Dr. John W. Thackery (Clive Owen) is a boundary-pushing surgeon at the Knickerbocker Hospital aka The Knick in New York. Thackery leads a team that includes the ambitious Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson), young doctor Bertie Chickering Jr (Michael Angarano) and new assistant chief surgeon Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland). Helping his team overcome the limitations of medical understanding in the early 1900s, Thackery also struggles with cocaine and opium addictions whilst trying to break new medical ground.
The Knick is a gritty and often gory look inside a hospital in the early 1900s. The show focuses on a variety of cases over its first season whilst exploring the private lives of the doctors and nurses that work in the hospital. The action mostly centres on Thackery as he tries to do his job and battle with his addictions. More pressure is put on him with the arrival of Edwards, who faces an uphill battle due to his race and the racial prejudice of those around him. He immediately upsets Gallinger by taking the position that was promised to him and is forced, at first any way, to do his work under the radar or from the sidelines.
Outside of Thackery and his team, the hospital manager Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) struggles to deal with mobsters after he mismanaged hospital funds. He tries his best to keep the hospital running and keep the Board of Directors happy led by Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance).
The Knick attempts to go for a multi-layered story and with its large cast of characters you can feel a little bit like time is being wasted on those you simply don’t care about it. There’s no doubt that the three strands that stand out here are Thackery’s addiction, Barrow’s attempts to run the hospital despite the financial issues, and Edwards’ arrival which causes a lot of ruffled feathers.
Performance wise for the most part the cast is strong. Despite a very dodgy accent that moves from American to Irish and English, Clive Owen looks every bit the part as Thackery. He is a fine actor and he leads the cast very well. Andre Holland is the stand out as Edwards and he portrays the much suppressed but brilliant doctor bringing sympathy to the role. Elsewhere Jeremy Bobb is superb as Barrow and Eric Johnson, best-known for Smallville and the short-lived Flash Gordon, is a bit of a revelation as Gallinger.
The Knick is a solid series but part of the problem with it is that it’s not really breaking new ground. We’ve seen tortured drug addicted doctors many times before, and often making more of an impact. The tone of the show is a little all over the place and the way that it’s shot makes it all feel a little bit odd. It doesn’t go the extra mile to capture the period like Mad Men did and the unusual contemporary filming feels a little out of place. The season is definitely a slow burn and if you prefer fast-moving drama we’d recommend you perhaps give it a miss.