Monday, September 24, 2018

TV REVIEW: NBC's 'New Amsterdam'

NBC will premiere its new original drama series New Amsterdam on Tuesday, September 25 at 10/9c. following the season premiere of This Is Us. The drama stars Ryan Eggold, Janet Montgomery, Freema Agyeman, Jocko Sims, Tyler Labine and Anupam Kher.

Read on for my thoughts on the medical drama after screening its first two episodes.

I am a big fan of medical procedurals. I have seen every episode of Grey's Anatomy, Chicago Med, The Good Doctor and The Resident - with reviews of each of their premieres coming this week as well. It's a genre that has seen a boom in recent years on the broadcast networks. It provides a comforting formula that when executed well can still be very entertaining to watch. NBC's new drama New Amsterdam is set in a very unique hospital in New York City. It's based on Bellevue Hospital, the oldest public hospital in the country. This facility has so many special departments that allows it to treat a wide variety of patients. In fact, the first episode of the new drama is practically overstuffed trying to cram in as many unique situations as possible to show the many different facilities that are housed within this hospital. There is a prison ward for patients incoming from Rikers. There is a special wing for politicians and global ambassadors. There's a containment unit for anyone with a possibly deadly and contagious disease. And there's a courthouse in the basement that can allow doctors to present their cases to a judge in order to get a ruling on their patient's treatment. That's what makes this show unique. It is trying to show the many different ways in which medicine is performed. Each area of this hospital has a different look and feel to it. Of course, it also seems like the characters are constantly running around from one corner to another. It's a large campus that should feel more distinct in each given area. Instead, it's just one small handful of characters who somehow navigate it all during their shifts as doctors and nurses. Some patients are more important than others. Some come in with a medical mystery that needs to be solved. All of the traditional beats of this genre are present in this show.

However, the drama is just really depressing and very ineffective whenever it comes to its lead character. Ryan Eggold has become a favorite at NBC. He was the actor the network tried to spin off of The Blacklist. He couldn't headline a show then though. So, he returned to the original series only to be killed off shortly thereafter. And yet, the network is trying another show with him in the lead. And yet, this new creative team has absolutely no idea how annoying Dr. Max Goodwin comes across. Moreover, Eggold has absolutely no charm or charisma which makes it so difficult to believe that he is the savior that the health care system needs. The show is built around Max being the new medical director for New Amsterdam Hospital. He comes in with this grand ideas of how to re-invent the system. He believes he can make the system function better simply by motivating the doctors into action. He just sees a bunch of people who are defeated and just doing their jobs for the money that comes from performing surgeries. He wants to change that and give the doctors every single thing that they request. The trauma attending, Dr. Bloom (Janet Montgomery), wants to eliminate the waiting room and have patients be moved to beds immediately. Max completely redesigns the ER to accommodate it. He believes he is helping so many people by inspiring the doctors to be more creative and inventive with how they practice medicine. Instead, he is just inserting himself into their business with such little regard for how they wish to practice or live their lives. The head of oncologist, Dr. Sharpe (Freema Agyeman), has essentially become a TV doctor. She brings good publicity to the hospital even though she's not really practicing any more. Max believes it's a good idea to force her to see patients immediately or be fired. Moreover, Max just unilaterally fires an entire department as his first action as medical director not caring about the legal consequences of that action. Nor does the show actually ensure that he deals with any of the fallout because he finds the one surgeon there who actually believes in the same thing that he is preaching.

Max is an inherently selfish character. He believes that his way is always right. The show provides ample evidence in these opening two episodes for the audience to go along with that assessment of the situation as well. And yet, he is so forceful and demanding. When the show just focuses on being a medical procedural, it's actually quite watchable. When it turns into this big melodrama with sweeping pronouncements about the connections between humanity, it is agonizing and laughable. At one point, Max turns to the head of psychology, Dr. Frome (Tyler Labine), and tells him that if he can't help his patient as a doctor than help her as a human being. It's such an unintentionally hilarious bit of dialogue. As if the head of psychology isn't already trying to make a difference in the personal lives of his patients. That's the reason why he is helping people. The show tries to present it as him not doing enough. But instead, it inspires the other doctor's on staff to follow Max's lead by taking risks that could land them all into some legal trouble. And once more, everything works out fine for them in the end. Frome hunts down a woman who could possibly house a girl abused by the foster care system not realizing that's not how any of it works. Bloom breaks protocol by helping a kid potentially stricken with a lethal and contagious disease not caring if she too gets infected. The head of neurology, Dr. Kapoor (Anupam Kher), submits a kid to dialysis even though he doesn't need it in order to get some medicine out of his system. All of these moments come across as the doctors doing the right thing for their patients. Instead, it just feels like big, sweeping moments to create uncertain and intense stakes because the audience doesn't know if it will all work out in the end. But again, it always does and in a way that is a little too manipulative of the audience.

Moreover, the show seems to be aware that Max can be off-putting and annoying. It's a key character flaw of his. It's the reason why his marriage hasn't been working out lately. That extends another element of the story. There is a whole lot of melodrama going on in Max's personal life as well. It's simply too much. It's basically comical how much is going on at the moment just in order to get the audience to feel for the guy. His wife is pregnant even though she's upset with him for taking this new job when he promised he would cut back from work. Moreover, Max has a new medical diagnosis himself that he is choosing to keep a secret from absolutely everyone for some reason. That development is played as this big twist even though the network has basically been spoiling it in ads and trailers ever since the show was first announced for the fall schedule. It all adds up to a feeling of a lot of stuff happening but no real reason to care about the person at the center of it all. These are problems that probably could have been fixed in development or casting. With them still being present, they will have to be fixed on the fly if the show has the time to actually grow and explore what is actually interesting about its premise. Through two episodes though, I mostly just found myself wanting to care about what was happening and the characters actually dealing with some consequences to their actions. Things simply couldn't be fixed so neatly and easily within the health care system. There needs to be more opposition to their actions. That's what is most needed in this show.