'The Knick': Cutting edge for 1900 - and for Cinemax

Posted: August 08, 2014

* THE KNICK. 10 tonight, Cinemax.

* DICK CAVETT'S WATERGATE. 9 tonight, WHYY12.

AN EXTENDED close-up of a C-section might be the first indicator tonight that Cinemax's "The Knick" isn't going to be a show for the squeamish.

But if you look away too often, you're likely to miss something extraordinary.

Whatever cutting-edge medicine means now, it meant something more visceral in 1900 New York, setting for this Steven Soderbergh-directed medical drama, which stars Clive Owen ("Children of Men") as Dr. John Thackery, a surgeon whose patients are far more likely to die than they are to live.

No wonder he's self-medicating with cocaine and opium.

Filmed in New York, with lighting limited to what would have been available at the turn of the 20th century, "The Knick," accompanied by an electronic-music score that cuts through any scent of camphor, is a director's feast in a medium in which the table's more often set by writers.

That isn't a slam at creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler.

Their vision of Knickerbocker Hospital, an institution on the cusp of change, feels timely, with as much emphasis on economics as on medical progress. And their research is evident in every scene.

But we've seen addicted medicos before, and the first two episodes of "The Knick" don't render any of the characters as three-dimensional as their setting (though that's asking a lot of a pilot - and the second episode is better).

Andre Holland ("42") plays Dr. Algernon Edwards, a surgeon educated at Harvard and in Paris who, because he's black, is a pariah at the Knick, where he's been placed by a powerful patron, to Thackery's disgust.

Eve Hewson ("Enough Said"), the daughter of U2's Bono, plays Lucy Elkins, a young nurse from West Virginia, who's about to encounter things she never expected from the big city; and Juliet Rylance ("Frances Ha") is both a social worker and the representative of her rich family in the hospital hierarchy.

And if you're wondering why "The Knick" is on HBO's rakish brother Cinemax, home to shows like "Banshee" and "Strike Back," well, that was at the request of Soderbergh, who directed "Behind the Candelabra" for HBO and who last month told reporters, "I kind of wanted to be the big kid at a small school."

Soderbergh's directing all 10 episodes of the first season - the show's already been renewed for a second - and, yeah, he may be a bit of a control freak.

"I wanted the show to be dark enough for you to understand what it was like to walk around during that period, hopefully not so dark that you become frustrated," he said. "But I would have to tune your television to determine whether or not you are seeing what we did."

Cavett recalls Watergate

If you think politics and comedy didn't come together until "The Daily Show," think again.

Jon Stewart was still in grade school when the burglary of Democratic National Committee headquarters caught the attention of talk-show host Dick Cavett - and it didn't let go.

A few days after the burglary, Cavett had U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy on his show for what would turn out to be the first of many conversations about the scandal that would be known as Watergate and would lead to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, 40 years ago today.

PBS marks the occasion tonight with "Dick Cavett's Watergate," a breezy, hourlong special that includes his interviews with many of the principals, including Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward as well as G. Gordon Liddy.

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