TV Recaps
The Knick Review: Combining Tasteful Period Drama with Medical Gore

Elizabeth Harper | 8 Aug 2014 23:15
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Steven Soderbergh blends two genres we never thought would mix in this new Cinemax drama, which doesn't shy away from showing the worst of turn-of-the-century medicine.

The Knick airs on Cinemax, which alone should give you some expectation of the content. Because it's not network television -- or even basic cable -- Cinemax, like HBO, has a lot of leeway in what it can show on screen. And where The Knick is concerned, that mostly means blood. Lots of blood. (Really, I can't understate the amounts of blood.)

In The Knick, director Steven Soderbergh takes us to 1900 New York and the fictional Knickerbocker Hospital, where doctors struggle to save patients in an age bereft of what we would consider to be modern medicine. (History buffs -- or anyone who can use Google -- may be aware that there was a real Knickerbocker Hospital in New York at that time, but all the show seems to take from the original is the name.) The concept of the series will be familiar to most, following the tried-and-true Sherlock Holmes formula -- much like House M.D., which bears a lot of similarities to this show despite the difference in era. We have an eccentric yet brilliant doctor in John Thackery (Clive Owen), a cocaine addict who needs the drug to keep functioning. The central conceit of the show is whether Thackery will be able to save the patient of the week with seat of the pants brilliance or whether he'll succumb to his addiction -- and with eight seasons of House, this is a long way from being a fresh idea.

However, while the trope isn't an unfamiliar one, the way Cinemax and Soderbergh have packaged it has a lot of appeal. The show has all of the lush period detail of a historical drama with great sets and costumes, and time-shifting the medical drama to 1900 makes it feel like something we haven't seen before (even though we have). The cast is superb as well, with a strand-out performance from Owen and a strong ensemble cast to fill out the hospital staff. All in all, the first episode promises a fun ride this season -- and with the show already committed to making a second season, you don't have to worry about the season ending with cliffhanger you'll never see the second half of.

The only word of warning I have to offer about this drama is that it can be gory. Though surgical procedures performed at the hospital don't make up the bulk of the running time, the camera does not shy away from incisions and the blood that gushes from them -- if you're not a fan, this show probably isn't your cup of tea. But for anyone else, the show is an entertaining watch.

You can catch The Knick on Cinemax on Fridays, starting tonight at 10PM.

Now, a more detailed review of the premiere episode, Method and Madness. Spoilers below!

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