For all its flagrant emotional manipulation and ludicrous shenanigans, New Amsterdam is one of the best, most uplifting shows on television.
It should come as absolutely no surprise that Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) sleeps on the couch so that his pregnant wife, Georgia (Lisa O’Hare), can have the bed to herself, or that he cheerily makes her breakfast in bed while upbeat music plays. “I wish I could want you back,” she says to him, which is a hell of a way to greet someone in the morning. But Max is totally fine with that – he respects boundaries, after all, as the episode title suggests, which is surprising for the kind of maverick who does the washing up first thing rather than before bed. (How does he sleep knowing it’s there?)
Another unsurprising thing about Max is that, while running to work, he stops to give the homeless money and offer them advice about their gangrenous feet. He also says things like, “If my cancer gets anyone else killed besides me, I’m going to be really upset,” when receiving preliminary treatment from Dr. Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman), which is just hilarious. I should hate Max, and the fact I don’t is testament to how purely enjoyable and good-hearted New Amsterdam is, especially since each episode, including “Boundaries”, is about stretching his unreasonable, sickly altruism to previously unknown limits.
As such, one of the episode’s crises is that the head cardiothoracic surgeon at another local hospital has an aneurysm, meaning that there’s nobody available to run his department, and thus all of his emergency patients need to be transferred to the already-understaffed New Amsterdam as per Max’s mandate of helping everyone – and he means everyone, including the homeless lady outside, who redirects him to a brother who happens to be dying.
Everyone else in “Boundaries”, meanwhile, is tasked with handling the massive overflow of new patients while Dr. Floyd Reynolds (Jocko Sims) works on his out-of-commission local contemporary. Dr. Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery) is more or less in charge of telling everyone where they should be while slyly hunting for a misplaced bottle of pills that she insists are ibuprofen but which are clearly not, Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine) is fretting about his new community project being sponsored by a company that has provided him with free soft drinks that he can’t possibly endorse to his patients, and Dr. Vijay Kapoor (Anupam Kher) is still comically insistent on taking things at his own sedate pace, much to the annoyance of everyone, including his snooty new patients. (“Fast and wrong is not a service to her or to anyone else.”)
Where “Boundaries” succeeds – and where New Amsterdam itself always seems to succeed – is tempering the ridiculous chaos with consistent and smart characterisation and genuinely interesting ethical and moral dilemmas. With Frome’s psychotherapy department overflowing and his particularly vulnerable patients being displaced, he’s forced to consider whether taking sugar money in exchange for resources and services he desperately needs is worthwhile; Floyd has to determine whether putting ludicrous last-minute pressure on his inexperienced underlings is smart or fair; Helen has to grapple with the responsibility of openness in care (this is expressed using an undeniably manipulative but cripplingly effective subplot involving a precocious young girl who is dying of cancer); and Max is forced to reconcile his desire to help every human being he meets with his greater responsibilities as the medical director of a hospital full of patients who also need his attention.
You’ll have to excuse some of this. I could do without Frome finding plants flowering in the stone cracks of his community garden, and I’ll certainly pass on the entire hospital staff heading there after work to plant shrubs and laugh at each other’s jokes and presumably sing campfire songs. But I’m here for the frank discussions about Max’s encroaching cancer, about the merits of free healthcare and the perils of privatisation, and the value of being able to sometimes put yourself and your family first. New Amsterdam is lots of things; silly, sometimes, and flagrantly designed to tug on your heartstrings. But it’s also one of the best shows on television, and the one with – ironically – the healthiest heart.