Ah, Cinemax. There’s a name that I haven’t heard in a while. The last time I remember watching something on that channel, I was around 13 years old, sneaking downstairs under the cover of night to watch The Red Shoe Diaries. Hell, I didn’t even know Cinemax was even around anymore, until I read about a new show Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11, Sex, Lies & Videotape) was directing. I was shocked for two reasons. First, one of my favorite directors was doing a TV show; second, one of my favorite directors is doing a TV show. I thought it was both great and weird. Why would such a world-renowned director be doing a television series—and on Cinemax, no less?
Then it hit me, most TV shows these days are ten times better than anything in the movies. Directors have more creative control, longer time frame to plan out the story, etc. Then I looked at the excellent cast for The Knick—Clive Owen, (Children Of Men) Michael Angarano (Dear Wendy), Matt Frewer (Honey I Shrunk The Kids), Jeremy Bob (The Wolf Of Wall Street) and Andre Holland (Selma). With all that talent and a great director, I was certain that The Knick would be an excellent show, and it is. The Knick stars Clive Owen as brilliant surgeon, John Thackery in 1900’s New York City; The Knick is a nickname for the hospital that Thackery works in, The Knickerbocker. While working at The Knick, Thackery pushes the boundaries of medicine, morality and race relations all while also trying to solve a plethora of 1900s medical problems as well as trying to hide and balance a cocaine addiction.
The Knick is in dire straights, though—they’re losing funding and that’s terrible news for Herman Barrow, the hospital’s crooked superintendent. He’s got debt out the ass to a pair of local loan sharks and tries desperately to get out of it, even at the expense of The Knick. Rounding out the rest of the supporting cast, there’s Dr. Algernon Edwards, the hospital’s new wonder doctor hailing from Paris. He gets paired up with Dr. Thackery, much to Thackery’s chagrin, as he wanted his protégé to get the job. Dr. Edwards has an extremely rough time at the hospital, mostly because he had the misfortune of being black in the early 1900s. Racial tensions divide the staff with Dr. Edwards and with patients who refuse to be operated on by a black doctor. Sister Harriet, the hospital’s nun and person in charge of the nursery ward, has a big secret from the rest of the staff, she moonlights as an abortionist. Abortion was illegal in the 1900’s and the good sister was sick of seeing women of all ages coming into the hospital almost dead because they decided to do the abortion themselves.
To me, though, one of the most fascinating things about The Knick is the ability to see how doctors did operations in the early days. Here’s a protip, in case you ever need to go back in time for some reason—don’t get injured, because the operations they had to preform were gruesome. Most of the time, the patients had to undergo surgery without any anesthesia, and to top it all off, being that this was the turn of the century, hand washing was very low on the “things I need to do before surgery” totem pole.
After watching season one of The Knick, I can honestly say that this show is close to being perfect. The acting, music, direction, editing and set design are all top notch. I would even rival this show against Boardwalk Empire for set design, and The Knick would win. The Blu-ray for The Knick features a documentary on turn-of-the-century doctors and their operation procedures as well as audio commentary on select episodes—nothing really groundbreaking in terms of special features, but really interesting. To sum it all up, if you’re fan of great acting, drama, directing and set design and really gory surgery, then The Knick is right for you.