[07/05/07 - 01:38 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "New Amsterdam" (FOX)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.

And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

(Tuesdays at 8:00/7:00c this fall)

The network's description: "Directed and executive-produced by visionary Lasse Hallstrm ("My Life As a Dog," "The Cider House Rules," "Chocolat," "The Hoax") and written by Allan Loeb ("Things We Lost in the Fire," "21") and Christian Taylor ("Showboy," "Six Feet Under"), NEW AMSTERDAM is the story of a New York homicide detective unlike any other. He is brilliant, mysterious, reckless, magnetic, unknowable. And he has a profound secret he is immortal. In 1642, JOHN AMSTERDAM (Nikolaj Coster Waldau, "Kingdom of Heaven"), then a Dutch solider in the colony of New Amsterdam later to become New York City stepped in front of a sword to save the life of a Native Indian girl during a massacre of her indigenous tribe. The girl in turn rescued Amsterdam, weaving an ancient spell that conferred immortality upon him. Amsterdam will not age, she told him, until he finds his one true love. Only then will he become whole and ready for mortality. But Amsterdam has found this to be a mixed blessing. Over the course of three centuries, he's experienced endless adventure and honed his many talents. But everyone Amsterdam meets must leave him in time; lovers and children die while he remains young. His sole confidant and current lifelong friend is the sage jazz club owner OMAR (Stephen Henderson, "Law & Order: SVU"), the keeper of Amsterdam's secret, as well as a few of his own. As the exhilaration of eternal life has given way to emotional isolation and bitter loneliness, Amsterdam discovers the blessing has become a curse. Bringing to bear the unorthodox techniques and unique knowledge gained from his vast life experience, Amsterdam today is one of the NYPD's best homicide detectives, sparring with his vibrant, strong-willed partner EVA MARQUEZ (Zuleikha Robinson, "Rome," "The Lone Gunmen") as they solve difficult murder cases. But when Amsterdam suffers and then recovers from what appears to be a massive heart attack while chasing a suspect, and DR. SARA DILLANE (Alexie Gilmore, "Find Love") pronounces him dead in the ER, he realizes that the Indian girl's prophesy may have come true he felt the pain in his heart that she had foretold so long ago. His soul mate must have been nearby. As he works to find a killer on the streets of New York, Amsterdam understands that his own life and possibly his death have changed forever."

What did they leave out: It's the other show in which an immortal guy complains about how crappy it is to be immortal.

The plot in a nutshell: Nearly 400 years ago, Dutch soldier John Amsterdam (Danish actor Nikolaj Coster Waldau) arrived at the colony of New Amsterdam. Shortly thereafter he died after throwing himself in front of a fellow soldier's sword to protect a young Indian girl (his last words: "We don't kill the women and children."). As luck would have it though, she wasn't an ordinary Indian girl. She, along with her fellow Indians, somehow resurrect our hero and apply what will become his curse: "You will not grow old, you will not die until you find the one and your souls are wed. This is the gift we give you." "How will I know?" John asks. "You will feel it here," the girl says pointing to his heart. Sure enough, John doesn't die and centuries pass. Along with them: bad facial hair, 609 girlfriends, multiple careers, 35 trusty pet dogs and an alcohol addiction problem (he's been sober 15,495 days, or about since 1965). It's a predicament - we're told via the show's moody narration (a prerequisite for these types of shows) - that proves to be quite a burden. After all, how can anyone or anything mean something when he'll outlive them all? In any event, it's now 2007 where John is a police detective in New Amsterdam, now dubbed New York City in the modern day. It's in said career that he's become something of a dynamo as his literally hundreds of years experience give him the leg up on anyone and everyone. He'll need it for his latest case: a wannabe celebutante named Chloe Carlton (Janai Devon) has been murdered and all the signs point to her shady boyfriend Eddie Riley (Justin Grace). A quick horse chase later (no, you didn't read that wrong) and John manages to corner Eddie in the 137th Street subway where he collapses to the ground, clutching his heart in pain. It seems one of the passengers, Dr. Sara Dillane (Alexie Gilmore), is John's "one," a fact that causes him to "die" once again under Sara's care. But before his body is cold, John wakes up with the knowledge he's just met the "one" but doesn't recall which of the people around him it was. Nevertheless, he's still got a murder to solve. Aiding him in his quest are his longtime confidante Omar (Stephen Henderson), a bar owner who hides John's "Highlander"-esque collection of artifacts - including archaic tools that he uses to make antique desks from his previous life as a famed woodsmith in the early 20th century and sell them for a hefty profit. On the job, he's saddled with Eva Marquez (Zuleikha Robinson), the latest in his long line of short-lived partners. But because this is the pilot to a TV show, Eva proves to be smarter than John's usual fodder. Together - okay, mostly because of John's repository of knowledge about the city and its history (details of which we'll get to shortly) - they piece together who killed Chloe. Meanwhile, Sara finds her own little mystery in the form of John's death and apparent resurrection (his body disappears from the morgue). At the same time, John endlessly wanders the subway and examines security footage - hoping to run into the "one" again.

What works: There's an endless smorgasbord of little details in the show - John stopped naming his dogs a long time ago and simply calls them whatever number they are (36 is his latest); he keeps a wall of photographs taken from Times Square each year since the camera was invented; a blood test shows he's got toxic levels of lead in his system; and he remarks the best Yankees pitcher ever was Red Rutting who threw his last curve ball during the 1930s - that give it an authentic feel without being too anachronistic. And in a clever twist, John recounts these facts without hesitation ("You sound like my last 609 girlfriends," he tells Eva) knowing that they'll simply be dismissed as him having fun with them. Nikolaj Coster Waldau also proves to be a likeable lead without coming across as too mopey or angsty. He simply wants his "life" to begin rather than be stuck in an endless holding pattern. Director Lasse Hallstrom also does a fine job of adding a feature-esque flavor to the proceedings as he avoids the "two talking heads and a camera" trap many procedurals fall into.

What doesn't: At the same time there's so much that's frustratingly annoying about the show. First and foremost is how the pilot's case is specifically tailored to show off John's skills instead of letting them organically be displayed. At first it's easy to brush off - the murdered girl just happens to have a stamp on her wrist bearing the name an old speakeasy John used to go to. But eventually it becomes too silly for words - the victim's fingernails have a rare paint mixture underneath them that John just happens to know is the signature of an old artist girlfriend (who's now riddled with Alzheimer's) who just happens to have painted a mural of herself with John in a hotel room back in the day that just happens to have a secret passage John just happens to... you get the picture. It's a suspension of disbelief that - even for a show in which the lead is immortal - proves to be too much. Not helping matters is the show's at times maudlin treatment of love, relationships and death. Not one but two girls remark to John that they "knew John was going to leave them the moment they met him" while an act break won't pass without a shot of John looking longingly at the camera set to sappy piano music. Equally as silly is the show's ill-defined premise. So the Indian girl - as a reward for saving her - tells John he won't die until he finds "the one?" So "the one" wasn't around 400 years ago? What hope does that leave for the non-imbibed-with-an-Indian-curse folk? It just seems like a weird conceit for a show that is so in love with the idea of being in love. Furthermore, he only gets one shot at finding his Cinderella? What happens if, I don't know, he has a heart attack and "dies" before he has the chance to see her? Again, it doesn't sound like John got the better end of the bargain here.

The bottom line: All in all, it's a show that you'll either dismiss as silly or fall hopelessly in love with because of how hopelessly in love with love it is. As for me, I'm on the fence until I see more.

  [july 2007]  


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