Cinemax's extraordinary period drama The Knick is a meticulously written, brilliantly acted portrait of a New York hospital in 1900. Its first season proved the TV renaissance is far from over. Despite low ratings, The Knick returns for a second season at 10 p.m. Friday.

The Knick is an intimate character study starring Clive Owen as intense, brooding surgeon John W. Thackery. It's directed, edited, and produced in its entirety by Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (sex lies & videotape, Ocean's Eleven, Traffic).

Soderbergh brings an exquisite eye for detail and a painterly style that makes each frame a joy to behold. But the director's impressive accomplishment is only half the story: The Knick would not succeed without writers and co-creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler. The world they have created is rich, complex, and dynamic. They use the story to explore social issues that still resonate: racism, sexism, reproductive rights, urban squalor, and class struggle.

The Knick ended last season with disaster and doom: Thackery, a true pioneer who invents surgical techniques in cocaine-fueled bursts of manic activity, all but ended his career in a botched operation that killed a teen girl. Meanwhile, Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) is in prison, awaiting trial for performing abortions.

The second season opens with a surreal, dreamlike image of the dead girl, then cuts to Thackery's ravaged face. He's in bed, in a posh asylum where he hopes to kick his cocaine habit with the help of Bayer's wonder drug, heroin. Yes, before becoming the scourge of urban America, smack was used to cure addictions to other drugs.

It's one of the drama's less bloody reminders that we are witnessing a terrifyingly primitive era in medicine.

The new season hits the ground running as it follows the continuing fates of African American surgeon Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland), fellow surgeon Bertie Chickering Jr. (Michael Angarano) and series favorite, nurse Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson).

The Knick isn't simply a lush costume drama, a gory medical history, or a lesson in social studies.

It inspires true passion.

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TV REVIEW

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The Knick

Season Two premieres at 10 p.m. Friday on Cinemax.

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