My Love/Hate Relationship With New Amsterdam

Dept. of Doctors and Curses


The third season of NBC’s medical drama New Amsterdam wrapped up last week, after providing another 14 episodes of quality medical drama while simultaneously driving me absolutely nuts.

It might be easier if the show, the first two seasons of which are available on Netflix, was completely terrible. Then I could easily remove it from my regular watch list. But there is so much here to like, even to love, that it makes my problems with the show all the more maddening.

Despite never having completed a single episode of Grey’s Anatomy (sorry!) I have a long history of watching, and more importantly, enjoying medical dramas. Aussie medical drama A Country Practice indoctrinated me at a young age as it was always on in the background on Irish and UK television, although I may have just been interested in the Wombat. I definitely visited BBC’s Casualty a couple of times over its 35 year history(!), but it was Michael Crichton’s ER that really won me over, with it’s high production values and perfect mix of the personal and the professional. For years, new episodes were an unmissable part of my life. From watching with my family at home to sitting beside my medical student flatmate in university, as he checked that weeks patient’s symptoms against his medical dictionary. Even when I moved into a house with five other guys after university, Sunday evenings were exclusively booked for ER, not for football or GAA, to the agreement of almost everyone.


I may have cut back on my doctor’s visits over the years, but after a recent rewatch of all 8 seasons of House MD cured, or at least drastically reduced, my girlfriend’s squeamishness at on-screen injuries and surgeries, New Amsterdam on Netflix seemed like an easy choice for our next binge watch.

Things started promisingly.

When They Begin The Beguine

New Amsterdam, Ryan Eggold & Freema Agyeman

The show, based upon the book Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer, takes place at the fictional New Amsterdam hospital. In the pilot, newly appointed medical director for the entire hospital (this is important later) Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) rushes around getting to know the place, his patients, and his various department heads, eschewing a suit for scrubs and sneakers.

Putting patents first is Max’s goal, “How can I help?” his mantra.

While pursued by his assistant, Dora, who bothers him with the actual responsibilities of his job, he helps the commanding head of the Emergency Department (ED, not ER), Dr. Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery), with her wish to eliminate the need for a waiting room for the ED. He grabs a few moments with the glamorous head of oncology, Dr. Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman), challenging her to cut back on TV appearances and fundraising to spend more time with her patients. He checks in with the comedy duo of psychiatrist Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine) and neurologist Dr. Vijay Kapoor (Anupam Kher), before firing the cardiovascular surgery department.

That’s right. On his very first day, Max fires the entire Cardiac Surgical Department, the most profitable department in the hospital. Why? For placing money, in the form of billable hours, above patient care. He later rehires Dr. Floyd Reynolds (Jocko Sims) to head up a new cardiovascular surgery department, because he had the lowest billable hours. Floyd refused to push his patients into unnecessary surgeries. That’s the kind of doctor Max wants to work with.

This felt like something different.

Saving the World One Patient at a Time

New Amsterdam Ryan Eggold & Freema Agyeman

In an age of never ending debates around the high cost of healthcare and the inaccessibility of insurance, here’s a show about a public hospital (one that receives most of its funding from the government, not patient care, and that tries not to turn away the uninsured and under insured), with a liberal, proactive director, tackling some of the biggest issues of the day. Health care coverage (and ways to get around unfair policies to help those in dire need) is a regular focus of the show. There’s even an episode on the problems that arise when patients resort to crowd funding to pay for life saving treatments. 

Interesting medical problems crop up every episode, essential for fans of House, the show looks great, uses its New York locations beautifully, and the cast are amazing.

So what’s my problem?

This Guy

New Amsterdam Ryan Eggold

I’ve no problems with Ryan Eggold or the “drama“ part of “medical drama.” We all need a little romance, gossip, and fun in our lives. What better source than the personal ups and downs of a bunch of hot looking medical staff? My problem is that the show seems to veer haphazardly between smart and stupid with alarming regularity.

At the end of the first episode, Max finds out he has throat cancer. How will he deal with the inevitable clash between his uncompromising, non-stop work persona, supporting his pregnant wife Georgia (did I mention that he has a partially estranged, pregnant wife?) and the ravages of cancer treatment? Will Max’s illness force him to live up to his side of the bargain he made with Georgia (Lisa O’Hare)? Will he scale back on his work, as he agreed, just as she was forced to put her career as a dancer on hold in order to have a baby together?


For six episodes (six!) Max avoids telling her about his cancer at all. Way to portray healthy adult relationships New Amsterdam! The reasoning behind this is that, due to complications with the pregnancy, Georgia can’t be exposed to any shocks right now. Oh come on! It’s 2021 (ok, 2018 when these episodes aired). Can we please get over the “don’t upset the wimmenfolk” storylines?

