For a limited time, HBO subscribers (cable and streaming both) can watch the entire first season the acclaimed Cinemax original series The Knick.
Starring Clive Owen as the brilliant, unconventional surgeon at a struggling hospital in 1900 New York City, the medical drama period piece is the project to which Steven Soderbergh committed himself after he announced his retirement from filmmaking. So instead of directing a film, he directed all ten episodes of the debut season of this original series.
Owen is Dr. John W. Thackery, a forward-thinking surgeon on the frontier of the science of medicine in a financially-struggling institution in a poor part of the city, devoted to his work and to the advancement of surgical techniques with a passion unequalled in the city. He’s also a cocaine addict and a frequent flier at the local opium den: the former to keep him going for hours on end, the latter to bring him back down.
Medicine is progressing a rapid pace and Thackery wants to be part of the vanguard but the city is very much back in the 19th century of graft and prejudice and class division—ambulance drivers compete for accident victims and claim a bounty for each one they bring to their institutions—and racism is alive and unwell. A talented African-American doctor (André Holland) arrives from training with Europe’s finest only to be shunned by the white establishment despite a talent and drive second only to Thackery.
Soderbergh, who is also the cinematographer and editor (under the names Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard, respectively), shoots it all with an unshowy handheld camera, which gives it a classical, cinematic look that is just a little nervous and unsteady. He’s always there in the moment and responsive to the energy and tension of the scene, and at key moments his cool observational style becomes aggressive and startling. The period details are rich without becoming distracting and the melodramatic twists and dark sides of the characters (like a hospital administrator striking side deals to pay off a debt and hide his financial malfeasance) makes sure that the criminal element has plenty of play in the show. It’s a vibrant, violent, racy series and an intelligent show with complicated characters, rich period details, and a compelling mix of history and fiction. Soderbergh’s focus keeps the more flamboyant elements to the service of the story and characters.
Cinemax has been the red-headed stepchild of the pay cable networks for years, specializing in action, horror, and late-night softcore programming. This series is their first stab at the kind of ambitious and challenging programming that HBO and Showtime have been making for years and it earned Cinemax five Emmy Award nominations.
It’s been much talked about but little seen—who subscribes to Cinemax anymore?—but now HBO subscribers can watch it for a limited time.
The Knick: Season One is available on HBO On Demand, HBO Go, and HBO Now until October 25.