TV Review: 'New Amsterdam'

I don't know how those investigators on the "Law & Order" and "CSI" franchises do it. Yes, they seem to make the necessarily busts each and every week, but one stray bullet and they're toast. No, the really cool crimefighters this TV season all enjoy the added benefits of immortality.

Just months after CBS premiered "Moonlight," the latest in a long line of shows convinced that vampires make the most efficient private eyes, FOX is finally getting around to launching "New Amsterdam."

Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays John Amsterdam, a New York City detective with roughly 400 years of life experience to draw upon. Back in 1642, when he was a Dutch colonial soldier, he saved the life of a Native American girl. Granted that he was perfectly happy to be killing the Indian men in the same skirmish, a wounded Amsterdam is saved by several members of his tribe and given what's either a tremendous blessing or a horrible curse: Until he finds his one true love, he'll never age. While the passage of time hasn't allowed Amsterdam to totally lose his Euro-accent, he's accumulated enough knowledge to help him solve just about any crime. He can read lips, navigate every nook and cranny of New York City, analyze handwriting, craft furniture, deliver the punchline for every joke ever told and correctly identify minutiae involving obscure paint composition and diamonds. He's also a recovering alcoholic and he has a melancholy streak that forces him to utter morose platitudes like "To die is what makes life worth living."

Amsterdam is accompanied by new partner Eva Marquez (Zuleikha Robinson), who doesn't know his secret, and aging club owner Omar (Stephen Henderson), who does. He's also piled up a long string of identical dogs, plus a backlog of wives and girlfriends, women he loved, but who he apparently didn't love enough to die. But is a mysterious doctor (Alexie Gilmore) the one? She sure makes his heart explode. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

When it comes to the undead procedural, nothing gets fans in a tizzy like like a good forbidden romance -- Think Angel-Buffy or Mick-Beth. "New Amsterdam" goes a different direction. The show tells us from the get-go that Dr. Sara may be the woman to kill Amsterdam (in a good way), but through two episodes, the two haven't shared a single line of dialogue and the doc isn't even in the second episode. This viewer has already lost interest and would just as soon the show drop that subplot entirely. One True Love is a pretty tenuous thread upon which to hinge the entire mythology of a show and "New Amsterdam" isn't committed.

The show also isn't committed to the police procedural aspects. I've seen two episodes and Amsterdam hasn't solved a case that was even vaguely interesting, and the more time they waste in the precinct, the more time I'm going to start wondering about piddly details like "Maybe if you're a guy who isn't aging, perhaps the best job in the world isn't one where you're surrounded by professionals trained to notice details like when people go five or 10 or 15 years without aging." Although the first episode is structured fairly straight-forwardly, the second episode introduces extended flashback to an early period in Amsterdam's endless life and while that flashback isn't as well-integrated into the episode's theme as a "Lost" flashback, I like anything that distracts from the by-the-numbers investigation. That's probably why I appreciate the scenes between Coster-Waldau and Henderson, who gets plenty of dialogue to deflate the absurdity of the show's premise.

I prefer aspects of the storytelling that concentrate on the logistics how how this immortal has lived his seven or eight lifetimes. John Amsterdam has had so many quirks piled on that he's actually a relatively interesting character and Coster-Waldau plays him with an appealing wry tone.

Coster-Waldau resembles a second tier Hugh Jackman, which is bound to cause at least a half-dozen viewers to think of Darren Aronofsky's epic-length perfume commercial "The Fountain," which also dealt with issues of immortality and undying love. That movie covered its implausibility with some many layers of mannered pretentiousness -- errr... "artiness" -- that logic and mechanics were never an issue. "New Amsterdam" isn't so lucky. In "The Fountain," True Love was a thing to believe in across the bounds of time, while "New Amsterdam" reduces true love to something that basically kills you. Will fans of the lusty, forbidden passions of "Moonlight" have any use for this alternative romanticism? Will anybody else?

Technically, "New Amsterdam" is fairly assured stuff. Directed by Oscar nominee Lasse Halstrom, the pilot makes good use of New York locations and the episode ends with a fantastic time-lapse CGI shot of the growth of Manhattan that's almost worth the bumpy 43-minute journey.

The differences in structure and tone between the first and second episodes of "New Amsterdam" are substantial and, to my mind at least, an improvement. I wasn't a fan of the pilot -- too much boring cop work, not enough undead intrigue -- but the second episode was more about the character than what he does for a living.

But therein lies the flaw in FOX's spring programming. "New Amsterdam" has already bounced through three or four different premiere dates and the plug was basically pulled on its production long before it approached a 13-episode run. And now FOX is burning off roughly a third of the show's episodes before it reaches its time period premiere. What are the odds that the series found its voice during its brief time in production and even with a couple post-"American Idol" airings what are the odds that audiences will find the show before it runs out of episodes? This is a mystery even John Amsterdam, with his centuries of experience, might not be able to solve.

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