Hollywood heavyweights have come to regard TV as the holy grail in these dire times for the big screen. The Knick, a period medical drama of the same ilk as A Young Doctor’s Notebook, magnifies this transcendence with Steven Soderbergh in the director’s chair and Clive Owen in the lead, writes Debashine Thangevelo.
IN VERY much the same way that a scandal attracts attention – the more salacious the news the more widespread the audience – viewers are magnetically drawn to big names when it comes to TV offerings.
Case in point – Joseph Fiennes (FlashForward), the late Robin Williams (Crazy Ones), Steven Spielberg (Terra Nova) and Halle Berry (Extant). And this is drawn from a number of examples, where some shows bombed and others thrived, spurring more seasons.
Now viewers have found their curiosity piqued by The Knick, with Steven Soderbergh directing and Clive Owen spearheading the cast list as Dr John Thackery, the new chief of surgery at the Knickerbocker Hospital.
This medical drama, mirroring those dark and dramatic shades of A Young Doctor’s Notebook, is underscored by themes of drug abuse, racism, immigration, prostitution, ambition, money, power and influence. In fact, the social contrasts between the wealthy and poor often dovetail in the episodes.
Owen’s character, who is well-dressed and has a prominent moustache and unmissable white shoes, is blemished by his addiction to cocaine, which sometimes impedes him in doing his job.
Then there is that conspicuous ego that rears its head.
Of course, shielded by his wealth of expertise and innovations, he can afford to be so.
In the kick-off to the series, John succeeds his friend, who has committed suicide, as the chief of surgery. But he isn’t happy about working with Dr Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland) as his deputy. Despite Algernon’s being more than qualified for the post with his Harvard credentials, that he is black becomes a serious bone of contention at the all-white run hospital.
On agreeing to the series, especially with its somewhat creepy and harrowing overtones, Owen told Collider.com: “When the idea was first stated, I wasn’t sure that I did want to do that. One of the things I love, more than anything, is jumping around and playing lots of different parts. I love the variety of playing different characters. But the scripts were really stunning. It’s set in 1900 (New York) and I play a genius doctor who is a drug addict, and (the character) is inspired by a real doctor.
“That was an incredible time for the world of medicine. They were making huge discoveries, very quickly. It was ever-developing, really fast. And you’ve got Steven Soderbergh directing all 10 (episodes). Steven has made something that feels edgy… and it just happens to be set in 1900.”
Interestingly, he is also the executive producer on the series.
He explained: “Yes, Steven came to me very early on, when they just had one script. We didn’t have the full 10 hours. It was just so brilliant. So I talked to him, then sat down with the writers and we talked about where it was going and where to take it. I came on board in those early days.”
In a chat with HitFix.com, Soderbergh made it very clear that The Knick is a series you are going to love or loathe. There are no second chances if you fall into the latter category.
He explained: “The first seven minutes of the first episode contains the sort of DNA of the whole show.
“If you are not down with how those first seven minutes go, you are going to have trouble, because I’m giving you the code for how we are going to do it.”
Talking about the issues raised in the series, the director said: “All of this stuff appears because it was all happening. Especially in that city at that time – it was just a cauldron of ideas and activity.
“You start with a board that’s running a hospital primarily catering for an increasing number of immigrants flooding the city. And there are all these issues now on the table about class and about the fact that it’s a woman chairing the board meeting because she’s got a proxy from her father. All these things start rising up out of the ground, organically.”
Sitting in on the same interview, Owen peeled back the layers of his character.
“I never, ever think of him or thought of him as a wreck, ever. He’s a functioning addict. He’s sort of addicted, but what that does, which I loved when reading it, is knowing that every scene I play, there’s more than the scene going on. It’s more than the relationship; it’s more than the dialogue.”
The Knick isn’t for everyone. But if you have a deeper sense of appreciation for the characters living within the parameters of the time, you will find yourself developing an affinity for them and their troubles.
As Soderbergh pointed out, The Knick can be addictive or leave you allergic. And the creators are unapologetic about the latter.
Fortunately, this confidence was enough to get the go-ahead for a second instalment.
• The Knick airs on Mondays on M-Net (DStv channel 101) at 9.30pm. Impatient fans can catch it on Express at 3am on Sunday and at 4am on Catch-up on Explora.