The Kim-Kanye-Taylor battle royale that raged this past Sunday night was, incredibly, only the second-most compelling drama of the evening. First place still goes to HBO’s utterly fantastic The Night Of, the gritty murder-mystery limited series created by Steven Zaillian and god-level dialogue genius Richard Price. It’s a killer show with a grim, weary tone delivered with such workmanlike excellence that the relentless ambient dread is somehow also life-affirming, and we all know who to thank for that: a whole pack of That Guys.
The Night Of basically functions as a That Guy all-star team: those veteran and not-so-veteran character actors you recognize from a dozen places but can’t quite cite by name. Famously, the show started as a James Gandolfini vehicle, but the final cast is far more modest and star wattage–averse in its excellence, employing the talents of rising rapper–actor Riz Ahmed as the star-crossed murder suspect Naz, and beloved That Guy alumnus John Turturro stepping into the Gandolfini role as Naz’s overmatched lawyer. (J.D. Williams, a.k.a. Bodie from The Wire, shows up as a too-chatty eyewitness named Trevor, but you’ll know him immediately as “Bodie from The Wire,” so he’s disqualified.) You know most of these folks by reputation already; it’s time to learn their names for good.
Role: Detective Box
Delightful Quote: “Here’s what we’re gonna find, if you ask me. Her in the cab, the cab on her. You in the house, the house on you. You on her, her on you. The knife on you, her on the knife.”
Vibe: Exhausted, hyper-competent, thoughtfully eccentric, subtly beastly.
Previous Roles: The Night Of is gonna blow your pal Bill right past That Guy status, which is lovely, just lovely. This is star-making shit right here, if they keep making gritty noirs like this, which they’d better. Quietly, he’s an HBO vet (Boardwalk Empire, The Leftovers) with roles in back-to-back Oscar victors (12 Years a Slave, Birdman); this year he’s in two Jeff Nichols movies both (Midnight Special and Loving) along with the upcoming Jason Bourne. All that plus a bunch of theater. Hopefully you knew him when.
Level of Comfort With Richard Price Dialogue: He’s perfect. He’s practically a Richard Price audience surrogate.
Role: “Sentencing Berg,” a.k.a. the judge who sends Turturro’s other client to prison for three years.
Delightful Quote: “You want Jew time? Do a Jew crime.”
Vibe: Caustic, terse, yet detail-oriented. (Describing the prison: “You’ll like it up there, Mr. G. Right on the border with Canada, no frets about humidity.”)
Previous Roles: LeFevre has the range. Like 90 percent of the people on this show, he’s a Law and Order universe vet, but he’s done comedy, too: He showed up in a climactic speed-dating scene in Hitch, and here he is expertly reacting to a dude catching a slap shot in the nuts in the zany midst of She’s Out of My League. He played a judge in one episode of the The Good Wife (R.I.P.), the show with the deepest wacky-judge bullpen in recent years; and, in the best piece of casting that was also the greatest insult to Adam as a person, he played Karl Rove in Fair Game, the 2010 Sean Penn movie about the Valerie Plame affair.
Level of Comfort With Richard Price Dialogue: Extraordinary.
Role: “Duty Klein,” a.k.a. the cop running the police station where Naz spends most of the first episode.
Delightful Quote: [Answers phone.] “Klein.” [Listens.] “Well, I was doin’ all right, then I answered the phone.”
Vibe: Lethally sarcastic and mostly efficient.
Previous Roles: Emmy- and Golden Globe–nominated for his role in HBO’s 2003 version of Angels in America, Shenkman otherwise has vacillated between indie-prestige movies (Blue Valentine, Requiem for a Dream) and you-gotta-eat TV shows like the short-lived The Paul Reiser Show and the long-lived Burn Notice. (See also: Billions.) Most prominently, he was Jeremiah the neurotic doctor on Royal Pains (i.e., one of the many shows on USA that is not Mr. Robot).
Level of Comfort With Richard Price Dialogue: Masterful. He may be the show’s secret MVP: His delivery of the line “What’s suspicious about it?” is unreal. (You gotta be there.)
