The Knick

The Knick

Steven Soderbergh’s historical drama is a thrilling dive into modern medicine’s gruesome past

The Very Best


TV Show

Andre Holland, Cara Seymour, Chris Sullivan
60 min

What it's about

Set in downtown New York in 1900, 'The Knick' is centered on the Knickerbocker Hospital and the groundbreaking surgeons, nurses and staff who work there, pushing the bounds of medicine in a time of astonishingly high mortality rates and zero antibiotics. John Thackery is a brilliant surgeon pioneering new methods in the field, despite his secret addiction to cocaine. He leads a team of doctors including his protégé Dr. Everett Gallinger; the young Dr. Bertie Chickering Jr. and Dr. Algernon Edwards, a promising surgeon who's been recently thrust upon him. The lively cast of characters at the hospital also includes Cornelia Robertson, the daughter of its benefactor, Captain August Robertson; surly ambulance driver Tom Cleary; Lucy Elkins; a fresh-faced nurse from the country; the crooked hospital administrator Herman Barrow; and Sister Harriet, a nun who isn't afraid to speak her mind.

The take

Though it takes place in New York at the turn of the 20th century, The Knick is not your typical historical drama. Set to a pulsating techno score and with a whizzing pace and kinetic camerawork, director-cinematographer-editor Steven Soderbergh injects the show with a potent sense of immediacy so that it never feels like a dusty history lesson. The two-season show is set in the titular Knickerbocker Hospital and tracks the intertwining personal and professional dramas of its benefactors and staff — led by Clive Owen’s arrogant Dr. John Thackeray, who works tirelessly at the bleeding edge of medicine, fuelled by his addiction to the then-medically-permissible cocaine.

Thack’s brilliant innovations and thorny personality take up a good deal of the show, but The Knick’s complex ensemble — from André Holland as the city’s first Black doctor to Cara Seymour as an Irish nun who secretly conducts out-of-hours abortions — are equally compelling. What’s more, the show is just as committed to lifting the events of its period out of the history books and into crackling life. With an unsparing eye, it weaves its way through modern medicine’s gory past and New York’s history with racism (both institutional and otherwise), corruption, immigration, and epidemics (such as that caused by “Typhoid Mary”). If you’re looking for a quaint, comfort period drama, The Knick isn’t it — but if you want to get your adrenaline pumping with a gripping, raw ride through history, your prescription is right here.

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