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Solving ‘The Night Of': A finale for the ages

08.29.16 at 1:57 am ET
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Naz and John Stone on the finale of the show of the summer. (Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)

Naz and John Stone on the finale of the show of the summer. (Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)

That’s how you do it.  

That’s how you end a TV show.

I don’t know how many people watched “The Night Of” in real time, but it is a fraction of how many people will catch up on this show in the age of Streaming Entertainment.

Like its ancestors, “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” “The Night Of” is destined to be remembered as a complete piece of work — everything matters and everything is connected. Unlike its ancestors, it only got eight episodes to reach a satisfying conclusion. I would argue that any more time spent on this story would have lead to a split decision in its battle for a place in the modern television pantheon instead of the devastating knockout it delivered in the finale.

Over the last few years, the most popular show on television has been AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” and that’s not surprising because it is about zombies. Like the undead flesh monsters that haunt post-Apocalyptic Atlanta in “The Walking Dead,” we as TV watchers are stomping around the vast entertainment landscape scrounging for anything we can find and consuming as much of it as possible before we move on to the next feeding.

In that stomp-stomp-feed-stomp-stomp-feed approach to consuming content, we walked right into the trap Steve Zaillian, Richard Price, their brilliant cast and HBO set for us; they zigged when we assumed they’d be zagging and we tumbled right over a cliff while chasing the honking car of tropey cop drama television. The red herrings never stopped jumping and seemed to have sprouted wings during the finale.  

Try counting how many times you thought to yourself, “Well, this is what gets the jury to vote Naz guilty, and then he is going to die in prison.”  I clocked in at ninety-two — one for each minute until the greatest moment of the series. I won’t recount all of them, but here were the highlights:

RED HERRING #1: The Usual Suspects. In court, we got to see Trevor, Duane Reed, Mr. Day, and Don Taylor all take the witness stand to get grilled by the defense. While each was presented as a viable alternative to Naz being the person who killed Andrea, ultimately all were let go.  

GUT REACTION: With no viable options, Naz is the only person who could be found guilty.  

RED HERRING #2: What Are You Doing, Chandra?! The last time I audibly shouted “OH MY GOD” at the TV, Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass in Super Bowl XLIX. Chandra went from prosecuting attorney to drug mule in no time flat. I’ve been watching, analyzing, and discussing TV for a LONG time… I did not see a lawyer smuggling a bag of opiates to her client coming.  

GUT REACTION: Obviously they both get caught, the prosecution finds out, Naz is found guilty, and Chandra goes to jail. Everyone loses.  

RED HERRING #3: Naz gets put on the stand. After abstaining from cross-examining all of the defense’s suspects, D.A. Weiss winds up a balled fist and knocks Naz into the middle of next week. This scene was the prestige courtroom drama version of Ivan Drago beating Apollo Creed to death in front of Rocky with John Stone play the Duke role screaming, “THROW THE DAMN TOWEL!” This was Johnny Lawrence sweeping the leg of Daniel LaRusso. She put him in a bodybag. She boxed him into a corner where he doubted his own innocence in front of the jury.  

GUT REACTION: She got Naz to doubt himself, so obviously he’s going to jail for life where he will receive many more neck tattoos.  

RED HERRING #4: Naz looks like he’s going to get got. Back at Rikers, the prison guard on watch gets his hands on some surveillance camera footage and shows it to Freddy. Obviously, this is the footage of Chandra delivering the package of opiates to Naz, which he has obviously hidden from Freddy, and he is obviously going to heat up that razor blade and take Naz out before the verdict is rendered, not unlike he did to Victor in the previous episode. Freddy has already shown the audience what he does to people who step out of line in his organization. Even for his protege, the swift hands of The King of Queens are going to wrap around his neck because Naz stepped out of line.

GUT REACTION: Guilty or innocent, Naz doesn’t make it out of Rikers alive.  

Luckily, “The Night Of” is a much different show than any other crime/courtroom drama in which any of these resolutions would have sufficed.  I expected all of these things to happen because this is what we have seen before in every other TV show.  This was the zig for which we content zombies were secretly clamoring.  What we got was something so much better.  

