A few KNICK-knacks and some rambling

jackpot cover

I was on a bit of a roll there, blogging-wise, wasn’t I? I was posting once a week, like clockwork, and I almost made it an entire month. But I got busy, the idea well ran dry, and I put my efforts into other work.

But I’m writing again for two reasons: the first is that I’ve got new links to share, self-aggrandizing stuff for you to read, etc.

The second is because I’d like to take a moment to rave a bit about Cinemax and Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick. That will be a worthwhile little write-up, I think, but I’m going to lay the self-promotion on you first. That way you don’t have to worry about getting near the end of the substantive thoughts only to be blindsided by crass commercialism.

No further ado, look upon my links and despair:

  • Starting things off, appropriately since yesterday was #throwbackthursday (not really because of that, actually) the wonderful ladies at The Horror Honeys were kind enough to post a review of my first novel, Video Night. Even though it’s been a couple of years since its release, I’m still overjoyed to hear of folks digging it. So HUGE thanks to Jocelyn.
  • If you missed out on ordering the handsome limited edition of Jackpot, no worries because the book’s now available in ebook and paperback. For those of you who haven’t heard about the novella: it’s Shane McKenzie, Kristopher Rufty, David Bernstein and I answering what would happen if a serial killer won the lottery. It’s sick and twisted and funny and gory to the point of absurdity. I think you’ll like it, provided you have the stomach for it.
  • In other Jackpot news there are already some great reviews popping up here and here. So big thanks to Neko Lilly and the others. Remember that when you fairly review a book on Amazon, Goodreads or anywhere else prospective buyers can see it, you’re doing a valuable “Consumer Reports” service and gaining the admiration of the author in the process. In this case, this book has four authors so that’s 4x the usual amount of admiration.
  • While we’re on the topic of reviews, I don’t think I’ve ever been written up in a newspaper before. What a relief that it’s both a positive mention and nowhere near the obituaries.
  • Lastly, it’s a small thing, but I’ve updated the links on the side bar. All the book covers and t-shirt designs are all properly sized and more accurately linked and labeled now. Please click on all of them and shop until you drop, baby.

Okay. That’s done. On with the good stuff:

the knick banner

I haven’t read any critical reactions to The Knick and don’t have any friends that watch, but I did a cursory Googling before sitting down to write this, just to get a feel for the room, as it were. The first headline to catch my eye was Emily Nussbaum’s piece in The New Yorker entitled “Surgical Strikeout: Steven Soderbergh’s disappointing The Knick” and it ended up being the only review I read.

Although my thoughts on the show are positive, I have to point out that Nussbaum not only makes some salient criticisms (which I’ll get to in a minute) but that I’m writing after having seen six of the first season’s ten episodes, and I’m guessing that her review material was limited to the first few episodes, since she was writing in early August.

The “we’re in the golden age of serialized television!” proclamations are getting old at this point. Yes, it’s true: television is a better, freer medium than it ever has been. More interesting, and more specific than the ‘golden age’ observation: I’m loving how longform television drama is becoming a director/writer’s medium.

Writer’s rooms still produce great material and the strength of the group-think ideas that come out of such rooms has long been a virtue exclusive to television, but it’s interesting to note that some of the best shows in recent years have been bucking that trend in favor of a slimmer team of creators.

The first season of True Detective had one director and one writer. Every episode of the so-much-more-wonderful-than-it-has-any-right-to-be monster mash Penny Dreadful was penned by John Logan. And now Steven Soderbergh has directed (and shot under a pseudonym, if the internet is to be believed) every episode of The Knick, while writing duo Jack Ameil and Micheal Berger share credit on all but one episode. No longer is the “showrunner” the undisputed paterfamilious of serialized drama, and I think that’s some of the most convincing evidence that TV is becoming the new cinema.

While I somewhat agree with Nussbam that The Knick is a much more conventional historical drama than something like Mad Men, there’s something compelling about the shows engagement with television tropes.

As the first season has moved forward, what began as a kind of R-rated E.R.-in-a bowler hat has stretched the notion of the ensemble closer to the anthology format. Instead of strictly adhering to the A-plot/B-plot structure so popular in hospital procedurals, characters in The Knick come in and out of each other’s circle of influence rather freely, giving the show a diffuse, relaxed feeling.

The show’s advertising has been Clive Owen-heavy, but this is not a show about Owen’s John Thackery, but instead a show focusing on The Knickerbocker hospital itself, and Soderbergh divides his time accordingly. Instead of the stark upstairs/downstairs delineation drawn in Downton Abbey, The Knick casts a much wider net, focusing on surgeons, the nurses, the hospital’s wealthy benefactors, the nuns in the nursery, the ambulance men, and the administration. Some of those strands in The Knick’s web intersect, some of them don’t.

(A note for all my horror peeps: as quaint and stuffy as that description may sound, “hospital drama set in New York in 1900”, most of the show’s plots seem to involve a kind of graphic, grimy body horror at one point or another, so this one’s for you.)

Paired with Cliff Martinez’s (Only God Forgives) hypnotic electronic score, Soderbergh’s wandering-but-still-controlled handheld camera becomes a character itself. We hold on supporting characters longer than we would in most shows (or at least how we’ve been trained to feel out the beats in network television, where this form of high concept soap is usually king), letting characters whose first introductions may have set off narrative red-flags, seemed cliché, mature and subvert our expectations, if only slightly.

The Knick is the perfect pairing of old and new. It’s got compelling characters (of both the likable and likably loathsome–Andre Holland’s badass Dr. Edwards sure to be a fan favorite) doing and saying awesome things (some of the dialogue coming right to the precipice of overwritten, then looking over and spitting off the side), and it looks great doing it. It’s a Bizarro World lens thrown over the boilerplate medical drama: the comfort and familiarity draws viewers in, then the emotional and physical brutality pulls the trap shut behind them.

I was always more of an admirer of Soderbergh’s–someone who enjoyed and respected how prolific and varied the director’s style could be–than an actual diehard fan. The Knick changes that. Its extended format gives me something more of the deliberately slippery Soderbergh to hold on to, to think about from week to week, and I look forward to each episode the same way I might attend a anticipated film each weekend. Isn’t that the highest compliment?

It’s well worth checking out and I can’t wait to see where this season (and the next) goes. Whether checking it out means waiting for the Blu-rays or signing up for Cinemax, I’ll let you decide how desperately you want to hear Clive Owen threaten to sew someone’s nose and mouth shut and watch them asphyxiate.

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