to avoid costly trials.
Finally, the ending of The Night Of made me think that were this a real-life story, it would have ended a lot worse as we saw in Making a Murderer. What makes The Night Of so powerful is that this piece of entertainment shocks us into seeing something horrifying that is very close to reality and that most of us would prefer to ignore. We shouldn’t.