I’m not running a traditional review because it doesn’t feel right.
This series is everything great and distancing about Steven Soderbergh.
Here’s the best way I can describe it. If you enjoy all of Magic Mike, you will love this series. If you only are there for the “big” moments, you will probably find the first 4 hours frustrating and then start falling in love with the show in episodes 5, 6, 7, and beyond.
Me? I love the detail. I love the subtlety. I love that Soderbergh rarely tells you, as the audience, how to feel in anything other than the most demanding way.
What is the show about? Too much to turn into a sentence or even a paragraph. It’s about women who embrace their equality when the society doesn’t. It’s about race. It’s about extreme bravado and stunning fear. It’s about old money. It’s about the nature of power. It’s about how power can shift in an instant. It’s about how sheer bravery and utter stupidity can occupy a person in the same moment.
The series kind of reminds me of the most recent season of Boardwalk Empire, which really cut back on the genre fun (tits, guns, oversized personalities) and got to the gut of things. There are some big personalities in The Knick, but you won’t see a big, fun, wild Bobby Canavale-on Boardwalk–type performance on this series. (You might see Bobby Canavale next season… who knows?… but he would likely be seething, not barking.)
Casting by Carmen Cuba and Soderbergh is remarkable. Clive Owen is perfect here… but it’s not a Walter White or Don Draper kind of showy role. He is dry as a martini with a drop of Vermouth. Over the course of the 7 episodes I have seen, he is the show’s rock and shines, but without trying (or being written) to outshine others.
André Holland becomes a household name (or at least a Hollywood household name) from this show. The writing and the performance challenge him and his character to stay within the truth of that period while also pushing as hard as he can. The waves of frustration and relief are a dramatic joy to experience.
Eve Hewson, Juliet Rylance, and Maya Kazan each carries the baggage of famous families with them (I’ll let you look them up, if you care), but you wouldn’t know from the work. Three very different roles and performances. Each about as dead on – and unexpected in many ways – as you could seek. The further along you get in the series, the more complex and less expected each becomes.
And it’s great to see a vet like Cara Seymour get a great role to play.
I don’t want to make a forever-ling list of other great performances, but Danny Hoch, Michael Angarano, Matt Frewer… and Chris Sullivan, who is going to work FOREVER off of this show. How much range does he have as an actor? No idea. But if he’s a good guy – in real life – he will soon be one of the most popular guys to add to movie ensemble after movie ensemble.
Okay… so let me lay it out. People are going to have a hard time for the first 4 episodes. Soderbergh and the writers take their time laying out their corner of the universe. The frustrations of the situation will frustrate many viewers… because they are not cleanly resolved. And truth be told, I’d probably be happiest watching the first 4 back-to-back-to-back. There are moments of true delight along the way. But there is a lot of status quo establishing. But after that, things start really happening. And you will be hooked, week by week.
I know I am. Can’t wait for the last few episodes… and really, I am already excited about next season.