GIFT #1: John Stone gets his one moment in the sun. John Turturro, in what needs to be an Emmy nominated performance, steps up to the plate and BLASTS a home run of a closing argument.  

GUT REACTION: This might be good enough to get Naz acquitted, but not necessarily prove his innocence to the viewer.  

GIFT #2. Box Comes Through Like We Knew He Would.  Det. Box, after weeks of questioning the facts, unearths a suspect we mentioned (previously he was mentioned as “guy-at-funeral”) but didn’t focus on, Ray Halle. I could watch a sequel series of Box following leads, Weiss attacking in the courtroom, and Dr. Katz collecting and explaining forensic evidence forever.  

GUT REACTION: We might actually get justice in the last 20 minutes.

GIFT #3: The Cat Theory Conclusion. I called it in my first recap, I mentioned it every week since, and I shouted it at my television in real time: THE CAT MEANS EVERYTHING. As if the ASPCA commercial on the TV in Stone’s apartment wasn’t enough to tug at our heartstrings, we learned that he saved the cat after all. Throughout the series, the connective tissue from theory to theory has been that the cat represents the truth and how close Stone has been to it all along. John Stone, for all the setbacks that have befallen him over the run of this limited series, is a character with a rich backstory worth exploring. He wasn’t always a psoriasis-riddled, quixotic attorney scrapping his way to $60k a year on plea deals. At one point, he wanted to become a lawyer because he believed people need defending. His unwavering belief in the legal system, despite the wheels of justice having ground him into a fine powder over the years, was the gas in the tank of this show. Pursuing the truth is dirty work and we see him doing all of it in both episodic and metaphorical instances — from scrounging up business at 4 a.m. in police stations to chasing suspects down alleys to emptying litter boxes, etc. The pursuit of justice has done nothing but hurt this guy but he knows it is worth it and even if it is going to make him uncomfortable. I’m now almost positive his surname is Stone, because, like the Greek mythological figure Sisyphus, he is going to push a boulder of the responsibility of truth and justice up a hill every day for eternity.    

GUT REACTION: I was right on the money from day one.  

Unlike the true beauty of a show like “The Night Of,” these are exactly what they are labeled as being: red herrings and gut reactions. They are the tropes and obvious turns that we can expect from a TV show. Even after marveling at what the show did and didn’t do, I was still looking for reasons to point at and detract. Zaillian and Price too met this head on. Even in introducing, explaining, and zeroing in on the real killer in the final episode — a move I promised myself I would hate if they did — fits perfectly. It answers the question I’ve been asking throughout the entire series: Is this a show about who killed Andrea Cornish or is this a show about what happens in the wake of a tragedy? “The Night Of” is most certainly the latter and by showing that life — while not pretty, resolved, or free from strife — will continue. The ripple effects of what happened on October 24th will reverberate in the lives of everyone involved. I’m not sure we’d get the same result if this show were simply about a murder, even if it were filmed as exquisitely or presented on premium cable.  

It took one night — three hours, really — for unthinkable events to take place. It took roughly eight weeks for Naz’s life to unravel. It took insurmountable adversity for the true nature of each character to reveal itself. Therein lies what the show really was; “The Night Of” was much more than a summer TV show — it was a promising glimpse of what TV could be.  

Read More: The Night Of,

Redrafting Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘E•MO•TION’

08.28.16 at 1:48 pm ET
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Carly Rae Jepsen's leftover songs are killer. (Getty Images)

Carly Rae Jepsen’s leftover songs are killer. (Getty Images)

For an album that’s exceedingly bright, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “E•MO•TION” didn’t have as fun a time as it should have. It was undoubtedly a very strong album, but it barely yielded one Top 40 song as the album failed to take Jepsen back to the heights she had reached with “Call Me Maybe” off of 2012’s “Kiss.”

Still, those who sunk their teeth into the album swore by it, and for good reason. This album was crafted to be a modern-day pop masterpiece, as its producers and co-writers included modern-day hitmakers Sia, Ariel Rechtshaid (Adele, Vampire Weekend, HAIM, Calvin Harris), Shellback (Taylor Swift, Adele, Kesha, Maroon 5) Mattman & Robin (Taylor Swift, Tove Lo, Nick Jonas; they’re also the monsters responsible for “Cake By the Ocean”), Rostam and Dev Hynes. Simply looking at the album’s credits was enough to make a pop fan’s mouth water. Hell, Bieber was an executive producer.

