In an age where good TV like much of the news is fixated on negative, egocentric behaviour, Netflix hit series New Amsterdam brings much-needed positivity, sociability and hope to our screens. The medical drama launched its first season in 2018, and has recently completed its fourth season. Set in New York City in one of the United States’ oldest public hospitals, the show is based on the book Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital, which was written by Eric Manheimer, a former chief medical director at Bellevue, a Manhattan-based hospital.
Dr. Max Goodwin
At the start of season one, Dr. Max Goodwin is appointed as the new medical director of New Amsterdam hospital. His aim is to reform the neglected facility by cutting through the bureaucracy to provide exceptional care to all patients. However, Dr. Goodwin finds himself at odds with the US health system itself, and faces multiple challenges, from the hospital’s stuffy board of directors and regular corporate interference, to complicated staff members. On top of that, there is Goodwin’s own serious health condition and urgent need for treatment.
New Amsterdam has been praised for the diversity of its casting as well as its candid approach to controversial social issues. Prominent characters include head of the oncology and hematology department Dr. Helen Sharpe, played by Freema Agyeman, and head of cardiovascular surgery Dr. Floyd Reynolds, played by Jocko Sims. Hot topics have included drug addiction, gun control, race, and, of course, the pandemic, which forced filming on season two to be abruptly stopped in real life, but was then picked up as a major storyline in season three.
Amiable actor Ryan Eggold plays Max in the series. Eggold says he was inspired by his sister, a hardworking nurse in Alaska, to bring his slant to a character loosely based on the doctor-turned-writer Eric Manheimer. As the actor explains, Max, while incredibly kind, can be intense, and obsessive about his work. When his wife dies, leaving him to bring up his daughter on his own in the middle of a pandemic, Max wonders if he can cope.
Ryan Eggold (American accent): Max was struggling being a single father and losing his wife and figuring out how to raise Luna on his own and manage this enormous hospital. In season three she’s spending a lot of time with her grandparents, and at the same time he’s missing her desperately and wants to be there, wants to be a father. And I think there’s a question for Max of, ‘Am I doing the right thing? What is the right thing?’ He’s still figuring out how to be a single dad.
The series dealt with the pandemic in a very realistic way, Eggold says.
Ryan Eggold: The hospital is overflowing, too many patients, not enough supplies, trying to get drugs that are needed, trying to get equipment and supplies, trying to manage the overwhelming patient load, and then of course their personal lives on top of it.
Addicted to Stimulants
English actor Janet Montgomery plays Lauren Bloom, head of the emergency department. Lauren is a dynamic character but dependent on the stimulant Adderall, a common prescription medication that she begins taking for her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Her dependency begins influencing her work, and causes tension with fellow doctors. The actor spoke more about the character.
Janet Montgomery (English accent): She has grown a lot. In the first season we saw this huge trajectory with the whole addiction. Most people who are addicts will tell you it’s not something that you ever recover from —it’s a lifelong battle. So it’s going to be interesting to see how that influences her down the line.
Ignatius ‘Iggy’ Frome plays the head of psychiatry at New Amsterdam. One would expect such a character to be in absolute control of his personal mental state, but as actor Tyler Labine points out, that would not be realistic.
Tyler Labine (Canadian accent): I actually have an eating disorder and I have body dysmorphia. I helped, I contributed to writing a bunch of stuff about Iggy’s eating disorder, and it ended up being a huge arc. He just doesn’t know how to love himself. He can love other people, he can help other people, he’s got a loving husband, he’s got a family, and he just... he cannot be loved.
Medical dramas from ER to Gray’s Anatomy to House have always been popular, as many people see hospital workers as heroines and heroes. One aim of New Amsterdam is to show that everyone can make a difference, as Labine explains.
Tyler Labine: It’s a very hope-driven show and there’s so much heavy stuff out there in the world —but we’re being heavy on the hope. So there’s a lot of very topical stuff and we’re really showcasing it and shining a light... but we’re also taking this platform and taking some liberties and showing: ‘Hey, maybe we can all see our way through this.’