Why The Knick is the Best Show on TV

So we just had the Golden Globes, and all the stars came out and celebrated each other and themselves, and prizes were handed out and speeches were made and all the rest of it. Personally, I don’t like awards ceremonies. I don’t like watching them and I don’t really understand why we have them. We’re so spoiled with great film and television these days that it seems a little bit backwards to pick a select few that deserve specific recognition, when I can think of ten shows off the top of my head that deserve just as much attention and didn’t really get any. 

One of those shows is The Knick.

The Knick – which, in case you aren’t familiar, takes place in early 1900’s New York City and is set, for the most part, at the Knickerbocker Hospital where the doctors are on the cutting edge (no pun intended) of surgery – is the best show I’ve seen in a long time. I was completely consumed by it, and I will admit that I finished the ten episode series in two days. I just absolutely loved it. And it received just a single nomination at the Golden Globes; a nomination for Best Actor in a Drama Series for Clive Owen’s leading man performance. That’s it. That’s all.

Besides being as dramatic and as engrossing a series as any of the Best Drama Series nominees – House of Cards, Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, Downton Abbey and eventual winners The Affair – The Knick can boast, for my money, the best writing of any of the nominees. The direction, too, is top notch. But it’s Steven Soderbergh at the helm for each of the ten episodes in the series, so that’s expected.

The writing and direction of the show allows the characters to really stand out, and credit has to go to The Knick’s creative team for that.

Clive Owen – who was deservedly nominated for Best Actor in a Drama Series, as I previously mentioned – plays Doctor John Thackeray, a cocaine and opium addict who also happens to be the lead surgeon at the Knickerbocker. He’s also a racist, a womanizer and a grouch. But he’s inventive and quick and witty, and he’s passionate. Kevin Spacey won the award for Best Actor in a Drama Series with his role in House of Cards as Francis Underwood, but I would have given Clive Owen the nod ahead of Spacey. Spacey was good, but he wasn’t as good as Clive Owen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Clive Owen really inhabit a role like he did in The Knick. He really was John Thackeray to me. And by the end of those two days, when I had wrapped the series up, I couldn’t shake the character. I was talking about him to people like he was an old friend. Spacey’s Francis Underwood, while excellent, never had that impression on me.

Amongst The Knick’s supporting actors, there is Andre Holland, who plays Doctor Algernon Edwards, the Knickerbocker’s first African American surgeon. Edwards has to battle racism and his own demons, too; he’s got a thing for alcohol and fighting, and his relationship with an affluent white woman seems more trouble than it’s worth. But he believes in what he does, and he’s the best educated surgeon at the hospital, and he isn’t going to give up easy. Not on any front.

There’s also Jeremy Bobb who plays Herman Barrow, the Knickerbocker’s manager and account man. Barrow is sleazy. He owes money to gangsters, and he pays those gangsters with loans from other gangsters. He’s a thieving, snide little man, but you can’t help but root for him. Jeremy Bobb does such an excellent job with the character that you somehow find yourself on the same side as a fraudster. Incredible.

Both Holland and Bobb might have received recognition as Best Supporting Actors for their roles in The Knick, but didn’t. Criminal, if you ask me. Colin Hanks, who received a nomination for his role as a hapless police officer in Fargo, didn’t perform at anywhere near the level that both Holland and Bobb did in The Knick. He isn’t the only one of the five nominees who could have lost their place at the Golden Globes to The Knick’s standout supporting duo, though. 

And on to the actresses. The female characters on the show are as varied as their male counterparts; from Juliet Rylance’s role as Cornelia Robertson, the upper-class daughter to the owner of the Knickerbocker who also happens to be in love with Doctor Algernon Edwards, the African American surgeon, to Cara Seymour’s role as Sister Harriett, a nun at the Knickerbocker who is also practicing safe abortions on the side to mothers unable to care for their expected. 

Eve Hewson’s performance as Nurse Elkins, John Thackeray’s part-time love interest and biggest fan, is, for me, the most noteworthy though. Her arc, as well, from innocent little mouse to outspoken, cocaine-shooting, independent woman was really something to watch. Eve Hewson handled it superbly, and it was absolutely believable. Her performance, too, should have received recognition at the Globes, but again, somehow, The Knick fell short.

I think the coolest thing about The Knick, though, is the actual hospital drama. The show takes place in the 1900’s when surgery was basically a death sentence. If you had a hernia, you were dead. If you needed a c-section, you were dead. If you had syphilis and your nose rotted off, they might be able to sew your bicep to your face for a few months for you. The crazy thing? That’s all true. That all really happened. And that isn’t even the worst of it. The Knick actually has someone working on the show who does all of their medical research, so that every crazy situation Doctor Thackeray and his team of surgeons find themselves in is based on actual historical accounts, and actual procedures from the time. It’s unbelievable, and a little bit disgusting, and really very entertaining.

Most people I know have never heard of The Knick, and that’s a damn shame. People, watch this show. It stands up next to True Detective and Game of Thrones and House of Cards and all the rest of them and then some. Do it. It’s awesome.

Season two starts later this year on HBO. Catch up.

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