Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why Be a Detective, Again? (The Thrilling Conclusion to the "New Amsterdam" Diatribe)

Ah. So there’s the interesting part.

The second episode of “New Amsterdam” is in many ways an improvement over the first. The standard reasoning is that a creative team has months to put together a solid pilot, but just a couple of weeks to get an entire series into production once they’re picked up. But between “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and this, I’m getting the sense that lately, creators are taking the second episode as a way of saying, “Okay, now that we’ve dealt with the set-up, here’s what the show is actually going to look like.”
And it don't look all that bad. Because in this episode, it was quickly revealed that the 65-year-old bar-owner, a bluesy old sass-talker who seemed destined to be “lead guy’s witty black friend,” was something more: the immortal detective’s son. Suddenly, things got a lot more interesting.

And then they got a lot less interesting, because we had to deal with another rote murder plot. Which once again begs the question: Why is this character a NYPD detective? What is the point here? We’ve seen that he can make money quickly and easily – and that he can easily forge identity papers. Why bother being a civil servant? Why not some eccentric immortal man-about-town who solves murders as a hobby?
(Answer: because that would make this a BBC series. We Americans like our heroes employed, dammit.)

A flashback shows that during the early ‘40’s, he tried his hand at being a lawyer, so at least we get the impression that at some point in his long, long life, John Amsterdam just started trying on careers for the hell of it. But the flashback – detailing, of all things, the birth of the 65-year-old bartender sidekick – is weird enough in its implications that, honestly: who gives a fuck about the murder investigation? (Not helping is the “tough-but-vulnerable lady-cop partner,” who, as far as I can tell is simply a bad actress, immediately sucking any potential personality from the procedural scenes.)

So there’s the question again: when you’ve got so many interesting ideas to play with, why sandwich it into a shitty police procedural? And yet this is not the biggest question. The biggest question, your honest-to-god “wha-huh?!” relates to how the character became immortal in the first place.

Just listen, because I am not exaggerating this at all. Centuries back, when the Dutch were slaughtering Indians on what would become Manhattan, our guy stepped in front of a sword to protect an innocent Indian woman. To save him, an old lady shaman patched him up and tossed some shaman-hoodoo his way, with the caveat that he will not grow old until he meets his true love.

This is possibly the stupidest thing I have ever typed in my life.

I can’t even begin to dissect what’s stupid about it because it defies all logic. It defies real-world logic (“Why would she bother to do that if she was apparently trying to save him?”) and story-telling logic (“Is this for any other reason than to sell a contrived romance plot?”).

So here I sit with a show about an immortal who works as a detective while trying to find his destined true love. Only one of these items deserves its own show, and only barely, without a lot of work.

As it stands, based on ratings, the viewing public – this would be the post-“American Idol” viewing public, please note, who will generally just keep the channel on for whatever the hell comes afterwards, because despite their phone-voting prowess, they are somehow not what we would call "taste-makers" – could not have given less of a shit about this show, so I doubt it will last longer than the time it takes me to finish typing this sentence. (What’s that? Still on? Hm. Just wait a few more days.) So this will probably be the last I talk about it (oh, don’t look so relieved).

But because I see a show that clearly wants to shrug off the shackles of its own self-imposed formula (at least, I want to see that), and because it will very likely be cancelled before it gets to where it wants to go, I’ve been reminded of a lot of other shows with similar goals, and similar fates.

So don’t be surprised if you see some “ISTV Classic” articles coming to a website near you. This website, as a matter of fact.

"I Speak TV." Remembering cancelled shows so you don't have to.

1 comment:

Anney E. J. Ryan said...

You would think that someone who's immortal and lived for so long would be mature enough to admit to himself that:

1. he should be out helping people and making this world a better place, which he could do best outside of the corruption of law enforcement AND outside of this country.

2. true love doesn't exist!