Review: The Knick

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Clive Owen gets two hands up for The Knick

There’s a scene in The Knick where a guy takes a needle full of junk up his junk. Ouch!  The turn-of-the-20th century hospital drama premieres Friday night on Cinemax as well as The Movie Network/Movie Central.

Clive Owen plays Dr. Thackery, a House-like MD operating at a once proud New York City hospital called The Knickerbocker. He’s brilliant but flawed and shoots opium between his toes and cocaine in other places in emergencies. This gets him up for surgery, as does his fondness for hookers.

If you’ve ever wondered how bloody and frightening surgery was in 1900, this is the show for you. Director Steven Soderbergh captured every gory drop. The Knick is sort of like True Blood except the blood suckers all wear white and carry scalpels. I haven’t winced and looked away this much since Glee‘s salute to Lady Gaga.

The series looks like it was shot in 1900 and that’s no accident. Soderbergh took pains to use lighting that would be similar to the glow from the early, Edison light bulbs. The cobblestone streets and carriages all match the era, as does the period costuming.

Audiences expect these touches today. Production designers on everything from Copper to Downton Abbey to Boardwalk Empire and even Penny Dreadful have caused a world-wide shortage of bowler hats and Victorian garb.

Matt Frewer plays Dr. Thackery’s bushy-bearded mentor Dr. Christiansen. Another key character is Dr. Algernon Edwards, a hot medical prospect and a Harvard grad who the family bankrolling the hospital desperately wants to hire. Edwards has a problem, however: he’s black. Thackery can’t get his head around that. Therein lies much of the tension in Season One.

Soderbergh takes pains to bring viewers right into the surgical theatre where Thackery and others carve up their patients. That stuff just gives me the willies, so it is two episodes and out for me. Worse was not being able to find a single likable character. Going dark and edgy might draw Emmys, and episodes four or seven might be amazing, but if you’re going to make ten hours of something, you need to give audiences a reason to push on to the good parts.

 

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