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The Knick Series: A Review

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a surgeon a century ago, before all the technology we now take for granted came to be? Steven Soderbergh gives us an answer in the new original series The Knick. The story revolves around the personal and professional lives of the staff at the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York at the turn of the 20th century – a time of innovation and groundbreaking discoveries. The centerpiece of the narrative is the extremely talented chief surgeon Dr. John Tackery, played by Clive Owen, and his exceptional (and at the time eccentric) visions for the future of medicine, as well as his battle with cocaine addiction. Of course, as the story evolves we see more and more different plotlines emerging, some of which are quite unexpected!

Based in Harlem, the fictionalized Knickerbocker Hospital was actually inspired by a real functioning hospital with the same name. Main problem about the hospital– most of its patients don’t have the funds to pay for medical care, which leads to the ongoing money problems the clinic faces throughout the series .  The contrast between rich and poor at the time is one of the main topics The Knick tackles with, as well as drug addiction, racial prejudices and corruption. Accordingly, the pilot opens up on a gloomy morning with a tension-bringing soundtrack to it. The dim lightning and the clear realistic sound-screen all add up to create the feel of New York in the 1900 as a dark, depressing and dirty place (and somehow always dusty?).

For someone who’s quite fond of HBO/Cinemax   quality productions, I can’t help but be a little biased towards The Knick. The series definitely has that artsy element to it – you could easily describe it as ‘deep’ or ‘meaningful’ or at least trying to be that. Not all of the information is given to you freely – there’s an assumption that the viewer is intelligent enough and has sufficient historical background to understand what actually is going on.  So you have to put some effort in to appreciate the show, I guess. But with director Steven Soderbergh that’s to be expected – he’s made as many controversial independent film productions as high-end Hollywood blockbusters. But of course, he was not happy with solely directing the series, so he did most of the montages and editing himself – hence the cinematic visuals and style.

Apart from all the high value production, what really made me like the series is that it has that element of shock. The shock when you realize what an operating theatre looked like a century ago, what the conditions were and how easily you could lose your life from even the weakest disease , which nowadays is treated with antibiotics. No masks, no gloves, no technology, no vaccinations – things we take for granted nowadays. It was a harsh reality, especially if you were poor and couldn’t afford treatment. And with every character fighting his own battle, a range of other problems specific for the period are presented, some of which are quite relevant today. It really had me thinking, and maybe that’s what kept me watching. Although not as dynamic as one might want, The Knick gives a compelling twist on medical history and the always foggy 1900 century New York.

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