Missing ‘The Knick?’ The Trailer for ‘The Alienist’ Depicts the Pretty Nightmare of Victorian Era NYC


The Steven Soderberg directed The Knick was perhaps the most exquisitely filmed and scored series on television — creating a tone of alienation that made the turn of the 20th century feel science fictionally innovative, cruel, and horrific rather than — as TV so often does with period drama — nostalgic. Getting into the gory details of crude 1900s medical innovation (and New York’s racialized and gendered power hierarchies), the series used an electro score and filming that was unremittingly bleak to show the ways that the boom in invention, and the acceleration of the ways humans interfaced with technology (and then capitalized on it) likely made the whole world feel, from day to day, like an alternate reality. That series seems to very much be over (after Cinemax announced it’d go back to focusing on “high-octane action dramas” in March), but a new TNT drama appears to play with a similar stylistic, locational, and thematic vocabulary. The first trailer for The Alienist was just released, and it certainly looks to give another panoramic glimpse at the aesthetic beauty and social (medical-ish) horrors of Victorian Era New York City.

The Alienist stars Daniel Bruhl (Goodbye Lennon, Inglorious Basterds) Dakota Fanning, and Beauty and the Beast‘s Luke Evans, and is based on the 1994 crime novel of the same name (by Caleb Carr). The series is about the investigation into the serial murders of boy prostitutes. True Detective(‘s good season’s director) Cary Fukunaga is one of the executive producers working on it, as is Drive screenwriter Hossein Amini; Jakob Verbruggen, who directed the Men Against Fire episode of Black Mirror, is helming the series, which is currently filming in Budapest. Amini and Fukunaga, meanwhile, are both credited on IMDB as also having written episodes. Collider notes that at $5 million per episode, this looks to be TNT’s most ambitious original series.

The main thematic connection to The Knick you might note is its exploration of archaic psychiatric practices and ideologies (something that show delved into particularly in its second season). As the trailer emphasizes, the series takes its name from the fact that in “the 19th century, the mentally ill were thought to be alienated from their own nature,” and that psychiatrists were therefore called alienists. Of course, one of the things that made The Knick so cool was that it truly focused on medical advances and the complex, toxic monetization of life-saving innovation; crime and mystery served more as subplots. The Alienist, of course, is just a different series that I happen to be unable to stop connecting to it because I miss the former — and it looks, at least from the trailer, like it’s much more interested in being a crime drama, with weird late 1800s psychiatry acting as a backdrop/device.

Watch the trailer:

TNT has yet to announce a release date.