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THE KNICK… Skinemax’s new show pilot is gory good

Posted on September 8th, 2014
Posted on September 8th, 2014

by Coop Cooper

Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen), a drug-addled New York City surgeon in the year 1900, attempts an experimental C-section with his superior Dr. Christensen (Matt Frewer) with disastrous results.  Despite the setback and the tragedy it causes for the Knickerbocker Hospital, also known as “The Knick”, Thackery’s resolve strengthens to develop new procedures to cure previously fatal conditions.  As he battles his own out-of-control addiction, he puts pressure on his colleagues and nurses to think out of the box and strive for perfection.  Meanwhile, Thackery’s new assistant, an African-American surgeon, Dr. Edwards (Andre Holland), is forced into the position against Thackery’s will, causing further tensions at The Knick.

Among other factors, the success of this show could be based on whether audiences can withstand the extremely graphic surgery scenes.  The special makeup effects in these scenes are possibly the most realistic I have ever seen, making them all the more cringe-worthy.  Squeamish viewers likely won’t be able to handle watching this show even with the most gory scenes cut out.

Having said that, “The Knick” is an especially intriguing show due to its attention to detail in revealing what practicing medicine and surgery was like at the turn of the century.  I was stunned at what was and was not available during the time period.  For instance, ether fumes seemed to be the preferred choice of general anesthesia, the surgeons wore no sterile gloves or masks, yet they did have some advanced surgical equipment such as hand-cranked suction and some devices they actually invented and forged themselves in metal workshops.  The lack of sanitary conditions would make most modern folks wince, yet as Thackery points out, they had recently progressed in medicine further in five years than humankind had in the previous 500.

The characters are going to take some warming up to.  Thackery is arrogant when working, yet pathetic when in drug withdrawal.  There are a pair of thuggish, freelance ambulance drivers who bully nuns for laughs and beat up competitors over who is going to deliver a patient.  There is a health inspector who blackmails the hospital by threatening to send every immigrant tuberculosis patient in the city to The Knick unless he is paid off.  Few of Thackery’s colleagues are affable enough to like, but I do see some characters with promise.  I don’t subscribe to the current trend of portraying every single character in a cable drama as absolutely despicable with shades of grey.  There has to be at least one good-hearted soul to root for.

Besides the Dr. Edwards character breaking race boundaries in the series (it’s beyond forced for the time period but at least the writers are very aware of it), there is at least one other current issue brought up in this first episode.  So many undocumented immigrants have flooded Manhattan at this time, it has created a massive public health crisis due to the influx of new or untreated diseases, especially among the families living in unsanitary conditions.  This parallels the United States crisis at the southern border and I hope the series continues to probe and explore this issue due to its relevance.

“The Knick” has the makings of another great cable drama.  As with “Outlander”, part of the problem is the cable channel it runs on is not easily accessible to everyone.  Cinemax is not as generous as HBO in making its premium content available to viewers who aren’t subscribed to the premium service, but it is trying to follow the model (as is Starz for “Outlander”).  HBO shows also appear on Amazon Prime, but only after their initial run.  Perhaps Cinemax and Starz could find an additional venue to show their original series so we all won’t be so out of the loop.  The first episode of “The Knick” can be viewed for free at Cinemax.com.

Rating:  3 and 1/2 out of 5

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