TV Preview

Quirky 'Amsterdam' Could Be Long-Lived

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (with Zuleikha Robinson) plays a cop with a long history (300-plus years) in the Fox series
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (with Zuleikha Robinson) plays a cop with a long history (300-plus years) in the Fox series "New Amsterdam." (By Jeff Neira -- Fox Via Associated Press)
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By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 4, 2008

If you're a cop who's lived in New York for more than 300 years, you can be excused a certain amount of cynicism. And NYPD detective John Amsterdam, the immortal lead character in Fox's "New Amsterdam," has plenty to spare.

Unfortunately, this new drama has bad dialogue to spare, too, which mars an otherwise distinctive, better-than-average police show.

Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who resembles Denis Leary without the snarl, nicely plays the role of the never-gonna-die detective, injecting a healthy sense of dark humor into this otherwise pessimistic character who believes his condition to be a curse.

We learn early in tonight's debut that he achieved immortality in 1642 when, as a Dutch soldier in the colony of New Amsterdam, he saved the life of a mystical American Indian woman about to be stabbed during a massacre. For his work, she granted him immortality, with the caveat being that when he found true love, he would once again become mortal (more on that later).

It's a fun concept, but the awkward writing will make you wince -- that is, unless you can take it in the spirit of bad film noir (likely not the producers' goal). To wit:

-- About New York, Amsterdam says: "Cynicism isn't just a pose, it's what gets you through the day."

-- On his attitude over what he's seen in his 300-plus years: "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

-- And on death: "It intrigues me. It likes to play hard to get."

But if one can get past such dialogue -- no small feat, that -- "New Amsterdam" is a decent detective drama, executive-produced by Lasse Hallstrom, who's best known for directing "Chocolat" and the Oscar-winning "Cider House Rules." (Hallstrom directs tonight's pilot, and skillfully so.)

The first two episodes made available to critics provide enough twists and turns to keep the casual viewer guessing whodunit, but if you subside on a steady diet of "CSI," "Law & Order" and their spawn, you might catch on fast.

The show so far seems fascinated with the rich and famous: Tonight's case involves the slaying of a celebrity party girl who was involved with a real estate mogul's son; Thursday night's show centers on the killing of a teenager who attends a high-priced private school.

But the show gets more interesting the more we learn about Amsterdam and his very long time on Earth. After several centuries, it appears that Amsterdam is ready to call it a life, so he needs to find that one woman, just as the Indian woman dictated.

His best friend is wisecracking bartender Omar (Stephen Henderson), the only one who knows Amsterdam's secret. He also shares a bond with Amsterdam that we learn about in the show's far more interesting second episode.

We also learn this fun fact about Amsterdam: His current dog's name is "36," and, in a flashback to the 1940s, he addresses a previous pet as "29." So, we know how he names his successive canine companions.

With a generous "American Idol" lead-in on its first two nights, "New Amsterdam" might be picked up for another season. And in the current TV landscape, another season practically makes it -- immortal.

New Amsterdam (one hour) premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 5. A second episode airs this Thursday at 9 before the show moves to its regular time slot next week: Mondays at 9 p.m.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company