Wednesday, March 5, 2008

New Amsterdam Pilot: Long Life or Short Run?

I was really excited about Fox’s new show, New Amsterdam, which aired the pilot episode last night (March 4). Not just because there’s been little new offered lately, but because the premise of the show sounded like it had so many possibilities.

I was a little disappointed, but not to the point that I would not continue watching.

The problem is typical with pilot episodes. Depending on the nature of the show, there could be a lot of back story to set up. When you only have an hour, it can lead to a muddled start. I think this was the case for New Amsterdam. I also think that it caused the other story line – the homicide case – to come across as weak and thinly told.

In case you missed the show or you didn’t think it was clear, here’s what it’s about. In the mid 1600s, New Amsterdam (which later becomes the modern day city of New York) is a Dutch colony. Dutch soldier John Amsterdam (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), steps in front of a sword to save the life of a Native American girl during a massacre of her tribe. The girl rescues John, and casts a spell that makes him immortal. Well, it has some conditions; he’s only immortal until he finds his one true love. At the present time, he lives in Manhattan as a homicide detective, and has a new partner Eva Marquez (Zuleikha Robinson). His current friend, jazz club owner Omar (Stephen McKinley-Henderson), knows that Amsterdam cannot die

Now, if you didn’t know all of this ahead of time, the first 10 minutes or so of the show may have had you scratching your head. I think this was a terrible mistake. Had it been me, I would have spent the time up front – it wouldn’t have needed much time – to collect all the scenes from his incident as a soldier, and then moved on to the present day. It would have made a lot more sense and would have been a better set up for what was to come.

The show provided some great shots of New York, and especially enjoyable were the photos of Times Square taken over many years. I could see the show using this device a lot and it never getting tiring for me, since I really enjoy seeing the passage of time shown by photographs.

While working the homicide case, John suffers a heart attack while chasing a victim. Was it a heart attack or was it because he was in close proximity to his one true love (“The One”), who seemed to be Dr. Sara Dillane (Alexie Gilmore)? Amsterdam believes that it’s her presence which started the problem, and while working the case, he still has in the back of his mind finding this woman.

While working the case, he comes upon an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s who he knew in the past. Clearly he’s surprised that she’s still alive, and she seems to have a glimmer of recognition. Her question “Do I know you” and his answer “Not any more” was expected, maybe from being overplayed in previews. But, her subsequently running out to him, with a clearer understanding of why she felt he was familiar, was great. She appeared to everyone else that she was just having another episode. But John knows this is not the case.

Hopefully we’ll get to see more of John’s talents he’s amassed over the years. Lip reading is one I would have never thought to pick up if I had all that time.

The cast has some weak spots. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a great fit, with a face that would fit various time periods. Despite being a little quiet, he’s got presence and can be serious, funny, and disarming at the same time. They could have done better with the role of his homicide partner Eva (Robinson), who just didn’t appear to do much better than just simply reading lines and going through the motions. His friend Omar (McKinley-Henderson) should work well, and his age could play well off of Amsterdam's experiences.

So, will this be a short run for New Amsterdam or will it have a long life? Right now I can’t be sure, but I will be tuning in this Thursday (March 6) when Fox airs another episode.

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