Tuesday, October 7, 2014

New Yorker TV Critic backtracks on her earlier assessment of "The Knick"

I was thrilled to read this week that New Yorker magazine TV critic, Emily Nussbuam, admitted to being wrong in her original assessment of The Knick, the amazing series completing its first season run this month under the Cinemax banner. Nussbuam's original review of the series is here.  I’m glad to read she wasn't too proud to backtrack on her original assessment and change her mind here
However, there really was no excuse for her flawed original review if she was looking at the show objectively. Often times TV reviewers have only a pilot and one or two more episodes to view before writing their opinion, so any initial assessment by a reviewer might be flawed as if the TV series improves throughout its run. 
But Nussbuam had seven episodes of The Knick to evaluate, more than enough hours to come up with an informed opinion.  
One of her problems appears to be in the form of mental second guessing where the series was headed before it actually got there, expecting it all to end up being just another formula drama. This is just one of the common afflictions of any TV reviewer who sees tons of TV shows in the course of performing their job. I strongly believe it’s almost impossible not to end up cynical and glib when reviewing TV after just a few years. The unavoidable hazard for a reviewer of thousands of hours of TV shows is the critic inevitably ends up somehow missing what everyone else watching can plainly see -- The Knick is wonderfully produced, daring in style/content, and far from being formula. Whatever Nussbaum was watching, she felt it was necessary to title her original review of The Knick -- “Surgical Strikeout.” Maybe what Nussbaum really doesn't understand is baseball. When a player strikes out, he doesn't get a homerun, a hit, or even a walk. He doesn't get on base at all. Is that what she really was telling readers about The Knick, that the series doesn't even manage to get out of the batter's box?

The reality is that the The Knick could be the best TV series this year.

I admit that I had a few doubts myself after initially seeing the series promoted prior to being broadcast. It appeared by the trailers as if the show had creatively invested big time on the visual shock value of revealing the horrific reality of early surgical procedures. 
But after watching the pilot episode, I felt like a fool for not trusting the talent of Stephen Soderbergh, who is an executive producer of the series, and the director of all of the episodes in the first season.
When Soderbergh retired from film directing it should have been obvious his plan B was moving to another medium that had the promise of being at least as rewarding as making independent films once was a decade ago. 
(I don’t want to bring up Soderbergh and fail to mention the creators of The Knick – Jack Ameil & Michael Begler. Both have also written many of the first season episodes).
I’m thrilled that Clive Owen has finally found the role that will end up defining him as an actor. So many actors run away from hearing that kind of compliment because their desire is to have a career playing many roles and not be locked into just what audiences find memorable -- Spock, Hannibal Lector, the father in the Brady Bunch.
But prior to The Knick, Owen had a different problem than most actors -- he actually needed to lock into a role that would allow his talent to connect with mainstream audiences. He has been acting in major studio and indie films for over ten years, and though his performances have been strong, his persona/screen presence has failed to meaningfully resonate. The Knick finally gives him that perfect role, as the chief surgeon, Dr. Thackery.
There is another actor on the show that brings up a whole new set of discussion points, but I’ll leave that for another time...
Right now I would just like to formally welcome Emily Nussbaum to The Knick fan club. So sorry you ended up taking the circuitous route before joining the rest of us.