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He’s seen it all, but we haven’t

Times Staff Writer

I want to like “New Amsterdam,” I do, I do, I do. The idea of a homicide detective who is really a Dutch colonist/soldier granted immortality by the witchy native girl whose life he saved in 1642? Catnip to a history-geek girl with a predilection for brooding, troubled men and novels in which Sherlock Holmes runs into Sigmund Freud or Edgar Allan Poe. (Do you hear me, fellow devotees of “House,” “Life” and “In Treatment”?)

Oh, the wisdom such a man would have, the issues he would face -- loss, loneliness, a real New Yorker’s outrage over the dandification of Times Square. The artists he could have met, the opening nights, the ballgames, the insight into historical events he would have because he was actually there at the time. With a pilot directed by Lasse Halstrom (“Chocolat,” “The Cider House Rules”), such a man, such a concept seem ripe with delicious possibility.

The show, unfortunately, is not. Played out as a cop procedural, it has a predictable narrative structure that at times resembles nothing so much as a prison. Perhaps frightened by the wackiness of a 366-year-old cop, the writers have dressed him up in cliches. John Amsterdam (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is the best cop in the department, a maverick, an iconoclast, a lone wolf. Or so he tells his new partner Eva Marquez (Zuleikha Robinson), whom he doesn’t expect to stick around any longer than any of the previous 157 partners he’s had.

But Eva is one tough cookie (not to mention Latina, which seems to be the current choice for partners of maverick cops -- see also “Life”). She will not be scared off by Amsterdam’s sudden mysterious silences, off-hours naked swims or even his almost photographic resemblance to that guy in the really old painting. When a young woman is found dead, Eva goes by the book and Amsterdam goes off the grid. You know the drill. It is not the most interesting case on record -- Angela Lansbury would have solved it in 2 1/2 minutes -- but at least Amsterdam is able to show off his special knowledge of New York and his relationship with its history, which at least promises greater things in future episodes. Oh, and in a very clever plot twist, he makes “antique” furniture in his spare time, just to keep the cash flow healthy.

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No, it’s not the by-the-numbers procedural or the so-familiar odd couple as cop partners that keep “New Amsterdam” from achieving greatness, or even pretty-goodness. It’s the love story.

As we discover way too early on, Amsterdam has been granted immortality for a purpose -- he must find his one true love. Only she can make his heart whole enough to hold an expiration date. It’s an alarming notion -- true love’s kiss as the seal o’ doom -- but as Amsterdam makes irritatingly clear from the get-go, immortality is not all it’s cracked up to be.

For hundreds of years he has been searching for her, only to find her minutes into the pilot. Which is kind of a drag, considering we just met the guy -- now we’re supposed to be rooting for his death? Fortunately, he doesn’t actually find her, he senses her -- by having what appears to be a heart attack -- in the middle of a crowded subway.

So now we have a 366-year-old homicide detective who makes furniture and is desperately seeking his one true love who will make him mortal.

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I don’t know what the writers were thinking -- that women wouldn’t watch without an immediate romantic angle? -- but this is what I would call a Season 3 development. Or at least Episode 3. The whole true love thing should not be approached until all the dramatic possibility of a cop who might just know what happened to the lost settlement of Roanoke has been a bit more properly explored, if not wrung dry. Throwing it in the pilot just muddies the waters -- what kind of a crazy show is this anyway, you find yourself wondering, and not in a good way. The pilot, and I fear the show, is trying to be so many things it winds up being . . . nothing.

Also, for the record, not even the girliest of geek girls wants the tough guy maverick cop to start out seeking his own true love. That’s just wrong -- I mean, he hasn’t even met us yet.

The second episode is a bit more reassuring. Amsterdam’s relationship with best friend and trusted secret keeper Omar (Stephen Henderson) is explained most satisfactorily, and as we see our hero’s past lives, and heartbreaks, we understand his quest for mortality a bit more.

So there is hope, albeit it slender, that Amsterdam can get that crazy dame off his mind for a bit and do what 366-year-old Dutch cops do best -- whatever the heck that is.

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mary.mcnamara @latimes.com

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‘New Amsterdam’

Where: Fox

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When: 9 tonight; 9 p.m.Thursday; regular time will be 9 p.m. Mondays

Rating: TV-14-LSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)


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