Since I tend to love shows cancelled by Fox, I had to check out New Amsterdam, which I vaguely remember being advertised. It’s about a cop with unique knowledge due the fact that he’s been alive a long time… like, a supernaturally long time. If John Doe and Journeyman didn’t last, what made them think this would?
From the get-go the city is a character. We open with a noir-ish voiceover by the main character, John (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) describing New York and all that he’s seen happen in it over the years. It’s reminiscent of Angel describing Los Angeles at the beginning of that pilot.
The show sets up a juxtaposition of romance and violence that could become a theme. While John tangos with, and then makes love with, a woman we don’t really meet, flashbacks of a battle scene are interspersed. In the battle, which appears to be set in colonial America*, John is run through with a sword while defending a Native American woman.
Once we have a feel for the character and his story, we learn what he’s doing in the present day. Naturally, he’s a cop. What supernatural being residing in a major metropolitan area wouldn’t spend his days fighting crime? And, naturally, he’s got a mismatched partner of the opposite sex, as TV cops tend to have. She tells us her name twice in the space of a minute: Eva Marquez (Zuleikha Robinson). Perhaps we’re supposed to hate her. We do.
As the odd couple is investigating a crime scene, John takes off after a suspect, chasing him into a subway station. John is doing this whole smooth cop thing, disarming the suspect with his fearlessness, when a certain woman steps off the train. John collapses to the ground for no visible reason, and is rushed to the hospital where the doctors try in vain to revive him. To the resounding ER chants of “clear!” we see a parallel memory of John lying among a group of Native Americans. The oxygen mask in the present is contrasted with the burning sage from the past. The Native American woman who he defended earlier explains that John will never die until he finds “the one” and their souls are wed. In the present, John dies, has his toe tagged, and then wakes up and walks out of the morgue. We surmise this has happened before.
John has a confidante, Omar (Stephen Henderson) who is in on this story. He’s a wise, old, African American bartender… can we have a bigger cliché, please? With everyone else, we assume John’s immortality is a secret, although he is pretty loose with the clues. He casually mentions 609 ex-girlfriends, or five-thousand-some-odd days sober. Apparently he doesn’t care whether anyone knows, either because they wouldn’t believe him anyway, or there is nothing anyone can do to hurt him.
John and Eva (god, she’s a bitch) continue working their case, seeking the killer of a celebutante named Chloe. This mystery-of-the-week is pretty standard, existing to let us, or the network execs, know what to expect in the coming season. John drops bombshells of personal information at the right moments, like when he tells the victim’s mother, “He was six, my son.”
The twist that sets the show apart from other cop dramas is, of course, John’s extensive knowledge of New York. He has a lot of contacts, having been around a while. There is a creepy encounter with an ex-girlfriend, now pushing 90, who holds a clue to the case.
In the meantime, a doctor from the hospital where John died—the woman from the subway—is curious where her corpse got to. She’s doing her own little investigation. Sooner or later the two are bound to meet, and perhaps that will lift the spell. The question is, does the viewer want to slog through cheesy weekly cases to get there?
*According to the show’s description this scene is set in 1642, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that.