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Grisly medical drama "The Knick" takes a few knocks for authenticity

Slate has published a rather interesting article about the new Cinemax series, The Knick, which premieres today on the cable channel. Directed by Steven Soderbergh of Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Oceans 11 fame, and with a talented cast led by Clive Owen, the series takes place at the fictional Knickerbocker hospital in New York in 1900.

Norbert Sparrow

August 8, 2014

2 Min Read
Grisly medical drama "The Knick" takes a few knocks for authenticity

Slate has published a rather interesting article about the new Cinemax series, The Knick, which premieres today on the cable channel. Directed by Steven Soderbergh of Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Oceans 11 fame, and with a talented cast led by Clive Owen, the series takes place at the fictional Knickerbocker hospital in New York in 1900. Grisly surgical set pieces have led one critic to call it a "bloody good time." But, how accurate is The Knick's take on medical history, asks journalist Boer Deng in her well-researched piece. To the surprise of no one, liberties have been taken.

knick-300.jpg"The show's producers have emphasized their desire for historical authenticity," writes Deng, who notes that they did extensive research consulting, among other resources, the Burns Archive, a record of medical history curated by Dr. Stanley Burns, who served as a medical advisor for the show. Still, entertainment has its own demands.

Among the inaccuracies and anachronisms, Deng cites one episode in which a man is taken to a drunken barber for an amputation. While this used to be a common practice—tonsorial inebriation optional—it had ceased to be the case in a metropolis like New York by 1900. "Between 1880 and 1890, approximately 100 new types of operations were conceived, made possible by progress in anesthetics and antisepsis," she writes.

She also questions the authenticity within that time period of a healthy black market for cadavers used in medical studies. Ambulance drivers moonlighting as body snatchers would almost certainly have vanished as a viable career by that time.

One thing you won't see in the surgical suite, or anywhere else for that matter in New York in 1900, are plastic products. Many of today's medical advances, from minimally invasive surgery to bioresorbable devices, would not be possible without polymers and advanced processing techniques, such as micromolding.

The chief surgeon played by Clive Owen remarks in the premier episode that "more has been learned about the treatment of the human body in the last five years than in the last 500." What does that say about the amazing progress that medical science and enabling technologies, such as plastics, have made in just the last 20 years?

Norbert Sparrow

Norbert Sparrow is Senior Editor at PlasticsToday. Follow him on twitter @norbertcsparrow and Google+.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree. Reach him at [email protected].

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