NEW AMSTERDAM – TV Review
Posted by ColliderStaff
Reviewed by Rachel Howard
New Amsterdam is the kinda show that takes you by surprise while you are flipping channels, pressing the next button in a desperate attempt to wade through the constant stream of reality shows and reruns that the Writer’s Strike left in it’s wake. You stop, stare for a second, and think, “Well he’s an handsome fellow,” and in the same instant you see him pull out a 1930’s style camera in the middle of Times Square and everything is blown over in a fit of “Now wait a second!”
This first reaction is basically the first on you are going to keep while watching the show, moments of fine crafted and interesting story telling which trips every so often over plot points or actions that make you want to rolls your eyes and slouch back in disappointment.
Primarily this is a show about a man, but it’s also a show about a city. This gets a bit perplexing, but it might be a little easier to think of the man and the city as rather baffling roommates, living together and knowing way too much about each other, but separate entities, no matter how similar they are. Also the man is older then the city; that’s because he’s immortal, thanks to some very strange and smoky healing a Native American woman used on him after he died saving her life. “You will not grow old, you will not die, until you find the one, and you’re souls are wed.” Which means he can’t die until he meets his soul mate. Pretty harsh, but he was busy destroying her village when he saved her, so I suppose he should just be grateful she wanted him to live at all.
(On a side note, whose bright idea was it to depict the Lenape as living in Plains Indians style Teepee’s? It’s called research, people. You should all be smacked to unconsciousness with a History textbook. For a show that is supposed to portray the life and history of New York, that’s a rather dramatic error.)
Flash forward 400 years and now we are in present day, John Amsterdam (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is living pretty happily as a New York homicide detective, with an almost cheerfully jaded outlook on life, a fine collection of antiques he still regularly uses, and a huge secret loft above a jazz bar. Apparently the only way to get really awesome living space in New York is to get there before the city does, figures. When John is not solving crimes, it seems, he’s out looking for The One. This is a concept so important to him that it must be said with the capitals, for when he meets The One he finally gets to do what he’s always wanted to do, which is die. This is possibly the bleakest outlook on finding true love that has ever graced Prime Time Television, yet is still manages to convey just enough wistful mush to keep it from actually becoming remarkable.
Eva Marquez (Zuleikha Robinson) soon enters as his quick witted and sassy partner, the Scully to his Mulder really, but with more of an attitude. The actress does a fine job of taking a pretty overdone and cliché role of side kick and possibly love interest and making it her own. She is joined by Omar (Stephen McKinley Henderson), the owner of the bar above which John lives, and is only other person who knows that he is immortal. Omar is possibly the most fun match to John, but that’s possibly because he gets most of the best lines. Finally there is Dr. Sara Dillane (Alexie Gilmore) who saves John’s life after he has a heart attack the moment she gets off a subway train. As far as I can tell her only role so far is to be pretty and possibly be The One.
Okay, I admit, I am being a little cruel to this show. It’s actually a pretty interesting watch when you sit down. The idea of New York as a character is intriguing, as John Amsterdam pretty much changes his name every so often in to some version of the city itself (he was John York for a while in the second episode). The intriguing bit is that he has never left the place, so he’s been a part of the city from its creation. They illustrate this rather beautifully in a montage of photographs of the Times Building in different stages of development and architecture. This is a show about history, with stories that interlace between the past and present, using different points of New York history to both describe and convey the life of a man, but also the life of the city through this man. It’s all rather philosophical and intriguing. The soundtrack is also considerably exciting in a Celtic/Jazz with a modern mix sort of way.
One can only hope they can keep it up. The first couple episodes do have some pratfalls. The dialogue tends to teeter like an angst-ridden teenager between very well crafted, interesting discussions and clunky, desperate jokes. John likes to be glib about his long life, using it as a joke in a way that makes one wonder how no one knows he’s immortal. The wit seems forced at times; like the writer was too proud of the joke to actually make it work. John is really the kind of character that is hard to dislike, but in that way you almost want to. He’s very nearly too perfect, solving cases because he knows ever so very much about the city and the culture. He’s too cool, too smart, too haunted by his secretive past, and too obsessed with his melodramatic search for One and his subsequent chance to die. He’s an extremely fascinating character with a lot of potential, but the character toes the line of utter ridiculousness rather closely. Also, he’s been living in New York for 400 years and he still has a Dutch accent. Whatever show, whatever.
The show in of itself, while hard to take seriously, is up there with Journeyman in its ability to hold a mood and to interest the audience. The plot is intriguing, the characters are likable, and if the concept doesn’t prove to be a one-trip pony, then it has a lot of potential to spawn many great episodes.
New Amsterdam premieres this week on Fox