Tuesday, March 4, 2008

'New Amsterdam'

This season, more than ever, "new" is a relative term.

Waiting in the wings since fall, New Amsterdam is the latest example of a recurring TV type - the immortal crime fighter - already represented this season by Torchwood and Moonlight. Though it's never wise to be the third show on a match, this relatively entertaining fantasy has one obvious viewership advantage over many of its strike-bound scripted competitors: new episodes, and not bad ones at that.

Adding to its appeal is an attractive new star, Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as John Amsterdam, a 17th-century Dutch soldier killed while rescuing a Native American girl. She rewards him with a kind of mixed blessing: eternal life but only until he finds true love. Then he'll age and die like the rest of us.

It's a romantic notion in a sick sort of way, but it does make you wonder why, if Native American women had this power, they weren't using it on their own warriors. Think what a different New Amsterdam that would have made.

Four hundred years later, John is working as a New York cop and using his vast knowledge of the city to solve crimes - sometimes to amusing effect, sometimes not. Let's just say you'd think that somewhere in his four centuries, he would have learned not to bring a child to a crime scene.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: New York | Dutch | Danish | Native | Omar | Moonlight | New Amsterdam | Torchwood
As we meet him, John has just gained a reluctant partner, Eva Marquez in a role that is one of those "old" ideas New Amsterdam should have rethought. Partner or not, the only person John confides in is Omar (Stephen Henderson), a jazz club owner who has a surprising secret of his own, as we learn in Thursday's better second episode.

That episode also indicates this revamped series intends to move beyond crime to time travel, tracing John's lives and identities through the centuries. John, we learn, is an accomplished artist, lawyer, furniture maker and forger. While he may not have found true love, he found plenty of companionship, even beyond his 36 dogs.

Enjoyable as these tours of old New York may prove to be, they point out the show's most problematic break with the immortal tradition: John's astoundingly public life. Usually, the hero's very existence is revealed on a need-to-know basis. But John is out-and-about, posing for pictures, going to clubs, attending law school and now, holding down a high-profile city job. And in all this time, no employer has done an efficient background check, and no friend has noticed he doesn't age?

It's one thing for a fantasy to be unbelievable, another to be illogical. Lapses in logic pull us out of the story: We're less willing to suspend disbelief for the aspects of the story that are beyond our natural experience if we can't accept those parts with which we're familiar. What's worse, they're usually a sign that the producers don't have a firm-enough grasp on their story and are winging it as they go along.

Sometimes they get it right. But it's an awfully fast learning curve, and most shows don't live long enough to round it.

Fox's New Amsterdam (Tuesday, 9:00 p.m., WNYW 5) sounds like a mashup of Pocahontas and Forever Knight, but with out the animation or the vampires. The story for this new series starts in 1642 when a Dutch soldier (Danish import Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) saves a Native American girl and is given the gift/curse of immortality and not ageing until he finds his true love. Fast forward to today and that soldier is now NYPD homicide detective John Amsterdam, who now has to deal with a new partner (British import Zuleikha Robinson).

Hopefully it will not be just another cop show with a twist, but one with some depth. Still anything is better than another moronic Fox fakeality show and Fox will actually give it a chance. Plus, it seems to have been filmed in the city, so even if it isn't any good to watch it is good for the local economy!

Also of note this week:
Treasures in the Harbor (Monday, 10:00, WNET 13) Channel thirteen's President Emeritus Bill Baker takes a tour of all the National Parks in New York Harbor in both New York and New Jersey, some you may not even know about.

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