New Amsterdam, Murder One, and Medium.
I’ve been using Hulu, the best one-stop TV-on-the-Internet site, since it was in beta. In combination with my laptop and wireless DSL, it’s impossible to resist: No more shall I be bored when blowing my hair dry or washing dishes or sorting bills! A portable, ever-expanding library of TV-on-demand is here to entertain me.
Revisiting shows I know and love has been a trip (Hulu features Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Arrested Development, NewsRadio, and Firefly), but it’s been even more fun to check out shows I haven’t seen before. For example …
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New Amsterdam, 2008–
I figured New Amsterdam had two strikes against it: It’s a cop show, and I do not need another cop show. And it involves the concept of One True Love, and I adamantly do not believe in the concept of One True Love. (Fun fact: I also got married at the age of twenty-three, and I adore my husband. I am large. I contain multitudes.) But when I’m looking for something to distract me while I half-heartedly complete some dull task, I’m not particularly choosy, so I decided to give it a try.
Here’s the premise: John Amsterdam is a New York detective who, unbeknownst to his colleagues, is four hundred years old. Back in 1642, when Manhattan was being settled by the Netherlands, he saved a young native woman during a massacre of her tribe and, as thanks, received the mixed blessing of ageless immortality, to be lifted only when he finds, yes, his One True Love.
As goofy as that sounds, New Amsterdam doesn’t feel goofy or kitschy, and that’s largely thanks to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Amsterdam. The Dutch actor has a wonderful old-Hollywood quality about him, a charismatic world-weariness that makes him feel like an old soul. Even when they stick a silly wig on him so he can flash back to his years as, say, a Civil War–era army surgeon (when he meets Walt Whitman, then working on a book of poetry destined to be carelessly quoted by flip overgrown adolescents such as, well, me), Coster-Waldau rises above the material, giving the scene an emotional richness and making his character’s centuries-long journey a compelling one.
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Murder One, 1995–1997.
I remember reading about Murder One when it first appeared. A classic low-rated critical darling, it was a pioneer in primetime serial drama, devoting its entire first season to a single, convoluted court case. I’m all for that, but Murder One hasn’t aged well. Many of the twists along the way are interesting, but the final resolution of the first season is a disappointment, relying on silly flashbacks and a ludicrous deus ex machina. The supporting cast is bland; the show’s theme, which plays over the credits and underlines the big reveals, is a synthy monstrosity; and the stereotyping of Latino men is so offensive and over-the-top that it wouldn’t be acceptable in satire, much less serious drama.
The only really great thing about the show is Stanley Tucci, who plays a wealthy suspected murderer with suave menace, sometimes understated and sometimes gloriously overstated. It’s a terrifically fun performance—at least until that hideous conclusion, which left such a bad taste in my mouth that I think even the most devoted Tucci fans are better off just renting Big Night again. Even the loathsome Devil Wears Prada might be better: being screwed over by Meryl Streep is far less degrading than being party to flashbacks too cheesy for Matlock.
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Allison Dubois sees visions of murders and other crimes, but that’s not what interests me about her. What I find truly fascinating is that the protagonist of a network TV show is a happily married mother of three. It just seems so exotically mundane: Allison makes breakfast for her kids, she worries with her husband over the bills, she wears nontrendy clothes over her normal-sized body. I kind of love her.
The mysteries are good, too: often surprisingly creepy, with endings that don’t tie everything together in a neat bow. And Patricia Arquette, who plays Allison, gives a quietly intense performance.
Medium might not be exactly my thing—I’m not interested in clairvoyance, and watching Arquette jerk herself out of sleep after a disturbing, prophetic dream gets old after a while—but I’m glad it’s around. Its respectful yet unidealized portrait of a reasonably happy, functional contemporary family gives me a warm, homey feeling.