The Knick could have gone terribly wrong. It could have turned into one of those flashy hospital shows where the doctor is a drug addict and the hospital is slowly falling in on itself. It could have been one of those medical soap operas your grandma watches on daytime TV. But it isn’t.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, The Knick is an electrifying show, figuratively and literally (the Knickerbocker hospital does have some electrical issues). The show takes place in the year 1900 and is inspired by an old hospital of the same name located in the heart of Harlem—or should I say in the heat of racism and poor housing conditions—and, most importantly, disease. The head surgeon, John Thackery, (Clive Owen) is just your ordinary doctor from the 1900s—racist, a cocaine addict, full of anger issues, and changing the world of medicine as people know it. The show is jam-packed with historical references; it almost seems like Soderbergh tried to fit a chunk of history class into one show.
But that’s the best part.
Every second of the show is immersed in the 1900s, which allows for constant conflict. Whether that means watching Thackery twitch from withdrawal or the assistant surgeon setting up his own hospital after being rejected because of his skin color, there is never a dull moment.
Also, it doesn’t hurt that the show is not meant for softies. It’s unapologetically realistic in the operating room. There are never any great saves at the Knick. Heck, the first episode opens with Thackery in the operating room attempting to save a pregnant woman and her child from a hemorrhage. Both die. Nothing here is standard procedure and every surgical scene represents another attempt to help improve the medicine of the time.
All in all, The Knick is a show that is able to put a refreshing twist on a typical hospital show. The constant conflict and frequent historical references are suspenseful and interesting. Seriously, the show combines history, drugs, blood, and racism into a chaotic hospital without putting too much weight on one subject or too little on another. What’s not to like?