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New Amsterdam Review – Hospital Drama Goes Full Hospital

Given that virtually all dramas, especially on network television, revolve around cops or doctors, it isn’t surprising that they are as beholden to the “gimmick plot” as sit-coms. They generally nail things down as simply a quirk of the main character, but even that simplicity is falling away as ideas run dry. Worst of all, many of them only care so much about gimmicks or plot setups, because they’re lazy spins through melodrama.

New Amsterdam is a show that looks to run so hard at a gimmick that it bursts beyond some form of event horizon and comes full circle to not having a gimmick at all. What if our doctor’s quirk was… wait for it, that he wanted to be a good doctor? And, what if our gimmick was that no one else could figure out what the hell he was talking about, and everyone at the hospital was so jaded by the horrible system, that they didn’t believe it was possible to make things better? Well, or just that it was a doctor who wanted to run a hospital well.

We arrive at New Amsterdam with the hospital’s new medical director, Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold), and he’s about to make a lot of changes. Of course, every new director has some speech or other, and New Amsterdam has been averaging one per year of late, so no one really cares. That is, until he actually makes a lot of changes. Big changes.

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We’re in a hospital that has been around forever, within a system that has been grinding down its gears for untold years, where nothing changes, and someone just showed up and started shouting, “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!”

Despite Dr. Goodwin’s semi-cheery demeanor, and his almost exhausting penchant for entering every room with a warm, inviting, “How can I help?” no one expects him, or his changes, to last long, even if they find themselves motivated to keep things going. Who doesn’t want the free car?

The show’s background quickly becomes a strange dance of wondering what’s really possible while dodging the powers that be, all in the extraordinarily new environment that is the wake of a medical director who will fire whole departments.

NEW AMSTERDAM -- "Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Gary Perez as Carlos, Ryan Eggold as Dr. Max Goodwin, Anupam Kher as Dr. Vijay Kapoor -- (Photo by: Francisco Roman/NBC)
(Photo by: Francisco Roman/NBC)

The foreground centers mostly on a small set of doctors and their patients. Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine) runs the psych department, and is one of the first to jump on board with the new director’s efforts. Dr. Vijay Kapoor (Anupam Kher) and Dr. Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery) are also early converts to the fan club. On the other side of the viewpoint fence, Dr. Hana Sharpe (Freema Agyeman) spends most of her time on an almost neverending publicity tour, and that doesn’t go over well with Dr. Goodwin and his zany, “Let’s do good for our patients” philosophy.

As you might imagine, this foreground collective offers the chance for us to get up close and personal with new and exciting cases, and unexciting cases, as a gateway to connecting to Dr. Goodwin’s do-gooder agenda.

It’s a surprisingly interesting mix of characters and effort, avoiding a lot of the requisite drama that is supposed to be keeping you watching, by simply creating enough drama tearing apart a hospital. There is a bit of actual drama, so far by way of who is or isn’t going to keep sleeping with who, but the show is mostly content to set the hospital structure spinning and find out what the doctors are going to make of it all. It’s refreshing, and apart from the fact that the show goes one shmaltzy contrivance too far in the second episode with a ritual, it actually sells the idea of watching a hospital run simply to watch a hospital run. The un-gimmick.

Woven into the battle that will be Dr. Goodwin vs. The Board, and the subsequent aligning of troops, we get the routine cases which eat at time, shed light on our doctors, and showcase the fact that other doctors suck and cause irreparable harm to patients. It would be nice to find a medical series that could have a doctor say, “Well, no, I mean you’re doctor didn’t exactly do anything wrong, it’s just that we did this test/noticed this/your symptoms are slightly different now,” but this is the game we signed up for.

New Amsterdam, which is inspired by Dr. Eric Manheimer’s memoir “Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital” and his fifteen years as Medical Director there, approaches an almost meta (or something) reaction when watching it. It’s fun and it will pull you in, but it is also pulling the rug out from under viewers who are comfortable with the stagy shenanigans of hospital staff. It’s unsettling, and certainly doesn’t make you feel solid about what’s coming next. Just as certain doctors might respond to Dr. Goodwin, “Sure, it would be great if things were like that, but what the hell is happening here?”

As if to fan the fear by revealing a chink in the armor, the show misfires when it comes to Freema Agyeman and her character. She’s forced and wooden, somehow mawkish at the same time, and doesn’t come near convincing that she’s a high-powered doctor who rolls her eyes at the new director as if she owns the place.

NEW AMSTERDAM -- "Rituals" Episode 102 -- Pictured: (l-r) Anupam Kher as Dr. Vijay Kapoor, Tyler Labine as Dr. Iggy Frome -- (Photo by: Will Hart/NBC)
Pictured: (l-r) Anupam Kher as Dr. Vijay Kapoor, Tyler Labine as Dr. Iggy Frome — (Photo by: Will Hart/NBC)

On the other hand, Tyler Labine and Anupam Kher are so good that the spin-off with their characters would instantly outperform this show. Eggold carries things well, and he’s clearly capable of being the driving force behind a show for several seasons, once we get through the establishment sprint he’s forced into, but Labine and Kher are solid gold out of the gates.

It’s a great show all around, but it isn’t as solid as it could be. It might grow into an even better effort, capitalizing on the available talent it has, but it comes with as much risk as potential. If there’s any chance you’ll like this show, you’ll love it, but you’ll be a little nervous about where you’ll be come episode 10.

8.5
Great
Written by
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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