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TV Review: The Knick (Season 1)

There may be a glut of medical dramas, historical dramas, and prestige dramas with brooding antiheroes, but none quite as beautifully shot and presented as Cinemax’s The Knick. Set in a fictionalized version of New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital in the 1900s, this gritty show follows the lives of the doctors, nurses, and administrators working at the titular hospital. Dr. John Thackery (played by the ruggedly handsome Clive Owen), known simply as “Thack”, is the brilliant chief surgeon with a hidden cocaine and opium addiction. New to the workplace is Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland), a well-educated black surgeon who must deal with the extreme racism of the patients and staff at the all-white hospital. His affluent childhood friend, Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance) is head of social welfare and a member of the hospital’s board of directors whose work is hindered by her position as a woman. Other characters include the capable, young Nurse Lucy Elkins (played by Bono’s daughter Eve Hewson); uptight hospital manager Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb); Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour), a fiery Irish nun; and Dr. Bertie Chickering (Michael Angarano), Thack’s eager protégé.

As briefly mentioned at the start, the thing that makes The Knick really stand out is the artful film production. Beautiful cinematography and staging by director Steven Soderbergh, a crisp black and white colour palette occasionally punctuated by startling red blood, and a throbbing, anachronistic, electronic score by Cliff Martinez (whom you may recognize as a former member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as well as by his collaborations with Nicolas Winding Refn) set the tone for this serious drama. Expect plenty of gory and disturbing scenes pertaining to medical procedures, especially in this particular era of Victorian operating theatres.

Apart from the phenomenal visuals, the show sometimes struggles with stilted dialogue, but the overarching narrative and themes, such as those of violence fuelled by racism, the thrill of medical innovation, and people dealing with substance addiction, are powerfully presented, aided, of course, by the history of real-life people and events that The Knick is based on. Owen, of course, consistently excels as Thack, even doing the near impossible for a British actor by making me forget that his American accent is fake. Plus, he manages to be swoon-worthy underneath an incredibly unattractive albeit period-appropriate moustache. I am very much looking forward to viewing the second season, which will be airing later this year.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 horse-drawn ambulances

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