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Review: NBC's 'New Amsterdam' is the Coldplay of Medical Dramas

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 26, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 26, 2018 |


Near the end of New Amsterdman, the new NBC medical drama inspired by the experiences of Dr. Eric Manheimer while working at Bellevue, there’s a montage set to a cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” a treacly, feel-good musical number that epitomizes the entire show: It’s a big, fat fastball down the middle, formulated to elicit as many big emotions as possible.

It’s the perfect show to air after This Is Us.

I’m not suggesting I hated it, either, or even really disliked it. I can recognize that it is shamelessly manipulative while also allowing myself to fall prey to its shameless manipulations. I don’t like Coldplay, but I am often moved by Coldplay songs. There’s nothing original or even all that interesting about either Coldplay or New Amsterdam, but both do well what they set out to do: Appeal to the heartstrings of a broad audience.

Like Coldplay, New Amsterdamn also features an attractive, modestly likable cast (although, Amsterdam is far more diverse), and a positive message. Ryan Eggold plays Dr. Max Goodwin (because he’s “good,” see?), the fifth medical director in as many years for the New Amsterdam (known as “The Dam”), a New York public hospital with a reputation for putting billing concerns over its patients. Dr. Goodwin is not a Gregory House-like doctor — he’s neither surly nor an apparent genius — but he is adamant about putting patient care first, and in that respect, he is determined to upset the “system” by ignoring hospital bureaucracy and doing whatever the hell he thinks is best by, say, installing a farmer’s garden inside the hospital or removing the waiting room in the E.R. and immediately checking everyone into a bed. As his first order of business, he also fires the entire cardiac unit and then rehires and promotes the one doctor with the least amount of billing.

But the focus on every wing of the hospital also allows each episode to feature the maximum number of patients: There’ll be an E.R. patient for Janet Montgomery’s Dr. Bloom; a psych patient for Tyler Labine’s Dr. Iggy Frome; a surgical patient for Dr. Hana Sharpe (Freema Agyeman), a cancer patient for immunologist Dr. Vijay Kapoor (Anupam Kher) and a heart patient for Dr. Floyd Pearson (Jocko Sims). The opening episode also features an Ebola scare, which is actually a pleasant surprise because this may be the first medical drama I’ve ever seen where a tracheotomy is not featured in the pilot.

It’s all very bland, but also fairly likable, as Dr. Goodwin — who we learn also has cancer, so therefore has nothing to lose, except for the woman he’s trying to win back and her unborn baby — walks around the hospital asking everyone, “What can I do to help you?” It’s a fantasy version of a hospital, where human concerns are put ahead of financial ones, and where Dr. Goodwin believes this will somehow be profitable. It’s basically the last four minutes of every Scrubs episode (the poignant part with The Fray songs) stretched out into 42 minutes.

But like a lot of Coldplay songs, it’s not something that’s easy to hate. I wouldn’t seek out Coldplay on Spotify, but if they came on the radio and I was distracted, I might not turn the station. That’s New Amsterdam in a nutshell, a show you might even switch on occasionally after a bruising day when you just want an easy-to-follow, unchallenging, feel-good pick-me-up before bed. Given what’s going on in the world right now, I wouldn’t fault anyone for wanting to spend an hour in a made-up medical fantasy-land where even the dying patients get a happy ending.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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