HomeTelevisionI Am the Night: An Awkward Mashup of Tones

I Am the Night: An Awkward Mashup of Tones

I Am the Night
Photo Credit: Clay Enos

It’s exciting that, in 2019, Pattty Jenkins is finally being given the opportunity to share her artistic voice with the world. After emerging on the scene with the Oscar winning Monster, Jenkins suffered the fate shared by many female directors — her choice of projects was slim, and she mainly worked on television without much attention. But then Wonder Woman happened, and her place in the industry has changed — she’s now very much the public face of I Am the Night, a limited series that reunites her with her former male lead, Chris Pine. And it’s great to see her stretch her directorial muscle in a whole new genre — it’s just a shame she’s not being given better material to work with.

I Am the Night is set in the grimy world of 1960s Los Angeles, telling a complicated murder mystery from two distinct point of views. In one corner, we have Fauna (India Eisley), a teenage girl of mixed race who is struggling to survive in the racist world around her. But a startling discovery about her parents changes everything and, suddenly, she is running off to Hollywood to learn more about her past — potentially plunging her into a darker conspiracy about George Hodel, the notorious gynecologist who became a prime suspect in the Black Dahlia murders.

This subplot is quite compelling in the first hour, and showcases Jenkins’ direction at her finest. She approaches the material in a tone reminiscent of 90s Frank Darabont — this is classic American, cinematic storytelling, relying on tropes that are perhaps a bit old fashioned but promise audiences a certain kind of story that is bound to entertain. Jenkins feels right at home, nailing a tone she’s never really been afforded the chance to pull off in the past. Even better, the creepy hints of whats to come as the mystery unfolds are effective and deeply unsettling.

But it’s the other subplot that drags the pilot down a bit. This storyline follows disgraced reporter Jay Singletary (Chris Pine), an alcoholic who is similarly drawn into the tangled web the series is starting to build. Jenkins’ direction remains consistent: she is trying to tell a classic detective story, and continues to get great work out of Pine. While he’s perhaps a bit too broad during some of the pilot’s lighter moments, the man is charismatic and has screen presence, and he’s not afraid to appear less than glamorous onscreen.

But the dialogue that both Jenkins and Pine are working with is truly embarrassing. Filled with stock phrases and cliches of the genre, you’d think that writer Sam Sheridan was crafting a spoof of ’40s noir. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. There’s a way to do a humorous send up of detective movies. But, when matched with Jenkins’ more refined and classical direction, it feels like a massive miscalculation. Going forward, the series would be best to focus on Eisely’s storyline, or completely cut the ridiculous dialogue. Unfortunately, it does seem like Pine’s storyline will be given equal screentime — if not more. That’d be a mistake.

Last January, TNT tries to hook audiences with an expensive looking period piece — and that limited series was also about a serial killer! In this Golden Age of Television, every network is striving to find a limited series that will captivate audiences. And, finally, TNT seems to have the star power to create a cultural moment — Pine is hotter than ever, and while Jenkins may not be a household name (yet!) it certainly doesn’t hurt to have “From the director of Wonder Woman” plastered across ever poster. But — like The Alienist before it — this series reeks of squandered potential. In a perfect world, the story Jenkins is clearly more passionate about telling will become the main focus of the series. For now, I’m curious to see where it goes.

Overall rating: 7 out of 10.

I Am the Night airs Sunday nights on TNT.

Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor
Matt Taylor is the TV editor at The Pop Break, along with being one of the site's awards show experts. When he's not at the nearest movie theater, he can be found bingeing the latest Netflix series, listening to synth pop, or updating his Oscar predictions. A Rutgers grad, he also works in academic publishing. Follow him on Twitter @MattNotMatthew1.

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