Knick, The Season 1 Blu-ray Review

Knick Season 1 Blu-ray packshot
Title: The Knick: The Complete First Season
Genre: Drama
Starring: Clive Owen,
André Holland,
Jeremy Bobb,
Juliet Rylance,
Certificate: US: Not Rated
UK: 15
Picture: 1080p
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English,
French. etc.
Runtime: 10 Episodes
8 Hours 29 mins
Extras: Featurettes,
Studio: HBO Home Entertainment
Release Date: USA: Aug 11 2015
UK: Aug 17 2015
See If You Like: Hannibal,
Cocaine and corpses…


If you’re struggling like me to find that Hannibal shaped dark outlet of your TV viewing habits already, then Cinemax has something right up your street brand new on home media. With my fascination with bringing in forgotten talents, I was curious just how former Hollywood Brit actor Clive Owen would translate to the smaller screen after some mixed output recently. However, unique director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11, Traffic) is the kind of man to bring people in from the cold and bring their careers back to life and he does it again by creating a fantastically downbeat hospital period drama on the edge of a medical revolution in The Knick.

After the sudden suicide of his mentor after a botched operation, brilliant but drug addicted surgeon Dr. John Thackery (Owen, Last Knights) is promoted to the chief surgery at the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York City at the turn of the 20th Century. Nicknamed ‘The Knick’, the hospital is struggling to attract wealthy clientele although Thackery and his crack team of gifted surgeons are aiming to prop-up the name of the hospital with experimental new procedures that will hopefully cut the frightfully high mortality rate and give it a more positive word of mouth. Thackery’s ambition and drive to be the best at not only The Knick but also in his local field of medical staff brings his addictions to the forefront which he managed to keep private previously. The stresses associated with dealing with a newly appointed black surgeon, an in-debt to the mob finance manager and a friend whose home life is breaking down gets to be too much for Thackery and The Knick itself.

What I love the most about The Knick is how it manages to balance out it’s various darker and more brutal aspects of new-era New York so that you’re not overwhelmed by it’s numerous negativity and depressing view of the time period. Whilst it is an exhaustive experience that does not lend well to a binge watch, the places this show goes is not without merit at the exploration of the social circle a ‘in the privvy’ hospital may expect. The comic-relief Irish ambulance horse and cart driver will rob the dead before he turns up to the hospital to get a couple more dollars to go to the pub with. Despite having a medical prodigy, the fact that he is a different skin colour kicks him down a few flights of social respect in 1900 America, no matter his talent or connections. Cocaine is the go to choice of painkiller which is certainly eye-opening to know about in 2015. The local nun does back door abortions on the side. Thankfully not bereft of humour, the dark side of a hospital on it’s knees is an engrossing watch if a tad too much at times.


Like any good medical drama, it’s hard to look away from The Knick. The low-fi approach to the medical procedures are so simplistic that you can understand what is going on, despite the authentic jargon from the time, without having your intelligence insulted by the tendency from modern hospital dramas to dump unrecognisable words at you. The ye olde timely procedures are easy to follow too without being too grotesque. Don’t get me wrong – you get the odd scene where a surgeon is testing out a new blood transfusion technique on himself and a dying patient with opened up arms and whatnot, but it does not once have an air of pretentiousness modernisation as you are fed on nowadays. People get hurt at The Knick physically & emotionally and more often than not, there is more failures than successes due to the limits of the time. A nurse gets bumped off quite early on simply because she is not aware that using a bucket of water on an electrical fire is a generally bad idea for example. However, those few successes are what make the show work. At the end of the day, despite it’s bleakness the writers and Soderbergh may try to convince you, the successes lead to hope to the benefit of the medical community which drives Thackery and his staff onwards.

