One of the best and most influential television shows of the “prestige TV” era is also one that almost no one saw: The Knick. The Cinemax series served as director Steven Soderbergh’s first new project after a self-imposed sabbatical from filmmaking, and he took it upon himself to direct every single episode himself before that became a trend with other shows like True Detective and Big Little Lies. The show took place in the year 1900 and starred Clive Owen as a radical surgeon trying out new techniques during an exciting and dangerous time in medicine, and Soderbergh captured it all with a visceral, constantly moving camera that put viewers inside the action.
It was brilliant and bold and exciting, and it lasted only two seasons. At the time of the show’s cancellation, Soderbergh said he had intended for the series to run for six seasons, with the idea being it would jump forward in time and focus on new characters for Seasons 3 and 4, and again for 5 and 6, with a different director at the helm of each two-season chunk. But specifics on the show’s cancellation, beyond low ratings, were vague.
“A couple of things, none of which were within our control. The show did not do for Cinemax what it was intended to do, which was to help rebrand and draw new eyeballs to the channel. It didn’t do badly, but it was clear at the end of the second season that it wasn’t doing what we wanted it to do for that channel. So now it moves back to HBO [for consideration], and Michael Lombardo is gone, and they’ve already got their spend figured out, and it isn’t a small number to produce this show. So it just showed up at the wrong time at the wrong place. [Lombardo’s replacement] Casey Bloys had other priorities, very large priorities. We didn’t have the juice to make it happen. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. As much as we were the benefit of circumstances in getting it made, we then had it happen in reverse, where all the timing and situations worked against us.”
The series was cancelled as HBO was feeling increasing pressure to compete with streamers, and genre hits like Westworld became a priority as the network was also searching for a replacement for when Game of Thrones went off the air.
But everything old is new again, and as HBO Max is hungry for content, a third season of The Knick is in the works with Barry Jenkins and Andre Holland (who starred in the first two seasons) developing a new take on the material.
In the meantime, if you haven’t seen The Knick, I can’t think of a better show to binge-watch on HBO Max. Just, uh, maybe make sure you’re not actively eating while watching, because this series can get gnarly.