Each year when I do my initial predictions, I try to do them as “sight unseen”. I look at the description, the so-called log line, and decide, “If I was an executive, would I have greenlit this premise?”. But it is hard to stay completely in the dark about all the shows. Some are talked about on radio, where one DJ will ask another, “Did you see blah blah blah last night? It was awesome!” or a friend wanting to talk to me about shows because they know I’m big on TV and serialized storytelling.
And then there are the ads. I can’t avoid all of them, and the one that has been the bane of my existence this year has been for New Amsterdam. Over and over and over, I have heard the same tired dialogue…”I want to get rid of the waiting room. Done”; “Let’s be doctors again.”; “You know they’re not going to just let you help people? Well, let’s see how many we can help before they figure out what we’re doing.”. Sanctimonious claptrap, big medicine is all bad, but the “human” will set them back to their true roots. Melodramatic, over the top, blather. And so, while I try to keep an open mind, I was fully prepared to hate this show.
Now, I had two strikes against me going in. First, while I am not attracted to Grey’s Anatomy, House, Scrubs, ER, etc., I did watch St. Elsewhere back in the day. So if they stay out of the sheets and don’t give me a nutbar as the lead character, it might work. Second, the lead actor is Ryan Eggold as Dr. Max, the new Medical Director for New Amsterdam who is willing to make lots of changes (including firing the entire heart surgery team the first day).
Eggold was Tom, Elizabeth Keen’s husband, on The Blacklist and even starred in The Blacklist: Redemption. I thought the spinoff was an ill-conceived ripoff of a bunch of shows, including Mission: Impossible and Covert Affairs, but I like watching Eggold do his thing on-screen whether he is bashful Tom or cold, calculating Tom. Here he is closer to nice, bashful Tom, and he is fun to watch.
His full ongoing supporting cast is hard to tell from just the pilot, but some faces popped out. Janet Montgomery was good back when she was on Human Target, and a strong interesting force in the hospital as Dr. Lauren, willing to take chances; Jocko Sims as Dr. Floyd, a heart surgeon who is fired and unfired on the first day because he was part of a group but not like the group that was fired; Anupam Kher as Dr. Vijay, the old but wise doctor; Freema Agyeman as Dr. Helen, a rockstar for the media circuit, willing to return to actual medicine to be a doctor again, and she looks very different from her Torchwood / Martha Jones days; Tyler Labine as psychologist Dr. Iggy, and I confess I had no idea where I recognized him from, and would NEVER have come up with Reaper / Sock from 11 years ago; and Lisa O’Hare as Max’s pregnant but estranged wife, Georgia.
Sure, it’s an ensemble cast, but I was surprised that they all got some decent airtime in the opening episode. Dr. Floyd and Dr. Lauren are sort of an item but he’s not sure he wants to date her anymore because, while fun, she’s not black and he wants a black partner for life; Dr. Vijay seems old and slow but he goes slow with a patient and finds out what is really wrong with her, not making a snap diagnosis; Dr. Helen is spending all of her time running around doing media stuff because she was becoming immune to patients; and Dr. Iggy is trying to help a psych patient who keeps coming back, and he doesn’t know how to help her with her life outside of the hospital.
In short, there’s a lot going on, and while it is the first episode so they spent a lot of extra time getting it right, it was indeed right. It rang all the right bells, it hit all the right notes, and I fully enjoyed 90% of the show. There are two parts I didn’t enjoy, and I’ll give you a spoiler alert right now for the next two paragraphs.
The first element is that Max’s wife is pregnant and they’re estranged because of his work, etc. He’s promising to be different, to be more present, to help more, etc. And then she calls because she’s bleeding out of the uterus, and she thinks something is wrong with the baby. Fast forward to the scene in the hospital where they’re examining, trying to assess what is happening, Mom and Dad to be are losing their shit slowly, and then the writers ramp it up. The nurse can’t find the heartbeat of the baby and the tension goes to 11. I couldn’t watch. Not because it wasn’t good, but because my wife and I experienced EXACTLY that scene. My wife’s water broke at 26 weeks, a partial premature rupture of the membrane (PPROM), and we were in the hospital room while they searched for a very elusive heartbeat. I had to skip ahead, I couldn’t watch the scene, way too intense for me. Flashback city, and it is NOT a good memory, even if my son is now a healthy 9 year old.
The second element is that Dr. Max has a bit of a secret. He’s sick. Something is happening, not sure what. At the end of the episode, the big secret is revealed, he has cancer. So it explains why he’s different, why he’s so driven, why he’s willing to take risks, why he is focusing on “what matters”. Except he’s only had suspicions, and symptoms, for 6 weeks. And it is such a cliché that if I was scoring, I’d be deducting marks.
Neither are enough to stop me from watching though. When I did my original prediction, sight unseen but perhaps slightly biased by the ads, I said “Hospital story about idealism = CANCELLED”. Afterwards, I have to say that while they did an awesome job, I don’t think it will be enough to grab an audience and get renewed, not enough grit. I’m disappointingly sticking with my CANCELLED prediction, but I’ll watch it to the bitter end.