The songs were great, if not too similar to one another. The album was clearly put together with an 80s sound in mind, an area where Rechtshaid in particular excels. Why the album wasn’t a major success may go down as one of modern pop’s great mysteries, but the thinking here from the beginning was that some truly great work was spent on an artist who wasn’t truly great, and that’s coming from a Carly Rae Jepsen fan.

Still, the album’s fate was unfair. Taylor Swift’s success (and that of so many before her) shows that you don’t need to be a powerhouse vocalist to be a star solo artist, and really “1989” wasn’t so much better than “EMOTION” that one deserved Album of the Year while the other failed to even get a single Grammy nomination.

On Friday, Jepson released “E•MO•TION: Side B,” a collection of eight songs that didn’t make the cut for the 12-song LP. The songs very much come from the same world as “E•MO•TION” (the 80s world), but interestingly enough, “Side B” might actually be a better pound-for-pound release than “E•MO•TION” itself. The leadoff track of the leftovers, “First Time” is perhaps one of the five best songs of the entire group of 20.

So, with “Side B” being received warmly (and it’s worth nothing “E•MO•TION” was also a critical darling), it’s worth exploring whether “E•MO•TION” could have been more successful had Interscope kept some of the songs it cut and lost some of the ones that made the album. Sticking with 12 songs (the number on the standard release), here’s one attempt at giving “E•MO•TION” a good ol’ fashioned redrafting:

1. Run Away With Me [E•MO•TION] – The rest of the album isn’t as adult as its leadoff shuffle, making this a standout track.
2. First Time [Side B] – And here we return to vintage Jepsen. Nothing beats good, unapologetically derivative pop. This song isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but rather make the wheel look damn good.
3. Higher [Side B] – A good enough song to overlook rhyming “best” with “rest.”
4. E•MO•TION [E•MO•TION] – Great chorus; would have been a much better choice as a single than the bland “Your Type,” which was released as a single but doesn’t make the cut here.
5. I Really Like You [E•MO•TION] – The only Top 40 song off “E•MO•TION” wasn’t close to her best work on the album, but it appeased the “Call Me Maybe” crowd to a degree.
6. The One [Side B] – Carly Rae Jepsen is nothing without flirty songs. This is one of them.
7. All That [E•MO•TION] – The best song of the 20 and one of Rechtshaid’s finest works. Just a terrific slow jam with a killer bridge.
8. Boy Problems [E•MO•TION] – Jepsen’s songs usually rely on massive choruses; here’s a rare instance where the verse and pre-chorus outshine the hook.
9. Cry [Side B] – The type of song Taylor Swift will hear and be furious she didn’t come up with it first.
10. When I Needed You [E•MO•TION] – Essentially a Sky Ferreira song, which is a great thing.
11. Warm Blood [E•MO•TION] – The most ambitious song of the group, and boy does it work.
12. Roses [Side B] – Now I seriously wish this is what the album was. “Roses” would have been a hell of a closer.

Read More: Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion, Emotion Side B,

Guess which singer is getting a Lifetime biopic and is not happy about it

08.25.16 at 2:22 pm ET
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It’s Britney Spears.

Lifetime announced yesterday they have a two-hour movie about Britney’s life in the works. But Britney is not on board with it.

Her rep released this statement:

“Britney Spears will not be contributing in any way, shape or form to the Lifetime biopic, nor does it have her blessing.”

Cool. I love and support Britney forever and ever but I’m still going to watch this. But I understand why she wouldn’t want Lifetime to recreate her life and everything she’s been through. However, it makes for a great TV movie: Child star who lost her virginity to Justin Timberlake then became the biggest pop star in the world, married a childhood friend in Vegas, annulled that 55 hours later, married Kevin Federline, had two sons with him, then divorced him. Then I see the second act of this film climaxing with her EPIC 2007 meltdown when she shaved her head.

A photo posted by Julie N.H (@julienybakken) on


This movie writes itself.