Don’t Believe His Lies

New Amsterdam Ryan Eggold & Lisa O'Hare

I assumed that when Max finally did tell her about his illness, after what seemed like an eternity, we’d be done with this silliness. Instead we get a few episodes of the medical director of a hospital delaying his cancer treatment, just so he can continue his short sighted workaholic lifestyle! Even when he does get started on treatment, he opts for a far riskier experimental treatment, rather than just starting regular chemotherapy. The chemo will be harder on his body but has a higher chance of success. He does this just so can keep continue rushing around the hospital doing his job, which by the way, he sucks at.

If not for the rest of the show, I would have stopped watching around this point. There are some issues with the other characters but most are compelling enough to carry the show. Iggy has a few chilling episodes, as he deals with a child psychopath. A young girl who has zero compunction about manipulating or flat out hurting others, to get what she wants. There is no known treatment for psychopathy.


In a Season 2 episode, a literal actual busload of women from a church group arrive in the ED after a bus crash. Suspiciously, all of them suffer from serious long term illnesses that have gone untreated. Could their driver have crashed on purpose to avail of a cheap, all expenses covered, travel insurance policy? Will Max rat them out to the insurance company? How will he and Iggy handle an already complicated situation when they find out that one of the passengers, a young woman with Down Syndrome, is pregnant and she doesn’t want to keep the baby, against her guardian’s wishes? 

Dream Team?

New Amsterdam, Tyler Labine, Ryan Eggold, Anupam Kher,  Freema Agyeman, Janet Montgomery

The hospital even has a dedicated secure wing for prisoners from Riker’s Island prison, which leads to storylines about police brutality, prison breaks, and contract murder that you don’t encounter on other medical shows.

Control freak Dr. Bloom tries to manage her blossoming Adderall addiction. Reynolds wrestles with how reality fails to measure up to his relationship and family goals. Dr. Kapoor tries to mend his relationship with his son, while Iggy, his husband Martin (Mike Doyle), and his four adopted kids, provide a heartwarming beacon of family life amidst so much dysfunction.

There’s also an army of supporting characters that are instantly likeable, like Nurses Casey (Alejandro Hernandez) and Brunstetter (Em Grosland), or Resident Walsh (Matthew Jeffers), who are crying out for their own plotlines. Instead we get Iggy, who’s usually dealing with complex psychiatric problems in a clever and nuanced manner, getting almost all the way though the process of adopting another child behind his husband’s back!

Now you might say that this is a multifaceted portrayal of the realities of dealing with cancer diagnosis, or the personal consequences of a high pressure medical career. That doctors, those gods among us, who hold our very lives in their hands, can also have feet of clay. It just feels like these particular gods do the dumbest things, far out of character, far too often.

These people are supposed to be the heads of their departments for god’s sake!

Meanwhile Max spends the majority of his time tackling one (yes one!) issue per episode that could be handled infinitely better by anybody else at the hospital.

Isn’t There Something Else You Should Be Doing?

New Amsterdam, Ryan Eggold

Obviously the show wants to have a character who can roam the halls of New Amsterdam, dipping in and out of cases and the other characters’ plotlines willy-nilly. But is it really a good use of the medical director’s time to waste an entire day (if not longer) haranguing low level insurance company phone operators trying to force a change in policy for a patient?

Would it not have been better to, oh I don’t know, lean on the considerable pull of his board of directors, or past patients (he’s on first name terms with some UN ambassadors in the first episode), to achieve the same goal? What really sends me round the twist is that while complicated medical conundrums are being dealt with in a thoughtful meaningful way in one section of the show, the other part more often than not rewards Max’s insane crusades with successful outcomes! 

Then there are the minor annoyances.


In every episode, regular as clockwork, the exact same progression of gentle piano notes announces the arrival of that episode’s emotional climax. Just in case we can’t spot it for ourselves as we drool into our TV dinners. I’ve reached the point now, where I involuntarily cringe as soon as I hear its initial tinkles. The show also uses a frustrating jazz drumming to signify how hectic life is at New Amsterdam. After just two seasons, these drums produce in me the same reaction as fingernails on a blackboard. 

Too often the show feels like the result of an ongoing battle between two teams of writers; those who handle the medical side of the show and those who handle the personal. By the end of Season 2, it was a battle that neither side seemed to be winning and I felt like collateral damage. I was considering dropping the show in favor of something else as the noise from my constant eye rolling was starting to annoy my girlfriend.

And then Season 3 arrived. 

New New Amsterdam

I’ve not seen how other medical dramas have handled the COVID-19 Pandemic, but the opening of the first episode of Season 3 is a heartbreaking tribute to health front liners.

In the first five minutes (above) we see our heroes, clad from head to toe in PPE, red marks on their faces from masks and goggles, dealing with the pandemic. In five wordless minutes, accompanied by cover version of “What a Wonderful World,” New Amsterdam beautifully summarizes front liners experience in New York, in a way we can best understand it.

