A Man of His Time
Mondays on Fox, 9 PM
Written by Allan Loeb & Christian Taylor
Directed by Matthew Penn
New Amsterdam should have been a miniseries. I don’t know why network television hates that idea so much–it works fine on HBO and Showtime–but I would not mind seeing the format make a comeback. For some stories, (Lost, The Office), a long, drawn-out run is counterproductive. Series such as The X-Files, which overstayed its welcome for years, are a good example of not knowing when to gracefully retire while your reputation is intact. The longer The X-Files went on, the more bizarre and convoluted and impossible its “backstory” or “mythology” (sic) became. One signal warning sign of the over-complicated premise is when the recap of “previously on X” comes on, it gets longer and longer. If you have to take five or ten minutes out of your precious forty-four to explain to your own audience what happened in previous weeks, if you have to essentially recap the entire series for new viewers to clue in, you’re doing it all wrong. So for New Amsterdam to bow out now, ahead of the ratings axe, is a good thing. Always leave ’em wanting more.
In what was billed as the season finale, but may well be the series finale, John, still recovering from his gunshot wound investigates the death of a drowned woman with Eva. They (meaning mostly Eva) track the woman’s murder to a string of robberies tied to a dating service. Wow–call girls who rob their johns. There’s a groundbreaking plot idea. The writers link John to this plot via a flashback to his life as a grifter and thief in 1927, in the worst mustache poor Nicolaj Coster-Waldau has yet had to endure. Meanwhile, John struggles with the realization that his gunshot wound proves that Sara Dillane is not The One, the woman who will make him mortal. In a rather chilling scene at the end of the episode, he says goodbye to her and walks away. Did he love her? Apparently not. Maybe it means that John will be immortal forever because, deep down, he really doesn’t have a heart. It’s a jarring revelation in a character who had been charming, warm and funny for the previous six or seven episodes. But this show had been uneven in concept and execution from Day One, so it’s not surprising that in the last five minutes, his creators throw John Amsterdam under the bus.
What worked in this show? The history of New York worked fine. It was fun to see John in the historical flashbacks, particularly when the writers made sure to not make him a 21st century man slumming in the past, with the same sensibilities and expectations as a modern man. The idea of having John remain close to his children, like Omar, even as they age and die–heck, the whole idea of John having children at all–added an enormously likable dimension to John Amsterdam, along with a hefty dose of pathos for the character. This was an innovative touch and served the show very well. Zuleikha Robinson’s Eva was a suitably sassy, delicious, energetic sidekick, woefully underused but with plenty of potential. Yes, making her The One would have been a cliche, but when it comes to romance, it’s all about the cliche.
What didn’t work? The police procedural. Seriously, the only reason to have John risk exposure by taking so public and highly scrutinized a job as detective was so that, with his privileged access, he could keep his own fingerprints out of a database. And since other TV characters with similar problems have found other solutions (vampire Mick St. John on Moonlight comes to mind), there really is no compelling reason to turn a perfectly good time travel romance into a tepid police drama. Sometimes, a marriage of bizarrely different genres works (Firefly) and sometimes it doesn’t (Cop Rock). This was one time when it didn’t.
In the end, only a few die hard viewers got to see John walk off into the sunset–or at least into Midtown–in his shiny leather coat. New Amsterdam clocked in at a modest 4.2 rating and a 2.1/5 showing in the 18-49 demographic. This put Fox fourth in the timeslot. The show has become a boat anchor, and I don’t expect to see it again. Farewell, John. We hardly knew ye.