BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. - Got the knack for The Knick?
If you're squeamish, this certainly isn't the show for you. The Knick – which stars Clive Owen and debuts Friday, Aug. 8 on HBO Canada and Cinemax in the U.S. – is set at a New York City hospital in 1900. Let's just say that, surgically speaking, little is left to the imagination.
“There was a Knickerbocker Hospital, but it was (in a different part of New York),” co-creator Michael Begler explained. “This is a fictional hospital that we created, but the surgeries that you see, almost all of them are based on actual surgeries, actual procedures.”
Eep. Thank goodness we live in the era that we do. Then again, if you flash forward 114 years from today, our current medical techniques surely will seem barbaric to the doctors of 2128.
Anyway, The Knick is a 10-episode drama series, directed in its entirety by Oscar and Emmy winner Steven Soderbergh. Even before its debut, The Knick has been renewed for a second season.
Owen plays the newly appointed leader of surgery staff, Dr. John Thackery. Part visionary, part technical innovator, with a pinch of Dr. Frankenstein thrown into the mix, Dr. Thackery is pushing the boundaries of medicine. But mortality rates remain startlingly high, and both for fuel and to fog his failures, Dr. Thackery has a full-blown cocaine addiction.
“Thackery is a guy who is forcing himself into the future,” said Jack Amiel, the other co-creator of The Knick. “He's the bow of every boat he ever has been on. Cocaine allows him to not look back.
“When you're a surgeon in this era, you have a body count behind you. And for Thackery, how do you forget the body count and cut into the next patient, who you know (probably will die) in this particular procedure, and you know you're just learning? So cocaine, I think, helps these guys to concentrate and to work inordinately wild hours, but the other part of it is, it's a good drug for forgetting and having the courage to go forward.”
For Owen's part, he likes the fact that Dr. Thackery isn't a cookie-cutter hero. He's well-intentioned, but he has a sharp tongue, he isn't exactly keen on racially integrating the hospital, and oh yeah, there's that whole cocaine addiction, too.
“The challenging and exciting thing about the character is that he's not a sort of leading character that's going to take people by the hand and lead them gently through a medical drama set in 1900,” Owen said. “He's a very complex, difficult character. He's kind of redeemed by the fact that he's brilliant and he's passionate.
“He's about trying to forward the whole world of medicine and trying to save people's lives, and ultimately, you know, providing a huge service to people, generally. But he's a very complicated, functioning addict at the same time.
“So I just love the challenge of that, and it's not about being likeable. It's not about making things easy.”
Besides Owen, the series also stars Andre Holland as a talented young doctor who is forced onto the staff against the wishes of Dr. Thackery; Eric Johnson as Dr. Thackery's protege who gets bumped out of a promotion; Juliet Rylance as a donor who is keeping the hospital afloat; and Eve Hewson (the daughter of U2's Bono) as a nurse who discovers Dr. Thackery's secret.
The Knick is dark, both figuratively, as is the norm on television these days, and also quite literally.
“The sets were all designed to be lit practically by the kinds of instruments that existed during that period,” Soderbergh said. “The good news is that cameras are now sensitive enough to shoot in literally any circumstance that you can see.
“I wanted the show to be dark enough for you to understand what it was like to walk around during that period, but hopefully not so dark that you become frustrated. I would have to tune your television to determine whether or not you are seeing what we did.”
Oh, I saw plenty in the first episode of The Knick. I think I'll pass on dinner, I'm really not hungry.