When it comes to our healthcare today, there is so much we tend to take for granted. For so many things we just assume we can go to the doctor and get a prescription to help treat or cure, or undergo surgery to repair or fix. But in 1900 when Cinemax’s latest drama series The Knick is set, that just wasn’t the case.
Set in New York City’s fictional Knickerbocker Hospital in 1900, the series focuses on Dr. John Thackery (played by Clive Owen), who, when his mentor dies, is appointed to the position of head of the surgical department. Dealing with a cocaine and opium addiction, Thackery is determined to push medicine forward, fighting to lower the death rate of the patients, invent new, as yet discovered ways to perform surgeries, find new medical tools and medicines, and help raise the financially strapped hospital’s profile amongst wealthy patrons. Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland), a Harvard College graduated, European-educated Black surgeon also joins the staff at “The Knick” and has to face a lot of opposition, resistance, and resentment from the all White staff, including Dr. Thackery, plus deal with the racial animosity and tensions in early twentieth century New York City.
The Knick is an honest, powerful, and brilliantly written historical drama (the character of Thackery is ostensibly based in part on real-life historical figure William Stewart Halstead, M.D.), that doesn’t pull its punches. Clive Owen puts on one of the most commanding performances of his career as the drug-addled yet brilliant surgeon and medical researcher Thackery, and the the rest of the cast also oblige with complimentary supporting performances.
Not to be overlooked is the beautiful costume design of Ellen Mirojnick, the production design of Howard Cummings and set decorations of Regina Graves that give the series that wonderful authenticity. The Knick really transports you to 1900, for better or worse.
The Knick was shot in 6K on the Red Epic Dragon and processed in the DI stage in 2K. The series is presented on Blu-ray in a 1080p AVC encodement that looks solid, with strong detail and an almost film-like appearance despite being a digital production. The color palette, obviously intended to evoke an historic feeling, is one that is filled with mostly drab colors, midtones, tan, beige, blacks, and occasionally will pop with bright red such as in the opium den in Chinatown. It does get bit cooler and brighter in the hospital’s operating theater. Where the transfer has issues is in the black levels that want to crush and lose some detail in the dark scenes, and there are plenty here in this early electrical, mostly candlelit era. This can become a bit distracting. Overall, however, this transfer from HBO Home Entertainment is devoid of the most worrisome issues like compression noise, posterization and edge enhancement.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) soundtrack is wonderfully balanced and full, and it fills the room with atmospherics and the din of the early twentieth century sounds, such has horse-drawn carriages, the patter of feet on wooden floorboards, and the buzz of lonely electrical bulbs. Dialogue is clear and absent of any clipping.
The extras aren’t exactly a windfall on this set, coming with only nine episode “post-ops”, which are brief behind-the-scenes featurettes including interviews with the cast and crew. There are also three cast and crew audio commentaries and digital copy.
- iTunes Digital HD Digital Copy & Digital HD UltraViolet
- Episode Previews
- Episode Post-Ops (1.78:1; 1080p/24):
- Episode 102: “Mr. Paris Shoes”
- Episode 103: “The Busy Flea”
- Episode 104: “Where’s the Dignity?”
- Episode 105: “They Capture the Heat”
- Episode 106: “Start Calling Me Dad”
- Episode 107: “Get the Rope”
- Episode 108: “Working Late a Lot”
- Episode 109: “The Golden Lotus”
- Episode 110: “Crutchfield”
- Audio Commentaries:
- Episode 101 by Jeremy Bobb (Herman Barrow), Eve Hewson (Lucy Elkins), Michael Angarano (Dr. “Bertie” Chikering Jr.), Chris Sullivan (Tom Cleary), Cara Seymour (Sister Harriet), Eric Johnson (Dr. Everett Gallinger), Jack Amiel (creator, executive producer, writer), and Michael Begler (creator, executive producer, writer)
- Episode 107 by Jeremy Bobb (Herman Barrow), Eve Hewson (Lucy Elkins), Michael Angarano (Dr. “Bertie” Chikering Jr.), Chris Sullivan (Tom Cleary), Cara Seymour (Sister Harriet), Eric Johnson (Dr. Everett Gallinger), Jack Amiel (creator, executive producer, writer), and Michael Begler (creator, executive producer, writer)
- Episode 110 by Jeremy Bobb (Herman Barrow), Eve Hewson (Lucy Elkins), Michael Angarano (Dr. “Bertie” Chikering Jr.), Chris Sullivan (Tom Cleary), Cara Seymour (Sister Harriet), Eric Johnson (Dr. Everett Gallinger), Jack Amiel (creator, executive producer, writer), and Michael Begler (creator, executive producer, writer)
The Definitive Word
Cinemax, HBO’s lesser sibling, is starting to flex its muscle with some really strong original dramas that can hold their own against its big brother. Shows like Strike Back and Banshee are fun to watch and now, with The Knick, they have really stepped into the realm of serious drama on the level of Boardwalk Empire, with even more of an edge. This is must watch television.