Cheesy and derivative and ridiculous it may be, but New Amsterdam is full of heart and can’t help but be extremely likeable.
I know I should hate New Amsterdam. NBC’s new medical drama is ludicrous, quite clearly emotionally manipulative, and revolves around a character so patently unbelievable that at several points I half expected him to suddenly declare he had cured cancer before nipping off to lunch. And yet, here we are. I liked it. I cried. I’ll be watching next week.
I’m sure you’re wondering why. I’m not sure I have an answer. New Amsterdam is far from the answer to America’s healthcare crisis, and even though it presents a doctor valuing his patients over profit as though it’s a revolutionary idea, we’ve seen it all before. No matter. The show’s genuine emotional warmth and enthusiasm won me over. It’s sad and uplifting; funny and insightful; and yes, absurd. It’s peddling wish-fulfilment more than anything. But isn’t that why we watch TV – to feel something?
Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) is the charming altruistic genius at the show’s centre; the new medical director at the storied New Amsterdam hospital. He arrives and starts shaking things up, firing anyone who doesn’t put their patients first and making implausible changes to how the place operates. He radiates goodness with the intensity of a thousand suns, and wears his running shoes so that he can dart around the hospital effortlessly solving everyone’s problems. (Most scenes begin with him teleporting somewhere after being miles away two seconds prior.)
I should hate this guy. His only flaw is that he cares too much, and his reality-check moment comes when it’s explained to him how his eagerness to care for people led him to overlook a crucial detail. And he’s suffering. His estranged wife is experiencing complications with her pregnancy and by the end of the premiere it’s revealed he has cancer. Still, he keeps on trucking, asking “How can I help?” of everyone he meets.
But that sentiment is contagious (as is whatever mystery ailment a Liberian boy has been infected with – he checks into New Amsterdam because it’s the only American hospital he has heard of, which is hilarious.) Dr. Floyd Reynolds (Jocko Sims) is fired and then re-hired as the head of the cardiac surgical department when he reveals he’s a man of principles. His paramour, Dr. Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery), risks her own life to save a patient. The resident psychologist Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine) wants to treat his repeatedly-abused patient as a human being, rather than sticking her back into the foster care system. And Dr. Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman) is a vapid celebrity doctor who is forced to reconnect with her profession thanks to the sheer force of Max’s desire to help.
Like I said – cheesy, obnoxious, manipulative, all of the above. But New Amsterdam hits all the right boxes, and while fans of medical dramas will have seen it all before, there’s no reason they won’t want to see it again presented quite so excitedly. Perhaps a show like this is what we need in 2018, when the in-thing is to be cynical, callous and logical. There’s still room for emotion, even if it’s not entirely genuine. A lot more people could stand to ask how they can help.