Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick (Cinemax, Fridays) is about the future; it just happens to take place in 1900. The medical drama, created by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, captures turn-of-that-century Manhattan in all its typhoid-infected squalor. But its characters are on the cusp of dizzying change.
The halls of Knickerbocker Hospital hum with newly wired electricity. Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen, pictured below), the brilliant and bristly head of surgery, explores experimental treatments, fueled by ambition and surreptitious injections of cocaine. Immigration is reshaping the city, and the Knick hires African American Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland), who finds Thackery not nearly as progressive racially as he is medically. Director Soderbergh, who quit feature films last year, gives The Knick a jittery immediacy that rejects sepia period-drama clichés, assisted by Cliff Martinez’s haunting electronic score. It feels like Deadwood Hospital–brutal, thoughtful and, with its gore-soaked surgery, not for the squeamish. It’s bloody, and bloody fascinating.
This appears in the August 18, 2014 issue of TIME.