TV Review – New Amsterdam (2018)
Created by David Schulner, this is an adaptation of the book by Dr. Eric Manheimer called Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital. Manheimer’s book was meant to use the 12 cases therein to expose the socioeconomic problems associated with each like poverty, drug abuse and mental illness, as well as others that contributed to the issues plaguing the healthcare industry and the country at large. There was, of course, some autobiographical elements to Manheimer’s book, but his focus seemed more about his patients and really delving into each of their circumstances. As the title of the book suggests, it was about the patients, not as much the doctors. Schulner’s TV series, however, doesn’t really work that way.
In addition to this one, there are about a half-dozen or so, medical dramas on broadcast television. They include Grey’s Anatomy (2005), Code Black (2015), Chicago Med (2015), The Good Doctor (2017) and The Resident (2018). What all of them tend to do is figure out ways to show how amazing or smart the doctors are as veritable super-heroes. What they also tend to do is figure out ways to show how slick or sexy the doctors are. This also leads to soap opera-like machinations where if it’s not about which doctor will go to bed with which other doctor. Rather it’s about doctors in ridiculous scenarios like plane crashes or bombings, like the one that famously happened in Grey’s Anatomy, which as far as I know has never happened in any real American hospital, let alone one in Seattle. There was a shooting at a Bronx hospital in 2017 and one at a Utah hospital in 1991, but why need to gin up drama like that?
Ryan Eggold (The Blacklist and 90210) stars as Max Goodwin, the proxy for Dr. Eric Manheimer and of course he’s a guy who cares about his patients. He’s made the medical director of a hospital called New Amsterdam, which is the proxy for Bellevue Hospital on the lower east side of Manhattan, and he feels he has to make radical changes in order to make the hospital run better and treat patients better. He largely wants to cut through the bureaucracy and red tape, but his first step is that he comes into the place and starts firing people left and right.
Max gives some whiz-bang reasons as to why he’s firing all these people and we’re supposed to assume that everyone getting fired is corrupt or no good in some way. Except, he walks back firing one doctor. It’s an audacious move to kick off this series, but ultimately it feels hollow because besides showing how much of a maverick Max is, it doesn’t translate as how it’s bettering or will better the patients. This is emblematic of why the show failed in its first going. It’s more about making the doctors look amazing, rather than putting us in the shoes of the patients.
Firing all those people should have been something done at the end of this season and not the beginning. The show should have built up what was wrong about the hospital administration and given us why Max finds it frustrating. We should have seen him struggle with it before having no choice but to fire these people, but to have it done so cavalierly at the beginning feels absolutely meaningless.
Ideally, this series should have been 12 episodes, each one focusing exclusively on one patient and his or her life, as well as the issues that Manheimer wanted to expose. Instead, Schulner juggles a half-dozen or so doctors who swirl around the hospital hallways and most of them are worried more about their interpersonal relationships than the patients.
One such example is Jocko Sims (The Last Ship and Masters of Sex), who plays Floyd Reynolds, and Janet Montgomery (Salem and This Is Us), who plays Laura Bloom. They’re both doctors. Floyd is in the cardiac department and Laura is in the ER. Floyd is black and Laura is white. They hook up once and now Laura wants to pursue a relationship with Floyd. Yet, Floyd says he only wants to date black women. Now, if the show wants to explore the dynamics of interracial dating, that’s fine, but it’s a distraction from what the mandate of the book seems to be and that’s focusing on the patients.
It’s not as if that kind of focus is impossible. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had that kind of focus in its early incarnation and early seasons. Usually one episode focuses on one case. Here, Schulner juggles multiple cases in one episode and muddles the whole thing. The first episode juggles two or three patients and the personal lives of several of the doctors, and it’s just too much that it becomes a mess trying to take it all in. The second episode rectifies these problems somewhat and presents medical cases that bump against things like religious expression and public school problems, but those cases are pretty weak when it comes to how those issues have made headlines in higher profile cases.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Tuesdays at 10PM on NBC.