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Scott D. Pierce: 'The Knick' is so grisly it's hard to sit through

Published August 7, 2014 4:12 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Describing "The Knick" as gruesome is an understatement. A massive understatement.

If you're even slightly squeamish, you're going to be grabbing for the remote. If you don't click away fast enough, images will be burned into your brain. Forever.

Yes, there is all sorts of grisly content on TV. But this medical drama set in 1900 is off the charts.

TV artistry has advanced to a point where the caesarean section performed in Friday's premiere (10 p.m., Cinemax) looks not only real but absolutely horrific. There are no words to describe just how awful it is.

That's just the first of many grisly operations in this medical drama that's part "House," part chamber of horrors.

"The Knick" is short for the Knickerbocker Hospital, which — while surrounded by turn-of-the-last-century New York slums — is as modern as it gets. The drama revolves around Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen), the hospital's head of surgery who pushes the boundaries of medicine forward despite his addiction to cocaine.

Pushing medicine forward in 1900 requires failed surgical procedure after failed surgical procedure. Thackery can fill up a morgue all by himself.

"He's not a sort of leading character that's going to take people by the hand and lead them gently through a medical drama set in 1900," Owen said. "He's a very complex, difficult character. He's kind of redeemed by the fact that he's brilliant and he's passionate."

He's passionate about improving medical care and saving people's lives, no matter how many people he has to kill to get there.

"He's a very difficult, complicated, functioning addict at the same time," Owen said. "So I just love the challenge of that. It's not about being likable. It's not about making things easy. It's kind of challenging, and I personally, as an actor, love the challenge of taking that on."

At the same time, it's a challenge for viewers to get through an episode of "The Knick." There are 10 episodes in Season 1; Cinemax has already ordered a 10-episode Season 2. All 20 episodes have been/will be directed by Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic"), who's also an executive producer.

He was so enthralled with the script by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler that he forgot about the retirement he was planning.

"I knew that as the first person who got to take a look at [the script], if I didn't say yes that the second person who was going to see it would say yes," Soderbergh said. "My whole life, I've moved in any direction that I felt was going to excite me and engage me. And it's sort of unfortunate that people have to keep listening to me explain why I went back to work, but I'm glad I did."

There seems to be a decent drama inside "The Knick." But it's obscured by all the incredibly gruesome blood and gore.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.