Original TV programming is the shiznamaladingdongabong these days, and not just for networks that want to serve a niche audience and build a brand—everyone wants a prestige drama on their schedule. I mean, even Lifetime is giving it a go with The Lottery. Lifetime! And now Cinemax—which until its recent foray into action thrillers was known only as a place where randy teenagers could get their nipple fix—is teaming up with some big names to produce a drama that barely has any boobs in it! But will The Knick mark the dawn of a new era for HBO's horny little brother, or is it a weak attempt at emerging from HBO's shadow? I've seen the first episode and I'm here to let you know whether the series is right for you in the latest edition of Hey TV.com, Gimme Your Opinion on This Show I've Never Heard Of!
The Knick, so this is a show about NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony? Or Jose Calderon?
No no no! "The Knick" is Knickerbocker Hospital, New York City's premiere destination for the sick and injured at the start of the 20th century. Set in 1900, The Knick is a period piece that centers on Dr. John Thackery as he ushers in the era of modern medicine—while dealing with bloody gore, hand-crank medical equipment, and mountains of corpses piling up on operating tables. But that's not all: The Knick also explores the administrative side of the hospital, race relations, and the classic drama fodder known as "personal demons."
Who are the people operating on this thing?
The Knick was created and written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, whose previous credits include Raising Helen, The Shaggy Dog, and The Tony Danza Show. In other words, the project is a bit of departure for them. But The Knick's real voice and tone come from executive producer Steven Soderbergh (the movie genius behind Traffic), who directed all 10 episodes of Season 1 and incorporates plenty of his usual flair.
In front of the camera, Clive Owen (Children of Men) dominates the screen as Dr. Thackery, André Holland (the best part of 1600 Penn) plays an African-American doctor in a hospital whose top brass wants it to remain lily white, and Jeremy Bobb (Hostages), Juliet Rylance (British theater), Eve Hewson (Bono's daughter), Michael Angarano (Sky High, Will & Grace), Eric Johnson (Smallville), and Matt Frewer (Orphan Black, M-m-m-m-m-ax Headroom) round out the talented cast.
When does The Knick plop onto the operating table?
The Knick premieres Friday, August 8 at 10pm on Cinemax. Yes, Cinemax. Right, THAT Cinemax. I'm not kidding! Cinemax!
Who will enjoy The Knick?
Film nerds who like Steven Soderbergh will lap this right up; there's lots of natural light, handheld camerawork, exquisite framing, and steady shots where actors just sit there acting in silence. This is some of the director's best work since the days of Traffic, Erin Brokovich, and Out of Sight. Viewers who yearn for medical dramas that aren't all about doctors sleeping with each other will dig this, too. And if you have even the slightest interest in the history of medicine, I suggest you set a series recording STAT.
Okay, Doc. What's the good news about The Knick?
Visually, The Knick is stunning—though I'm a huge Soderbergh fan, so I'm predisposed to liking his stuff no matter what. However, I don't like many period pieces, and one thing The Knick does really well is modernize the historical drama in such a way that it feels timeless. Soderbergh's direction definitely plays a large part in that, but so does the score: Soderbergh's frequent collaborator Cliff Martinez (formerly of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, who worked with the director on Solaris, Traffic, and The Limey) has crafted a musical landscape that sounds almost futuristic, and it's works so, so well (here's a sample). Why? Because The Knick, like AMC's computer-pioneering drama Halt and Catch Fire, is all about visionaries and a future that we the viewer see as the past. Yet it never stops being thrilling, even if we know that nanobot surgeons are still years and years away.
One thing that pleasantly surprised me about Episode 1 was the wealth of interesting characters it introduced, providing a fascinating look at how hospitals operated in 1900. Consider, for instance, the gruff ambulance drivers who act more like dog catchers than life savers in order to increase the organization's profits, or the nuns who work in the hospital and practice their own traditional medicine when the doctors aren't looking. There's a lot more to see than just surgeons cutting people open.
And when surgeons do cut people open, it's like watching a butcher at work. The Knick is not for the squeamish, but its procedures are presented so matter-of-factly that it's difficult to tear your eyes away from the splashing blood and flapping flesh... as opposed to, say, a plastic-surgery program on TLC, 'cause those things are naaaaaasty.
Okay, Doc, give it to me straight—what's the bad news?
You'll never walk again! Other than that, I'm not sure there's anything glaringly worrisome about The Knick. It can be dark (both visually and tonally), and some of the medical jargon may whiz over your head, but it's generally very solid.
So, should I watch it?
I am prescribing you 10 one-hour doses of this series, otherwise you may die! Okay, maybe you'll live, but you'll miss out on one hell of a good show.
I'd like a second opinion.
Fine! Here's a trailer.
The Knick premieres Friday, August 8 at 10pm on Cinemax.
AIRED ON 10/17/2014
Season 1 : Episode 10