The pain of seeing so many drift away and being unable to do anything about it. The separation from families and loved ones. The overwhelming suffering encountered daily. It does all of this without feeling manipulative or cloying. This might have been a risk, seeing as the showrunners pulled an episode of Season 2 called “Pandemic,” thanks to its too close to the bone storyline. Only clips from that episode that introduced Daniel Dae Kim’s dishy Dr. Cassian Shin were eventually aired.

Dae Kim was also another welcome sign that things might be changing at New Amsterdam. Dr. Shin seemed to be the only doctor at New Amsterdam who actually practiced any kind of self care. He didn’t involve himself in every case that came in the door, he took naps when he was free, in order to be better prepared for when his skills were actually required.

Could New Amsterdam have turned a corner?

How Can I Help?

New Amsterdam,Daniel Dae Kim

It even felt like the writers were taking Max to task for his past actions. His unrelenting dedication to doing his job (badly), almost costs him custody of his daughter, Luna. He wastes a batch of soon to expire COVID-19 vaccines, trying to find those he thinks are more in need of the jab, rather than just giving it to middle class yuppies who initially turn up.

Then he decides to “solve racism”… at New Amsterdam

Rather than getting away with his nonsense, this time Max is rightly called out on his white savior bullshit by Dr. Sharpe. She castigates him for trying to impose his solutions on the people of colour at the hospital, without their input or consent. In one conversation, the show sums up the biggest problem with Max.


He never gets buy-in from anyone before charging into battle. Too often he assumes that others will block him, or water down his ideas, or try and put barriers in his way. But maybe he’s just an asshole. A well meaning one, but an asshole nonetheless. The show let him get away with making doctors lives harder when he eliminated screens in an attempt to increase patient engagement, or when he forced doctors to reduce the prescription of opiates. In this case Max needs to shut up and listen.

Elsewhere, Dr. Sharpe, who has been unable to have children, has to deal with a argumentative adopted niece after the death of her half brother. Iggy comes to terms with the consequences of perhaps being too close, maybe even unprofessionally so, to his patients, while remaining super wholesome with his family.

Finally consequences.

Farewell Kapoor

New Amsterdam, Tyler Labine & 	Anupam Kher

Even when Dr. Kapoor left the show due to post-COVID complications I couldn’t get mad, thanks to the beautiful way it was handled. How could I be mad at a show that exhibits such attention to detail, that during a Kapoor focused dream sequence, it replaced all the signs in the hospital with Hindi ones. (Anupam Kher also left the show to help care for his wife who has a type of blood cancer. Her also does charitable work in India).

But then… the drumming starts.

Dr Reynolds, having ditched his fiancé to take care of his mom in New York, gets involved with a woman in an open marriage… only to find out he’s working with her husband!

After a relationship with Dr. Sharpe, and having acted as a shining example of a healthy work-life balance for weeks, Daniel Dae Kim disappears from the show entirely!

In between saving patients, Dr. Bloom starts helping out a homeless woman, Leyla (Shiva Kalaiselvan), who lives in her car. Before long Bloom invites her to stay in her apartment and eventually the two women start a relationship. Bloom doesn’t see anything wrong with this. If Bloom were a man, the power imbalance in the relationship would be super creepy and predatory. Things get even worse by the end of the season as Bloom uses her influence at the hospital to get Leyla a job (Leyla is a former doctor from Pakistan, but her qualifications weren’t valid in the U.S.). I’m sure this storyline won’t end well, but really this situation would have been better off not being raised at all.


New Amsterdam, Janet Montgomery
How I feel after every episode of New Amsterdam

Then, in what I can only assume to be an allusion to the terrible workplace practices a the hospital, New Amsterdam’s becomes a literal toxic workplace, when a previously unknown, onsite chemical waste storage container ruptures. Max being Max nearly dies of course. Running off completely on his own to find the source of the leak. Taking on Dutch boy duties, he plugs the leak with his body to prevent a bigger spill. Maybe they should institute the buddy system at New Amsterdam?

Maybe I’m just expecting too much from a U.S. network TV show. I get that good drama requires characters to make mistakes and grow as part of engaging storylines. “Perfect” characters that never make mistakes aren’t interesting to watch, but the mood swings of this show are giving me whiplash!

With New Amsterdam renewed for at least 2 more seasons, I’m not sure if I’ll be returning without some kind of change. The culmination of the show’s ongoing will-they-won’t-they romantic relationship at the end of Season 3, a staple of the more soapy shows, might again indicate that things are heading for less unstable pastures. But maybe I’m just being overly optimistic.

Maybe I’ll have to self prescribe a healthy dose of “go watch something else” next year.

New Amsterdam Seasons 1 and 2 are currently streaming on Netflix Malaysia.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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