Set in 1900 at The Knickerbocker Hospital in New York, medicine is pretty brutal on both the patients and the doctors. It’s a long way from ER, and yet, fundamentally still the same.
The Knick sets out its position pretty quickly, opening with a surgery on a pregnant woman, conducted in the middle of an amphitheatre full of bearded, suited men. There are the very beginnings of the sorts of things that will be familiar to anyone who’s watched modern medical shows, but the sterile environment and surgical tools leave a lot to be desired. The surgery is short but intense, the doctors’ reactions likewise.
After the incredibly tense start, the pilot settles down, and for the most part, we’re back in familiar territory for medical dramas, certainly American ones. There’s a conflict between the guardians of the money and the guardians of the medicine, a new doctor with an undesired ‘background’ arrives, a new nurse struggles to get things right, a risky and innovative new treatment is needed to save a patient and a doctor fights an addiction that he’s fallen into because he was so dedicated to his patients he neglected himself. Yes, they’re all dressed up in stunningly realised period detail, but it’s the same series we watch over and over again.
The biggest problem for me however was that I’d watched A Young Doctor’s Notebook a couple of years ago and just couldn’t shake that I’d found that show so much more engaging. In comparison to John Hamm, Clive Owen was completely flat and completely uninteresting to watch. Meanwhile none of the supporting characters quite brought the energy that Daniel Radcliff did, although the new doctor may well manage it if he doesn’t get bogged down in his main story (staying vague to avoid spoilers). The other supporting characters just kind of blended into one droning background.
The series just didn’t grab me. I didn’t find myself wanting to watch another episode. It may have worked better if the hospital was more remote, or less well funded. Yes, they’re having money issues, but they also have a generous benefactor and a lot of ‘cutting edge’ stuff going on. It all just felt a bit unremarkable.