7 Recent TV shows that are genuinely cinematic

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The Knick

The first scene in The Knick’s first episode is a shot of Dr. John Thackeray’s (Clive Owen) beautiful leather white boots. The good doctor had fallen asleep while indulging his favorite vice at the local opium den/brothel. After about half a minute, a naked young woman wakes Thackeray, who then lazily makes his way to the Knickerbocker Hospital where he serves as its chief surgeon. That opening doesn’t do much to establish the show’s setting, subject matter or ensemble cast. As the introduction to a brand-new TV series, it’s a strange starting point. But for a decidedly idiomatic filmmaker like Steven Soderbergh, who directed every episode of the series, it makes perfect sense.

While his filmography is incredibly varied, one thing all of Soderbergh’s movies share distinctive visual aesthetics and subversive presentation. From the desaturated desolation of Traffic to the glossy decadence of the Ocean’s trilogy, his films have a specific tone from their first frames to their last. Adherence to those values even supersedes the primacy of genre conventions, which can result in odds works like the eerily cold action-thriller Haywire. Those values inform The Knick as well, which is a jarringly unusual period piece.

Everything from the show’s electronic score to its handheld photography to languorous long takes puts it at odds with how American television depicts the early 20th century. Consequently, The Knick never attracted a live audience bigger than half a million people and was canceled after two seasons. But, it also stands as one of the most cinematic TV series in the history of the medium.