New Amsterdam: Season Two Part One Review
A warning of spoilers as I discuss the first part of New Amsterdam season two...
The most optimistic hospital drama us back for its first nine episodes of season two on Amazon Prime UK. We last saw New Amsterdam hospital's medical director Max Goodwin involved in a traffic accident involving the ambulance he was travelling in. An accident that not only saw Max's life in danger, but that of his wife Georgia, newborn daughter and doctors Helen Sharpe and Lauren Bloom. The big question hanging over New Amsterdam would be how those events would shape the show moving forward.
The opening episode of season two takes its time to restablish the status quo. The fate of several characters are left dangling, the absence of individuals in the present intertwined with flashbacks to the aftermath of the accident keeping the audience guessing all the way to the credits. (This Is where we get into spoiler territory)
The question of any second season is whether it can recapture the magic of the first or build on what has come before. That sense of hope, compassion and heightened realism is muted a little this season, the death of Max's wife hanging over the shows central character. The bright-eyed charm of Ryan Eggold's season one performances is slightly dimmed as his character tries to hide his grief by focusing on his daughter, the hospital and the ghost of his wife (Lisa O'Hare's Georgia is still very much a presence over the nine episodes).
However Eggold is superb, whether it's trying to take down insulin production companies with press conferences and audacious plans to ferry drugs from across the Canadian border or helping a mother deal with the trauma of her stillborn child, forcing him to face his own denial and pain. In a cast of engaging characters, Max's hopeful nature continues to stand out, even when faced with overwhelming loss.
What makes New Amsterdam something a little different in the medical drama genre is its ability to be optimistic. Other more realistic, grounded shows would have might not end their weekly stories conclude as these episode do. The woman who crashes a van fill of church goers just so their travel insurance would cover their health issues might have ended differently elsewhere - the driver arrested, the patients looking their insurance. But there is hope. Ultimately they get the treatment they need because Max and the other staff don't let procedure get in the way. When a patient is revealed to have suffered from a botched surgery and cover up by the hospital years earlier, Max doesn't allow himself to become complicit. Instead he outs the surgeon that used to work at New Amsterdam, despite the repercussions to the hospital and rewrites a new policy to stop it happening again. It is moments like this, particularly in the very real world in which we live in, that makes New Amsterdam so appealing.
That isn't to say this is a show that doesn't deal with consequences. Helen Sharpe faces a particularly tough challenge to her career when she aids a heroin-addicted cancer patient in getting access to drugs in a clean but still illegal underground facility. She absolutely does the right thing for her patient, but faces a Board who are willing to strip her off her position. I can't imagine Helen will be gone forever - or that Max will be willing to loose his deputy director without a fight - when the season resumes.
There is a real emotion journey for recovering addict Lauren Bloom too. Managing the plan caused by the accident, she turns to her nect addiction - sex. But her real battle comes when faced with pain management on her corrective surgery. Janet Montgomery manages to install a sense of humility it what could otherwise be quite a cold, aggressive character. Jocko Sims gets a little less to do as Doctor Floyd Reynolds, flirting between his long distance (and looking more and more likely doomed) romance with Evie, being Bloom's support and handling a young, over ambitious intern.
The best duo in New Amsterdam, Tyler Labine's Doctor Iggy Frome and Anupam Kher's Doctor Vijay Kapoor, still remain highly entertaining with each episodes, with the real highlight being Iggy's attempts to treat an army PTSD group through Socrates and Vijay opening up about his own experience in the Indian military. For all the humour they bring to the show, it's the heartfelt moments like this that really shine though and this is a standout moment in the first half of the second season.
There are some stand out episodes too. The Karman Line is a great exploration of the struggles of the US healthcare system. It takes a woman ready to injure her fellow church goers in a crash to get them to find the care they need. The finale The Island is a harrowing exploration of the cruelty and lack of medical care afforded female prisoners at Rikers, with Helen and Max coming up against hostility from both parents and prisoner officers as they try to offer treatment. The poor woman confined to solitary, the effects of an un-diagnosed brain tumour is particularly disturbing. But there's also some much needed humour too, in Iggy's attempt at couple counselling between two former friends turned prisoner and officer.
Once again, New Amsterdam probably isn't going to appeal to those who don't like medical dramas. But it certainly stands out it's strong characterisation and huge sense of optimism. The first part of season two doesn't feel quite as fresh as season one, it still has plenty of charm and a few great messages to deliver. And with that intriguing cliffhanger, it will be a long wait before the second half of season two becomes available in the UK next May...