I don’t have a high opinion of shows on Cinemax in general. I find them too bloody, too action-oriented, lacking character and plot depth. There is an exception to that rule, however, and that is the excellent drama The Knick, the second season of which will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on August 2nd (It is already available digitally).
The Knick is from the great Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, The Girlfriend Experience), and takes place at a New York City hospital known as The Knickerbocker, which actually existed, though the version in the show is fictionalized quite a bit. Set more than a century ago, the program follows Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen, Children of Men), a genius of a man who struggles with a cocaine and opium addiction, and his co-workers at the facility. Far from the soapy drama of Grey’s Anatomy, the period drama is intense, engaging, and is a little bit informative about a bygone era, even though it is not, nor does it pretend to be, a true story.
Season two opens amid much strife. Those who watched the first year will recall (spoiler alert!) that The Knick itself has been shut down, Thackery hospitalized due to his substance abuse issue, and the hospital in dire financial straits, lacking backing from those with means who could keep its doors open. Contributing in no small part is the mismanagement of money by hospital manager Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb, The Wolf of Wall Street), who is indebted to the mob. Instead, a plan moves forward to construct a brand-new building uptown, and this in of itself allows for plenty of conflict, as greed and corruption enter into the proceedings.
The staff itself is undergoing no less an upheaval. An early front-runner to succeed Thackery is his temporary replacement, Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland, Selma, 1600 Penn), though his path is not without his challenges, not least of which includes the color of his skin. Of course, it is no surprise when Thackery returns, but is he in any shape to take his job back, or should it pass on to his assistant?
Amid this, there is plenty of suspense around abortions, retinal reattachment, eugenics, divorce, a subway explosion, conjoined twins, hypnotism, blackface, blackmail, and more. You cannot say the ten hours contained in this set are boring. With a terrific ensemble cast that includes Eve Hewson (Bridge of Spies), Juliet Rylance (American Gothic), Eric Johnson (Rookie Blue), Michael Angarano (Will & Grace), Cara Seymour (An Education), and Chris Sullivan (The Normal Heart), there is always a lot going on, and pretty much all of it exciting, culminating in a heck of an ending to the year. I definitely recommend watching this series.
The Complete Second Season does an excellent job putting together a large batch of extras, too. I really liked the walking tour of the set, which reveals some of the hidden details of the wonderful designs, and the behind-the-scenes vignettes with the cast and crew. There is also a feature on the costumes, and a look at how the extravagant charity ball came together for episode seven. The medical procedures shown on screen are discussed more fully, there are recaps of each episode, “Knicktoids” facts, and three of the hours even have audio commentaries. All in all, the bonuses are worthy of the series, which is becoming more and more of a rarity in recent releases.
I liked The Knick right from the pilot. I’m glad to go along for the ride of season two, and I am very intrigued about the possibilities for the third outing, which has not yet been scheduled, the series taking a break as they plan the next two years of story. If its return is anything like what’s come so far, it’ll be worth the wait.
The Knick: The Complete Second Season will be available on disc on August 2nd, and is already available for pre-order on Amazon and other sites, as well as digitally.