Last night (Saturday, July 30) HBO played host to an advance screening of one of its latest success stories, The Night Of. Taking place at The London in West Hollywood, CA., some of the mini-series’ key players, actors and creators alike came together to provide insight to the thriller that has everyone counting down the days until Sunday at 9PM when the next installment airs.

The eight-part limited series closely follows the nightmare that the lead character, Naz, literally woke up into when he found himself the key suspect in a murder case in New York City. The brilliantly complicated storyline takes a look into the grim reality that goes hand-in-hand with the legal proceedings and criminal justice system in general. Starring the likes of John Turturro and Riz Ahmed, the series truly is shot like an eight-hour long film full of cinematic brilliance, a dynamic script and really, really good acting.

While the series does feel “timely” as it touches on race/religious relations in the U.S. and how people of color are treated by people of authority, the show’s intention is a genuine one: to beautifully present one man’s possibly-tragic story and by doing so, really get people thinking. It’s almost impossible not to be pulled in by this saga and be captivated by the different layers of consequential dialogue it inspires.

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As the cast shared their preparation secrets, such as interviewing people who have experienced incarceration, it became clear that this wasn’t your average acting role. With a set that chillingly felt like a real prison, the cast discussed how one could go a whole day working without seeing daylight and truly lived their roles while filming, and now that the cameras have stopped rolling, are using their experiences to advocate for desperate reforms such as ending mass incarceration and reevaluating the way the police department behaves.

The panel’s conversation also focused on how most cases never see a trial, and in a way it’s like “f***ing up someone’s vacation,” to put it into the words of creator/writer/executive producer Richard Price. Prosecutors don’t want to see cases advance in the courtroom because of the associated costs, the press, the inevitable delays, and so on. The politics behind the social justice system and its injustices are not the easiest to explain or understand (nor are they new subjects), but The Night Of portrays the inevitable cynicism of dealing with a murder case as curious and mysterious as this one in a way that also manages to balance its intensity with some essential moments of humor.

The show cast its characters extremely well, with Naz’s bewildered innocence as easy to love and root for as the traits of his quirky (ex) lawyer, his equally respected-and-feared prison guide Freddy (Michael K. Williams) and his traditional and forever-concerned parents. As his chances of proving his innocence seem to slip further and further away, the main character is solidified as the ultimate underdog and at this part in the series, it’s impossible not to be intrigued and on the edge of your seat, wondering what will unfold next.

The Night Of is an absolute must-see, and episode 4 airs tonight (July 31) on HBO at 9pm.

Photos courtesy Michael Angulo / Team Epiphany