by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & New Amsterdam & r & & r & (Mondays, 9pm, Fox) & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hy do mystics and wizards and shamans always go overboard? Once upon a time when John Amsterdam was stabbed through the heart for stopping the rape of an Indian girl in like the 1600s or something, the girl's people repaid him by healing him, then making him immortal, then stipulating that his immortality can only end when he meets his one true love.
Seems like overkill, yeah? It creates an interesting problem for Mr. Amsterdam, now doomed to live indefinitely until he bumps into this girl. When we catch up with him, he's a homicide detective in New York. Prior to that he'd been a coachman, an infantryman, a furniture-maker (whose work now sells for tens of thousands of dollars) and a Civil War triage surgeon. (Walt Whitman was his battlefield nurse.) Amsterdam uses this deep life experience to solve murders with absurd bits of historical knowledge. Central Park used to be named after a stream that left sandy deposits, for example. These deposits are perfect for picking up shoeprints.
If this were all there were to New Amsterdam -- immortal cop solving contemporary crimes with knowledge of Manhattan's geologic history -- it'd be a profoundly stupid iteration of a television form that's seen endless rehashing. At heart, though, the show wants to be a fairy tale about love across time.
That presents a problem. Fairy tales, by necessity, are short things meant to convey simple truths. TV shows are just about the exact opposite, attacking the same issues from different angles for seasons and seasons on end. That's why, despite the obvious romanticism at play, the creators made Amsterdam a cop. Cop shows are notorious for pounding away at the same moral issues for years and years, giving the creators enough police procedural chaff to weave in their little nuggets of romantic gold.
It's a nice attempt for its weirdness, but it's ineffective. Four episodes in, Amsterdam's already slept with his perfect person. Should be Game Over, but since she's trapped in a loveless marriage, you can bet there'll be some kind of shaman fine print that says Amsterdam won't lose his immortality and be able to grow old with the girl until her divorce is final and John's forced to gun down the ex-hubby for stalking her or some such nonsense.
And so it was that the much-hyped Fox fairy tale immediately became a soap opera -- no cop show required.
So America's august news magazine starts doing tabloidy stories about Dennis Quaid and his nearly dead kids. Ratings skyrocket; people who care about real journalism cry foul. This week they ran a story about military torture of an innocent Turkish national. Ratings stay high, which sets us wondering: Maybe it ain't so bad drawing in the masses with a puff piece, as long as the important stories remain. (CBS, Sundays, 7 pm)
Season Two of the Showtime program that plays loose with the history, focusing on the sexcapades of King Henry VIII and his family, now promising even more sexiness. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is reportedly toying with the notion of gaining a little weight, since Hank the 8th was a notorious fat-ass. There goes the female viewership. (Showtime, Sundays, 9 pm)
Tracey Ullman's State Of The Union
Ullman's back with an interesting take on sketch comedy. Each show is a day in the life of America, each sketch is shorter than 90 seconds, and all of them lampoon our political, social and pop-cultural hang-ups. (Showtime, Sundays, 10 pm)