The premise behind New Amsterdam (premiering tonight at 9 p.m. on Fox) is both intriguing and far fetched. A Dutch soldier who rescues a Native-American girl back in the 17th century--when the island of Manhattan was known as New Amsterdam--is himself cut down in battle. A medicine woman, who has spiritual powers, throws a spell on the dude, rendering him immortal. Because this is a TV show, the spell also casts him as a cop for life, a CSI sleuth for the centuries.
There's a catch to that whole live forever thing, however: he'll lose his immortality and begin to age when he finally encounters his one true love. The lesson--nothing ages you like true love.
New Amsterdam, like Unhitched, the Farrelly brothers comedy that launched Sunday, comes with its own curse--the Curse of the Fox Mid-Season Show. For the past half down years, some of my favorite TV shows have been Fox March launchers--Keen Eddie, Wonderfalls, Life On A Stick, The Loop, the list goes on and on.
These shows generally have two things in common--they are daring and unconventional, and they are quickly rejected by the general public. Most lasted three or four episodes.
I once asked Keen Eddie executive producer Warren Littlefield, who succeeded Brandon Tartikoff as the programming boss at NBC before launching his own production company, why Fox develops such innovative, original programming only to seemingly throw it away each March. Littlefield's theory was that Fox had two separate departments--development and programming--and the development side had a lot more courage than the programming team. Or maybe they just hated each other. It sure seemed like the development boys would serve them up and the programming boys would cut them down.
Anyway, my two teens and I laughed our heads off at the first two episodes of Unhitched. Fox may have to re-think limiting this to a six-episode order after a stronger-than-expected debut, holding onto 92% of its Family Guy lead-in. (Global left it off their Sunday simulcast schedule in Canada, which sucks considering there's a Canadian among the leads.)
Even less is expected from New Amsterdam. Fox seemed to give up on it last fall when it bumped it off its schedule. It later slashed the episode order from 13 to seven as the writers strike began eroding network revenues.
The wild card here is Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who stars as brilliant New York City homicide detective John Amsterdam. Coster-Waldau, 37, was quite witty at last July's TCA sessions. He joked that the last 350 years have been tough on his character. Asked if he believed in everybody having a "one true love," he said he loved his wife, but he sometimes looks at her and says, "This can't be it." In the first two episodes I've seen at least, he has a very original rhythm as an actor and could be a break out star in North America, given a chance.
New Amsterdam, Unhitched and Canterbury's Law, the Julianna Margulies drama which debuts March 10, were all shows that, for one reason or anther, failed to make Fox's fall schedule. Another, The Return of Jezebel James (from Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino), starts March 12. The first three, in my opinion, are worth checking out. The last one, I find, is utterly unwatchable, shockingly bad. Usually I'm 100% wrong on these Fox March shows, so, as Letterman says, no wagering. Just check out New Amsterdam tonight, the pilot (directed by Lasse Hallstrom) is worth a look, especially if you are looking for something a little different.