Taking full advantage of my HBO Now subscription,(sshhh, don’t tell my wife if you see her), I jumped at the opportunity of their streaming of The Knick, which regularly airs on their sister station Cinemax ( not just nudie flicks anymore-sorry teens).
Going into this binge, I had only the following knowledge of the series:
1. It had something to do with a hospital in New York in the early 1900s.
2. It starred Clive Owen (Children of Men, Sin City)
3. It was directed ( all 10 episodes) by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean 11 films, Contagion) . Remember he’s retired.
That’s it. Ok, I knew there was really positive buzz around it, but honestly no other details. Not that I really needed any, Soderbergh ‘s involvement alone more than sold it. Have you seen his B&W version of Raiders of the Lost Ark or his “Butcher Cut” of Heaven’s Gate? Both brilliant.
Next Owen has always been an actor I like and one my wife likes too much. Like I can compare to that, c’mon. I’m just a man, a simple man.
And lastly, early 1900’s America is such a fascinating period. Inking a blurred line between the death of the Frontier expansions and birth of the Modern Age.
The Knick, centers around Owen’s Dr. John Hackery, he’s brilliant, stubborn and loves his cocaine. I mean seriously loves it–he’s covered more tracks than the Continental. He does so much smack William S Burrows would even say, “Hey cowboy slow down.” Much of the series revolves around his addiction, how it fuels his unquenchable thirst to be the best, but also how he will go to any length to find it.
The other main character is Dr. Algeron Edwards, the new deputy chief surgeon under Hackery, he’s also African-American, which was still a pretty big deal in 1900 New York. The Knickerbocker or “the Knick” isn’t located in the most tolerate of neighborhoods, mainly poor Irish, and race relations isn’t a real strong suit. Algeron is played by Andre Holland, whom I’ve never seen in anything before this; he’s fantastic.
The conflict between Edwards and Hackery is at the heart of most of the series. Edwards wasn’t Hackery’s pick; he wanted a white surgeon that had been studying under him for years. Edwards is the boards pick; he’s foreign, different, and black. Hackery may be smack addict that loves Chinese opium dens privately, but he’s a bigot in his professional life . As a whole, tithe theme of change and acceptance is a large part if the series; not just racial issues but social and class roles as well.
Like any sprawling series, there are numerous side roads. I don’t want to get into all here but here’s a taste: a nun that has a dark secret, nurses falling for bad boys, underground hospital, owing a crime boss a lot of money, riots, Typhoid Mary, rich people and their money, inter-racial relationships,and New York is corrupt and dirty.
For the most part The Knick stays away from been too preachy, but with some the stories it can’t help it. It’s always difficult to look into the past with our present eyes, and not be a little judgmental. Ever when the story gets on its high horse, it never stops being entertaining.
Quick note about the supporting cast, excellent all around. For me the stand out is Matt Frewer in the role of Dr. J.M. Christiansen. Christiansen is Hackery’s tutor and boss at the beginning of series. After a death of a patient during an experimental surgery he kills himself, but his presence through flashbacks is key insight into Owen’s Hackery. Though limited to flashback scenes, Frewer owns them.
Winding down here, The Knick is a superb series with high quality acting guided by a masterclass level director. Do your health some good, get to the doctor, and get into The Knick.