Oh and this girl, Natasha Bassett, is playing Britney:

Getty Images

Getty Images

Stay tuned.

Lou Pearlman, fraudster and boy band impresario, dies in prison at 62

08.22.16 at 12:17 pm ET
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The highly controversial man behind the boy band sensations of the ’90s, as well as one of the longest running Ponzi schemes in history, has died.

Lou Pearlman was a record producer who gave birth to the Backstreet Boys and managed *NSYNC, O-Town, LFO, Take 5, and US5. US5 was the only band he managed that didn’t sue him.

The Backstreet Boys sued Pearlman twice, once in 1997 and again in 2005.

When he died, he was serving a 25-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2008 of a bunch of illegal business practices. He duped investors in his company, Trans Continental Airlines, out of a total of $317 million. When he was caught, Pearlman was hiding in Indonesia and was spotted by a German tourist who alerted the FBI.

This guy was shady as hell and when his former clients took to Twitter to react to his death, none were exactly overcome with sadness:

   Especially Aaron Carter:

Read More: Aaron Carter, Backstreet Boys, Lou Pearlman, NSYNC

Solving ‘The Night Of': ‘Ordinary Death’ delivers a mountain of evidence and a bigger mountain of questions

08.22.16 at 1:35 am ET
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Detective Box is having second thoughts about just about everything. (Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)

Detective Box is having second thoughts about just about everything. (Craig Blankenhorn/HBO)

It took seven episodes, but we have finally reached our most procedural chapter in “The Night Of.” “Ordinary Death” gave us everything we’ve been clamoring for: examination of the evidence, revisiting our list of suspects, and a look at the true nature of our principal characters. Next week’s finale, “The Call of the Wild,” will be an extended episode that should give us plenty to chew on.  

“Ordinary Death” delivered big time by serving not only as a gripping hour of television furthering the penultimate-episode-is-the-best-episode trend, but as a great review of the important parts of the show we’ve been obsessing about this summer.

Heading into Episode 7:

  • Where does Det. Box stand on the case? Does he actually think Naz did it?
  • Is stepdad Don Taylor the prime suspect? If Stone and Chandra were the prosecution would they be going after him?
  • Is Naz going to continue to unravel in prison?  
  • Are we going to get some clues or what?

“Ordinary Death” dealt with the repercussions of the murder for all of our characters in “The Night Of” — one of the “real questions” posed in this limited series. How everyone other than Naz is processing the fallout from Andrea Cornish’s murder has been used only as scene painting until this point. As the focus of the penultimate episode, we learned — as suspected — it is not good. For anyone.

Understandably, Naz’s parents are feeling it the most. Naz’s father is being hamstrung by his former business partners into selling his share of the taxi medallion for a fraction of its worth, his mother is questioning if somehow she was to blame for raising Naz into someone who could have committed such a heinous crime, they both are being forced to sell anything of value to pay just to survive and the greater Muslim community of New York being victimized as the case gains more notoriety. As the case has drawn on and those closest to him have taken on more and more of the burden, Naz is becoming more and more myopic in his actions. Obviously, the case is having a profound effect on him, but it is almost as if he is sitting through court as a formality and waiting to get back to his life at Rikers. Is that kind of acceptance of the situation and realization of his true nature the whole point of the series?  

Since his transformation began, collectively we’ve been hoping and praying it was just a defense mechanism, but we’re starting to understand who Naz truly is and what exactly he is capable of.  The revelation that he sent not one but two kids to the hospital and was regularly selling Adderall to classmates was shocking.  Not the actions themselves — we’ve already seen and dissected how Naz deals with stress — but his reactions to these things being brought up in court in front of his defense team, his parents, and the jury. He sat in unflinching silence staring stone-faced at whomever was on the witness stand, not ashamed, not angry, not even surprised that these new details were being brought up. He looked at his former basketball coach, the medical examiner, and his friend/client, in the same way a predator looks at its prey. Who is this guy, and why am I still asking this question with only one episode left to go?  

