New Amsterdam is a new Sci Fi show with an immortal as its central character – a homicide detective who is fascinated by death.
In this version, immortality was granted for saving a native girl’s life. As with everything, it’s both a blessing and a curse. Coming back to life is fine at the time but 366 years later … well … a lot has happened.
New Amsterdam writers have chosen to stick very close to our current reality and to blend in with prevailing prime time choices. Apart for the “live forever” bit, this could be any one of a number of popular detective dramas. The focus is heavily on the police procedure. Everything is firmly planted in reality. No special effects. No magic or super skills. No sword fights, spiffy costumes or romantic frisson. No special vernacular or internal-to-the-show logic beyond how the curse is broken.
There is nothing in New Amsterdam that would distinguish it from any number of currently airing police procedurals. For some, this will be a huge plus; for others, a great disappointment.
Having said that, there are a couple of story lines emerging that make it more than just a cop show. Two important story arcs are apparent. The first one is working out who his true love will turn out to be and how they get together (or not, as the writers see fit). Frisson may follow but it will need to be developed and at some point, some of the finer points of reality may be abandoned. The curse – as part of the overall show concept – will be broken when John finds his true love. Only then will he age naturally and the curse will be broken. One assumes that true love is worth giving up immortality for and the treatment of this important question can make or break the show. Do you get tired of being old? Is true love really that great? What about a terrific true like and the chance to go on? Watching the characters reveal the answers is – with any good show – one of the central fascinations.
Second is discovering who WAS John Amsterdam. Part of the fun of having a character over the age of 350 is the flashbacks, the costumes, and the amusing Forrest Gump bits where we insert character into history and relive moments in time – the famous and not so famous. Seeing the present through the past provides writers lots of scope for telling good stories. In this episode, the Civil War is highlighted and discover John’s past at the battle of Antietam.
The characters all play it straight. Even John Amsterdam does nothing in particular to hide his real age. He tosses around the allusions to history and speaks the truth when asked questions. Part of the enjoyment is watching the characters react to his truth as comedic hyperbole. John Amsterdam does nothing in particular to hide the fact that he is old. He is just surrounded by real people who know that immortality is impossible – and that is a perfect cover. Why hide it? No one would believe him anyway – except for Omar who shares John’s secret.
This episode is centred around memory and the mind. It calls into question what is real memory and what is invented memory. Paraphrased from the episode, there are memories that never happened and those you can’t forget. There are even physical memories and phantoms. This theme wraps itself neatly around the additional (and one imagines) obligatory historical flashbacks – more memories that we assume are true.
The relationship with John’s possible true love is also developed. Without disclosing too much, she is a physician who pronounced John dead – only to find him alive and well. The final scene is a great hook to keep watching.
For anyone looking for the zip of the X-Files – the uber-cool characters, great villains, monsters and chilling paranoia – or the zing of Buffy – the great lines, a whole “buffyspeak” language, meticulously created mythology, and more great villains – this show might disappoint. New Amsterdam is ordinary by comparison. Here the focus is on maintaining our reality and not the beauty of creating stylized science fiction that is often a central attraction.
New Amsterdam plays out the simple, unvarnished question … “if a man were immortal and lived in 2008, what would happen?” Stripped down, it is still enough and stays true to its concept. We still want to know who he is, who he was and who will be his true love.