Friday, August 15, 2014

Knick Of Time

I caught the pilot of The Knick.  The Cinemax show, starring Clive Owen, is set at the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York in 1900.  Steven Soderbergh, whom I thought had retired, is producing and directing the first season.

There are plenty of things to like about the show. The cast is game.  The period setting is convincing.  And a serious look at the medical profession over 100 years ago--advances are being made, but it is still hopelessly primitive by today's standards--is fascinating.  The pilot shows us two rather graphic operations, and I assume more are to come.

But there are problems which make me question if this is a keeper.  While it's a sociological look at the city, concentrating on a hospital, the actual drama so far isn't much.  Much of the conflict is pretty weak.  This includes a black doctor the others don't want to work with and a woman who, as part of a powerful family, wants to have a say, which, once again, bothers all those white men.  When Mad Men deals with the casual sexism and racism of its era, it fits in pretty easily, and even then they sometimes overdo it.  But the issues here seem forced--more so we enlightened people today can scoff than for legitimate dramatic interest. For that matter, there's a scene where two rich men at the hospital bemoan how weak the poor immigrants are.  They might as well be twirling mustaches. In general the dialogue isn't great.  At one point Clive Owen makes a speech where he notes people used to live to the age of 39 but thanks to advances now live to 47.  I find it hard to believe anyone would talk that way back then.

Speaking of Owen, while he has the talent and presence to carry a series, they've felt it necessary to weigh down his lead character, Dr. John Thackery, with an opium addiction.  I've complained in the past about the need for that extra problem to make the protagonist interesting--Kelsey Grammer in Boss has dementia which is killing him, Claire Danes in Homeland is bipolar.  When you've got compelling characters in tough situations, weighing them down with a serious medical issues to make them more "complex" usually ends up just being a drag on the action.

I think I'll keep watching, but let's leave the waiting room and get this operation going.

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