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The characters make The Knick worth watching from start to finish, with the performances to back them up being worthwhile too. Owen as Thackery is usually your traditional under-pressure doctor that’s out to deliver but we get to explore a man of vice too. On top of his drug addictions with the cocaine he manages to bungle out of the hospital and the opium dens he frequents, he hangs in the care of delusional Asian crimelords and gets through a train of prostitutes. Not to mention he frequently dismisses the love and attention given to him by a nurse. If Owen has been cast out by Hollywood for some understandably questionable choice of roles a few years ago, he here is a man in charge of his own life support and resuscitation as the leading role here allows him to go to some pretty dark places than an actor can expect to go, which he does with much aplomb. Andre Holland (1600 Penn) as African American surgeon Dr. Edwards goes through a wringer as he goes from wide eyed optimism to being bumped down the social circle instantaneously, to literally fighting for something to feel for in a highly sympathetic and rewarding role. Jeremy Bobb (The Drop) is the man charged with managing the madhouse that is The Knick by trying to keep on track with his personal debt with the local mobster and keeping all of his staff on track, whilst sneaking off for some mothering from his favourite prostitute.

After an orgasmic seventh episode which serves to be the show’s highpoint as two unrelated storylines clash in a big way, The Knick loses it’s way slightly with love subplots being shoved to the forefront. Although Season 1 does finish strong – Just about. Maybe love is a strong word but you get two relationships that are not meant to be come along at once at fruition and that’s too much. Some storylines are super-rushed and there are a couple of character turns that don’t sit well (one man’s perception of a race can’t change so easily just because he can do a science). Then again, that final shot is properly jaw-dropping “Oh My God” material; so some credit at the end there.

The no holds barred take at medical science from this time period The Knick offers deserves enthusiasm. The writers and Soderbergh clearly know what they wanted to do with this unique take on a dirty, gruesome medical drama with characters which often lean towards black rather than white on the morality scale. An intense experience  filled with fascinating subject matter, the first season of The Knick maybe hard to watch at times (with it’s medical gore and utterly depressing moments), but it provokes a response and is superbly handled.

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Looking back at Soderbergh’s filmography, there is a level of expectation in the quality of screen presentation and you are not left disappointed. The 1080p video is shot on high definition cameras and the pay off is a crisp and clean visual experience. Edges are sharp, textures are balanced out nicely and any softness is intentional to create a certain unique mood that is different from other scenes. To keep up the bleakness, Soderbergh strips away most colour from The Knick although that serves to be a masterstroke as the deep and trippy red of an opium den and the pure white cleaniness of the hospital’s operating theatre is enhanced tenfold. The contrast is a trope of Soderbergh’s brand of cinematography and he translates it masterfully for the Blu-ray release of this series too.


I was hesitant to learn the audio here only went up to DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 level but it’s use contains absolutely no issues considering it’s limitations and offers an absorbing experience. Dialogue, background chatter and music are well balanced with aspects coming in and out when it’s turn to shine. The numerous medical procedures can be nauseating in the intended way with cracking of bones, cutting of flesh and movement of guts convincing with a cracking selection of noises added which enhances the atmosphere. The occasional drugged-up bender for Thackery clashes well with the rest of the top rate sound in the sense that it’s different for anything else in the show, as audio slows down and out. Cliff Martinez delivers a broken mirror take on a score from the period with the supposed innovations in technology and science at odds with the bleak and evocative downer  music.

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What it may lack in quantity, the selection on offer gives a level of quality. Whilst not too exploratory, each episode post-op offers a few minutes of context from cast and crew from what you’ve just watched, which does give some good insight with choices of character insights and development. Apart from that, there are cast and crew commentaries on selected episodes which is fine… but there’s two big names not there – Clive Owen & Steven Soderbergh. Arguably the two biggest reasons to watch this show and you get nil input from them on any of the commentary tracks. Being generous, there is an obscene amount of various language audio and subtitle options.

The Bottom Line:

Whilst not being the end package it could have been, I’m leaning towards giving a strong endorsement for this first season of The Knick on Blu-ray. A period medical drama with no kid gloves on that is willing to explore the mistakes and dark characters that hospitals produced in the name of scientific enhancement. The two big players of Owen & Soderbergh deliver along with a sharp supporting cast, and an excellent writing staff, to create a downbeat but worthwhile experience. Well made, well acted and well produced, you can do a lot worse in the last month or so before the deluge of new & returning seasons of television begins than checking into The Knick for a check-up.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife

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