Regardless of Naz’s actions being brought to light, both Chandra and Stone are still at it trying to drum up as much plausible deniability as possible. Presumably, their key witness, the hilariously named Dr. Katz (THE CAT THEORY LIVES) gave the audience what we’ve been waiting for for two months: explanations for every single piece of evidence we’ve seen. Through his testimony, we learned that the knife that killed Andrea is not necessarily the knife that they have in evidence. We learned that breaking into Andrea’s house on the night in question would have been easy to do — the lock on the gate is broken, the basement door was unlocked, and the scalable tree outside in front of her house lead directly to her open bedroom window. We also learned that if someone did break into her house through either the window or the basement door, they wouldn’t have necessarily seen Naz passed out in the kitchen or the kitchen itself. None of this testimony exonerates Naz, but it does — no pun intended — hold the door open for a shadow of a doubt to creep in.  

The final sequence of “Ordinary Death,” a chilling juxtaposition of both Naz’s and Det. Box’s acceptance of the next phase of their respective lives, put a bow on the gift that has been this show.  After finding out that Petey — the son of Freddy’s drug mule — has committed suicide, Naz comes clean to Freddy about what had been going on between him and Victor. Brilliantly edited against Det. Box’s retirement party, we see Freddy and Naz run a misdirection that allows Freddy to murder Victor in cold blood in plain view while at the same time Det. Box is reconsidering the events of the case and his retirement. Naz — really putting his myopic vision superpowers to good use — has now eliminated any buffer between himself and the most ruthless man in Rikers.  There is no one else for Freddy to lean on now, and I have a hard time believing that even if proven innocent, he will let Naz leave prison easily if at all. He’s in too deep. The same can be said for Det. Box; while we all assumed he was going to play a much bigger role in this series, the doubt he has about the events surrounding Andrea’s murder is casting a pretty big shadow of its own.  

The Notepad

The Red Herring Checklist – SUSPECTS

  • Duane Reed: In the wind and being joked about in court. If we do see him again, I doubt it’s in the back of a squad car.
  • Mr. Day: The looming specter of death is here, but he isn’t the culprit.
  • Stepdad Don Taylor: THE ONLY CHARACTER WITH MOTIVE IN THE ENTIRE SHOW.  WHY IS JOHN STONE THE ONLY GUY GOING AFTER HIM?
  • Scumbag waiter/dealer: Man this dude is twitchy, but it’s doubtful he did it.  

The Red Herring Checklist – EVIDENCE

  • Broken back gate: Theory confirmed; the gate was open.
  • Unlocked basement door: Theory confirmed; the door was open.
  • Multiple ways to get into the house: Naz doesn’t necessarily need to have done it because, in theory, he’s not the only person with access.
  • The murder weapon might not be the murder weapon: The knife in evidence isn’t necessarily the knife that was used; one of the set was missing, even though there are a million reasons why it is missing.  
  • Shout out to Dr. Katz, the best character on this show by far. “If The Night Of” turns from limited series to anthology series, I hope he is the through-line character. I could watch him discuss his crime scene analysis for at least eight hours.

THEORY HEAT CHECK

  • The Cat Theory: The cat as a stand in for the truth holds true. As John Stone has redeemed himself, he has become more and more accepting of the cat. At the beginning of the series, he didn’t care about the truth; he cared about what the defense could prove. This is no longer the case – Stone is now a cat owner and a truth seeker. Not as fun as the time traveling cat version of this theory, but it’s poetic as hell.
  • The Motive Theory: Don Taylor is the only person with motive for killing Andrea, but he is the least likely to have done it according to his M.O. He’s a bankruptcy claiming, white collar, grey lady chasing kind of creep; not a knife wielding psychopath kind of creep. Even though the motive makes sense, it is only in a “Law and Order: SVU” kind of way.
  • Occam’s Razor: To summarize, when there are many options, the simplest answer is the truth. At this point, Naz is still the person closest to the murder scene and the only known person to be in the house at the time of the murder. I doubt he did it, but who else could have?  What other options to the jury have to consider?  
  • The Padraic O’Connor TV Sleuther Theory: We are not going to see who actually killed Andrea Cornish. We may “see him/her” but they aren’t getting hauled in. This show isn’t about a murder; it’s about what happens after.
Read More: The Night Of,
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