Premiering tonight on Cinemax, The Knick is a case study in how, when in the right hands, a standard medical drama with the standard boobs and blood of a period cable drama can make for required viewing. The Knick is must-see TV in a literal sense of the phrase. Put away the laptop, fold the laundry some other time, and empty your fluids before airtime: if you’re not keeping your eyes on The Knick, you’re missing out on the most visually stimulating show of a year that’s been full of them. That the pilot also suggests we’ll be getting a pretty good (potentially great?) medical procedural out of it, as well, is just icing.
TV 2014 has turned into the Year of the Director, despite the old adage being that the boobtube is, first and foremost, a writer’s medium. Long thought of as the place would-be feature filmmakers pay their dues before hitting the big time, TV has increasingly become a space for brand-name directors to take a break from the silver screen. Martin Scorsese added plenty of clout to HBO’s Boardwalk Empire as both executive producer and pilot director, while future Star Wars director Rian Johnson was responsible for some of Breaking Bad’s most unforgettable episodes, to name just a few of Hollywood’s best that have crossed over from theaters to your living room.
Perhaps fearing awards carpetbagging by the big shots, TV directors have all been upping their game in response to the talent diaspora from Hollywood. In just this year, Jane Eyre director Cary Fukunaga gave True Detective a hypnotic, gothic transfusion of style through the run of its first season, while Fargo proved a show’s look can remain distinct and evocative under a more traditional rotation of directors. Visualists like David Slade and David Fincher can be brought in to craft the formal template of a freshman show, but will inevitably head off to work on other programs (or back to the big screen) once the shooting formula for the series has been established.
But the TV director’s chair has always been made to accommodate many different asses in the seat. Even True Detective has lost its directorial continuity, having announced that Fukunaga will not be returning for Season 2. The more collaborative nature of TV is a major part of what distinguishes it from film, so that The Knick will be airing all of its 2014 first season (and next year’s already announced Season 2) with Steven Soderbergh as director for each episode is something worth taking notice of.