The Knick's Dr Thackery is a well-rounded racist

Drama needs more racists; or at least better ones, argues Ellen E Jones

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The Independent Culture

Usually when lamenting TV's representation problem, it's the ethnic minority, female or LGBT characters we're talking about. In The Knick, Sky Atlantic's new period-set hospital drama, there's a reminder of another group that's too often let down by television. Drama needs more racists; or at least better ones.

The Knick stars Clive Owen as Dr John Thackery, a pioneering surgeon working in New York in 1900. Like other examples of the anti-hero lead now de rigueur in quality drama, he’s brilliant, but flawed. Unlike other anti-hero leads, his flaws include explicit racism. Thackery makes his stance clear in the very first episode by refusing employment to a “negro” doctor, despite his evident qualifications.

Historical dramas like Boardwalk Empire, Peaky Blinders, Man Men and Downton Abbey are meticulous re-creators of all period details except one - the prevalence of racism in the 19th and 20th centuries. These series won’t necessarily broach the topic at all, but if they do, it’s usually via racist attitudes expressed by a disposable villain-of-the-week, while the leads are given a chance to demonstrate their ahistorical tolerance. Such storylines do happily convey the 21st century consensus that racism is bad, but also they don’t get much beyond that.

Dr Thackery, on the other hand, can be said to be a truly well-rounded racist. Through his behaviour we see how bigotry is often disguised with other concerns and how these views are replicated by most other characters and reinforced in pre-existing social convention. As a result, The Knick is more than just historically accurate drama, it’s nuanced and interesting drama too.

Double the laughs from the Howards

Kerry Howard (the relentlessly obnoxious bridezilla from Him & Her) has announced she’ll be co-starring with her brother Russell Howard (the relentlessly cheerful stand-up from Russell Howard’s Good News) in a new one-off rom com. The news comes as a surprise - mostly because, despite their shared surname, the Howard’s sibling relationship hasn’t been common knowledge until now. British television has its fair share of established acting dynasties - the Redgraves, the Foxes and the McGann brothers, to name a few - but the Howards are one example of a new generation.

The family resemblance is so strong between Michael Socha (Being Human, This is England) and Lauren Socha (Misfits) that you might guess their relationship without ever seeing them side by side. On the other hand, it would be easy to assume that identical twins Harry and Luke Treadaway were one extremely busy actor. In case you were wondering, Harry’s the one who plays Dr Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful and Luke will be appearing in Sky Atlantic’s highly anticipated new murder mystery Fortitude.

Jane breaks virgin ground in Britain

New US series Jane The Virgin is coming to E4 this winter, but the real miracle has nothing to with its immaculate conception plot. Jane The Virgin will be the first real introduction UK audiences’s have to telenovela, a genre that’s dominated Latin American television since the late 1950s.

In 2006, the Columbian telenovela Yo Soy Betty La Fea (‘I’m Betty the Ugly’) was adapted for English-speaking audiences as Ugly Betty, but while enjoyable and long-running that Channel 4 series quickly transformed into camp self-parody. If we can judge from Jane The Virgin’s extended trailer, this series will take it’s heritage more seriously. As is traditional, it involves an aspirational heroine from a poor background, jaw-dropping plot twits and a kiss in every episode.

Jane The Virgin does differ in one important respect, however. Its first series of will air weekly episodes for two months, while the original Juana la virgen screened near-daily over eight months. If telenovela is as addictive as they say, we’ll be glad of the respite.


The Great Fire, ITV Player

This four-part historical drama isn’t just a 17th Century version of London’s Burning, it’s an entertaining cross-section of a Restoration city with a cast of contemporary TV greats. Andrew Buchan from The Honourable Woman stars as the Pudding Lane baker who started it all, while Game of Thrones stars Rose Leslie and Charles Dance both appear in supporting roles.

The Knick, Sky Go

Peaky Blinders tried to breath new life into the period drama, but The Knick actually succeeds. Clive Owen is pioneering surgeon Dr John Thackery, working at New York’s Knickerbocker hospital in the year 1900 and while antiheroes are two a-penny in quality drama, he racist, drug-addled Thackery will really test the extent of your sympathies.

Gotham, Demand 5

This new superhero origins tale-cum-police procedural is a major coup for Channel 5. Ben McKenzie (Southland, The OC) stars as idealist young cop who makes it his mission to clean up this dark, corrupt town. Remember Commissioner Gordon from the cult 1960s Batman series? Now meet his younger incarnation.

The Apprentice, BBC iPlayer

Three consecutive nights of The Apprentice this week mean you’ve probably got at least one episode to catch up on, and it’s worth it. If you’d lost interest in this top-notch reality contest, series 10 is a perfect opportunity to re-think your strategy, give it 110 per cent and get back in the game (as the candidates might say).