Period dramas have become a popular genre of late with series such as Downton Abbey and The Borgia’s grabbing big audiences. The Knick however is a a period drama that offers something different. Based in New York in the year 1900, The Knick focuses on the advances made in medical surgery at the turn of the century and depicts what life might have been like for an array of people in the city at the time. Following the suit of True Detective in pinning down some major names, the show is headed up by Steven Soderbergh and stars Clive Owen as the series’ central character Dr John Thackery, an eccentric and pioneering surgeon at New York’s struggling Knickerbocker hospital. Unlike other medical dramas not only is it set in an era rarely visited by television but it incorporates an underworld of addiction, gangsters and prostitution which seeps over into the surgical theatre throughout the series.
It focuses on showing a snapshot of life for a wide range of characters in New York. From an prodigal African-American surgeon fighting prejudice at every turn to a Kentucky nurse adjusting to life in New York and it’s The Knick’s web of characters that is one of its most rewarding elements. Almost all the characters prove to be intriguing and each evolve as they win or lose in the battle against their own demons.
Although The Knick is well written, it’s style sets it apart from other period dramas. Much like the surgeries in any give episode, the series feels like an experiment. Filmed primarily on handheld cameras, Soderbergh invokes a style that puts you right in the room with the characters. With long uncut takes, and surgeries that strictly use prosthetics and no CG, it boasts some of the best cinematography seen on TV this year. The score by Cliff Martinez (known for his work in Drive) is reminiscent of 80’s surreal electronica which might seem odd given the setting but it gels perfectly. This is a series that might fly under the radar slightly, even with Sky advertising the living shit out of it and it isn’t something that your mum should watch simply because she loves Clive Owen. It’s a dark noir drama that delves deep into the New York underworld and is unlike any series I’ve seen in a long time. This is a series that has huge potential and if you don’t watch it this year, no doubt the hype will be hard to avoid by the end of the next series. The experiment has shown good results.