Role: Judge Lawrence Felder, who denies Naz’s bail.
Delightful Quote: “This court is kind of like Jeopardy! I ask a question, the answer has to be in the right phrasing.”
Vibe: Exhausted, but accommodating.
Previous Roles: Ned might be the most prominent Law and Order vet here: He played defense attorney Roger Kressler on SVU for years, and cut his teeth with Christopher Meloni in the mega-early-’90s sitcom The Fanelli Boys. (He was on The Good Wife, too, but not as a judge, which is too bad.) Otherwise, please enjoy this excellent demo reel, which spans from his gig as Hilary Swank’s original shitty trainer in Million Dollar Baby to the time he also played a judge … on Whoopi Goldberg’s extremely short-lived NBC comedy Whoopi. The robes aside, that was not good practice for this at all.
Level of Comfort With Richard Price Dialogue: Great, or in any event way better than his level of comfort with Whoopi Goldberg’s writers’ dialogue.
Role: Don Taylor, the murder victim’s estranged stepfather.
Not-So-Delightful Quote: [In regard to crime-scene photos of his murdered stepdaughter] “I don’t wanna see those.”
Vibe: Shell-shocked, contemptuous.
Previous Roles: Paul is well known within the Law and Order triumvirate, in addition to gigs on House of Cards (he’s got the Disgusted Voiceover thing down cold) and, most notably, Boardwalk Empire, where he did a long, oily run as Mickey Doyle, complete with a spectacularly grating signature giggle that is not likely to be evident on this show. There is, however, a unifying aura of total derision, like so:
Level of Comfort With Richard Price Dialogue: Excellent. He’s the least-flashy dude onscreen, and consequently might stick with you the most.
Charlie Hudson III
Role: Duane Reade, a.k.a. Trevor’s friend who passes Naz and Andrea on the street. (Yes, his name is “Duane Reade.” This will be acerbically addressed.)
Delightful Quote: [Long, intense gaze at Andrea’s front door.]
Vibe: Hella suspicious.
Previous Roles: Not much of a CV for Charlie yet, beyond the Rosa Parks TV movie and the last Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun. So not a That Guy, technically, but we’re including him here for no particular reason.
Level of Comfort With Richard Price Dialogue: WE’LL PROBABLY FIND OUT.
Role: Wiggins, the cop who pulls over Naz. (The term “That Guy” is gender-neutral.)
Delightful Quote: “So let me ask you, in your own words, what does ‘No left turn’ mean.”
Vibe: Exhausted, unaccommodating.
Previous Roles: Afton, whose personal clips website is incredibly well organized, has had roles on shows such as Banshee, Homeland, SVU, and, yes, Royal Pains, right alongside our new bud, Ben Shenkman. Most notably, she was Juliet’s harried publicist during a too-brief stint on Nashville, which gave her plenty of practice with acting super-irritated.
Level of Comfort With Richard Price Dialogue: Splendid, though please let her go home eventually.
Role: “Danny Lang at night watch,” a.k.a. the cop who calls Detective Box.
Delightful Quote: “It’s gonna get pretty photogenic out there.”
Vibe: Just exhausted.
Previous Roles: Ooh, this dude’s been in everything. He’s Nora Dunn’s brother, and a modern-day HBO big-shot: On True Detective, he personally told Rust Cohle to “shut the fuck up,” and the f-word has since served him well on Veep. (He swore less in the nonetheless bulletproof political-thriller classic Dave.) He was in both Ghostbusters II and Beethoven’s 2nd, and played Shia LaBeouf’s dad in the Transformers movies — you can ask him yourself which of those he’s most proud of.
Level of Comfort With Richard Price Dialogue: Lovely, though he’s the rare actor for whom Richard Price might not offer enough profanity.
Role: Harry, the coroner.
Delightful Quote: [Deep, mournful sigh before photographing murder victim’s dead body.]
Vibe: Most exhausted of all.
Previous Roles: He was Greg on Flight of the Conchords. Took me forever to place him. This only matters to me, but that’s enough.
Level of Comfort With Richard Price Dialogue: Doing fine, though this material is just slightly grimmer.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.