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The Night Of" is the best new drama to air on HBO since the first season of "True Detective" in 2014.

That's not faint praise, although there's been a definite dearth of a quality drama on HBO in recent years. (Even Season 2 of "True Detective" was terrible.) And there was reason to be skeptical about "The Night Of," which has been in development at the pay-cable channel for years.

But the finished product is exceptional.

Adapted from the British drama "Criminal Justice," this is the sort of story that shows like "CSI" or "Law & Order" would wrap up in an hour. "The Night Of" tells this story in eight hours.

And if you're used to the rhythms of weekly crime dramas, yes, the first hour is an adjustment. It's not exactly slow, but it is deliberate.

But having seen seven of the eight episodes — HBO did not provide Episode 8 to critics — I can tell you that "The Night Of" (Sunday, 10 p.m.) is absolutely gripping.

New Yorker Nasir "Naz" Khan (Riz Ahmed), the son of Pakistani immigrants, meets a young woman, Andrea (Sofia Black D'Elia); does drugs with her; has sex with her; and wakes up to discover she's been brutally murdered.

He flees the scene and is picked up for a traffic violation, which is exceedingly bad luck. Naz is arrested and charged with murder, and his prospects are grim.

As dark as it is, "The Night Of" is also funny. The night of the murder plays out like an extremely dark joke in which everything that can go wrong does go wrong for Naz. But Ahmed makes the character so quietly likable, so relatable, that we're drawn into his story.

Enter struggling lawyer Jack Stone (John Turturro), who's sort of Columbo in a much darker world. He's world-weary; he looks (in the words of another character) like "a homeless dude"; he's battling a terrible case of eczema.

But he's smart. And although he takes on Naz's case as a way to promote himself, he's soon convinced of the young man's innocence. And he's committed to seeing justice done in a system that doesn't make that a priority.

"The Night Of" is about more than just the crime. It's about race relations and immigration. About the effects of imprisonment on a young man who wasn't a criminal when he went to jail. About the effects on his family. About a system that doesn't work particularly well.

It's enthralling. "The Night Of" looks like this summer's TV obsession.

There is something odd in the credits of "The Night Of" — James Gandolfini is listed in the credits as an executive producer.

Yes, it's the James Gandolfini who starred in "The Sopranos." The James Gandolfini who died in June 2013, long before "The Night Of" was filmed.

He was one of the primary reasons that HBO bought the show, and he planned to star in the production — he would have played the role that Turturro so ably fills in the finished product.

Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.