TV already has one undead detective in CBS’ vampire drama “Moonlight,” and Fox sinks its teeth into the same semi-mystical vein with “New Amsterdam,” about a New York homicide cop blessed with immortality. Leave it to the minds currently running network TV that immortals don’t teach history (as one logically did in an old “Twilight Zone”)but rather pursue procedural-friendly vocations. Easy to dismiss at first glance, the series does exhibit some possibilities in its second episode, though it’s still a relatively uninspired time-killer for those of us with just one life to live.
John Amsterdam (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) saved the life of a Native-American girl in 1642, and was rewarded (or perhaps inadvertently cursed) with immortality for his act of kindness — allowing him to survive, ageless, until he meets his true love. In the interim, he solves rather grisly crimes, acts put-upon by his new partner (“Rome’s” Zuleikha Robinson) and hangs out with a jazz musician (Stephen Henderson) whose connection becomes clearer in the significantly better second hour.
Unfortunately, the initial script by Christian Taylor (based on a story fashioned with producer Allan Loeb) can’t resist a series of wry throwaway lines, like Amsterdam quipping that his partner sounds “like my last 609 girlfriends.” Nor do things get much clearer when Amsterdam briefly encounters a woman (Alexie Gilmore) who might be “the one,” causing him to collapse as if he’s experienced a major coronary.
Only in the second episode (scheduled two days after the post-“American Idol” premiere) does the series hint at having more depth than just another procedural with a lame twist, flashing back to explore one of Amsterdam’s earlier lives and relationships. With 366 years of history at their disposal, the glut of potential backstories at least raises the possibility of fleshing out the character’s past and diverting attention from the thoroughly predictable crimes he’s (so far) tasked with investigating.
In terms of the players, the series possesses a strong international flavor, with Danish actor Coster-Waldau as the dreamily handsome lead and the British Robinson as his sidekick (both affecting Yank accents), under the guiding hand of Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom in the pilot. The real question is how ambitious the show wants to be in its storytelling, since the first few hours establish the premise but give short shrift to the underlying romance that ABC’s “Pushing Daisies,” by contrast, has made the foundation of its plot.
Fox can easily be accused of coasting with mostly safe and undistinguished scripted choices since being doused in the glow of “Idol,” and this latest entry does little to dispel that impression. The series offers a message, though, that the network’s development team should take to heart — a reminder that in TV, too, nothing lives forever.