It seemed strange that, out of the billions of word combinations possible in the English language, NBC’s medical drama “New Amsterdam” chose the precise title used by another series, about an immortal police officer, a decade ago.
But after seeing the first two episodes, I can think of one reason: “The Good Doctor” was already in use.
While the series, beginning Tuesday, doesn’t borrow the title from ABC’s hit of last season, it seems to borrow a philosophy: that viewers are anxious about a health care system that is inattentive to individuals, and they’ll reward a show that tells them the simple answer is “putting patients first.”
Heartfelt, well-meaning and dull, “New Amsterdam” is determined to fill that prescription, however many tearful bedside scenes and Bon Iver montages it takes to do it.
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The series centers on Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold), the idealistic new director of the title hospital, a public institution modeled on New York City’s Bellevue. He’s out to change things, fast.
He fires nearly the entire cardiac unit for “putting billing over care.” He pitches patient-centric ideas to a stone-faced hospital board. He advocates for a Haitian patient who wants a traditional “protection ritual” before surgery, over doctors’ objections. He asks the staff, repeatedly, in English and Spanish, “How can I help?”
He does it all with good will, self-sacrifice and a warm, stubbly smile. He may not be The Good Doctor, but he is The Goodwin Doctor.
Mr. Eggold has an easy charisma, but in the first two episodes, it’s all too easy — the scripts prove him right, over and over, and his staff, freed to act in patients’ interests, have success after success. It’s great for health care but less so for drama.
Instead, “New Amsterdam” piles on personal woes. Goodwin is diagnosed with cancer, on top of which he’s about to become a father, on top of which his marriage is in jeopardy — he’s been an inattentive husband to Georgia (Lisa O’Hare), because he cares so damn much about his work.
There’s the expected drama among the supporting staff as well, like Dr. Floyd Reynolds (Jocko Sims) and Dr. Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery), whose budding romance is stalled because of his concerns about interracial relationships (he’s black, she’s white). The hospital’s public-service mission, plus an affiliation with the United Nations, provides a diverse rotation of patients, whose cases raise questions of how culture can affect treatment.
But it all feels too smooth and forgettable. The show is rooted in a serious concern — the health care system feels in many ways broken and defies easy answers — but it does all it can to simply say, yes, the answers are exactly this easy. All it takes is one guy who cares a lot to free up everyone under him who cares just as much.
As it happens, there’s a handy contrast, airing on PBS the same night “New Amsterdam” begins its rounds: “The Mayo Clinic: Faith – Hope – Science,” Ken Burns’s two-hour history of the “secular temple” of medicine (in the interviewee Tom Brokaw’s words) in Rochester, Minn.
The documentary’s structure, jumping between history and contemporary patient stories, is a bit choppy, but the themes are timely. It deals with some of the same dynamics that drive “New Amsterdam,” particularly the tension between the business of medicine and the practice of it.
The Mayo Clinic operates on the same “putting patients first” mantra as Goodwin, but that requires a lot more than a slogan and good intentions. In large part, the film argues, it’s about money and institutional structure, in particular the medical center’s policy of putting doctors on salary, which eliminates financial incentives for using expensive procedures or spending less time with each patient.