In the US: Fridays, 9pm, Fox. Starts February 22 2008
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Ah, the Danes. What a bunch of wrist-slashers hey?
Okay, bit of a dodgy cultural stereotype*, but I'm pretty sure someone in a US casting office somewhere thought to themselves: “Script about a clinically depressed immortal who's yearning to meet the love of his life just so he can die? Get Denmark on the line, now!”
Hence the casting of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in New Amsterdam, in which a Dutch settler of the region that was to become New Amsterdam and then New York does a good deed, ends up immortal and then mopes around a lot for four centuries.
Plot (although looking completely original at first, later turning out to have been fabricated recently from the Fox web site)
Created 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. Pilot directed by visionary Lasse Hallström (“My Life As a Dog,” “The Cider House Rules,” “Chocolat,” “The Hoax”).
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 American 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 McKinley-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.
Having witnessed its entire history from colonial outpost to mega-metropolis, John Amsterdam is the living embodiment of New York City. He and the island of Manhattan are now part and parcel of each other. 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.
From executive producers David Manson (“Saved,” “Thief,” “Nothing Sacred”), Allan Loeb, and Steven Pearl (“Untraceable”), this intriguing series invites viewers to explore the enduring mysteries of life, death and true love.
Is it any good?
It's not bad actually. Comparison to at least two shows are inevitable: Moonlight, which also stars another foreigner as an immortal longing for love and death; and Highlander, which also stars another foreigner as an immortal longing for love and death.
Unlike the former, there are no supernatural elements at all to New Amsterdam, beyond that Macguffin of the 17th century native American witchcraft. No vampires. No nothing. It's all just an odd mix of romance, with Amsterdam looking for the woman he's destined to love and hence kill him, and police work.
Similarly, while mopey-guts is much like the Connor Macleod of the original Highlander movie script, there's no sword fighting (at least not in the present) and no other immortals to have fights with. Instead, there can be only one and it's him.
In fact, the show's a bit more like Groundhog Day than the other two shows. Like Bill Murray, Amsterdam eventually uses his unlimited time on Earth wisely - instead of spending all day, every day watching Star Trek re-runs, he's been to MIT, the Sorbonne, Princeton and a dozen other universities and can now bring endless knowledge, talents and first-hand experience to help fight crime.
It's still all a bit bleak though. Amsterdam hasn't exactly been a monk over the years, but he has a habit of dumping women in next to no time - although they all say they knew from the moment they met him that he was going to upsticks and dump them at some point. Charming. Although he has a really old pal, he's really there for comic relief and to exploit his friend's skills. Amsterdam's new partner is a walking geyser of lines that attempt to add some characterisation, but she simply comes across as a pain in the backside rather than someone you'd like to watch. And his love-to-be doesn't yet have much interaction with him, so it's too early to tell just how good that particular romance is going to be. Refreshingly, with the exception of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, no one's especially pretty either - you can actually believe both the partner and soulmate are cops and doctors rather than supermodels with a day job.
All the same, it's pretty good, although I could have done without yet another cop show. Coster-Waldau does a very good job with the role and its darkness, and you really can sense the desperation to die at times. How long the show can keep the tension between the need for romance and the lead's eventually karking it in check, I don't know.
Here's a YouTube trailer.
* And not even an accurate one, since as we all know, it's the Swedes who off themselves because it's Tuesday.
- March 12, 2008: Third-episode verdict: New Amsterdam
My third-episode verdict on New Amsterdam
- June 17, 2009: Virtuality trailer
A trailer for Virtuality
- November 10, 2011: Review: Hell on Wheels (AMC) 1x1
A review of AMC's western Hell on Wheels