For my money, the best detective on TV right now is Detroit 1-8-7. It fronts Michael Imperioli of Sopranos fame, doesn’t harbor too much pretense regarding its setting in Detroit, and is all around a well-made cop show. People get murdered; these people catch the murderers. And in the meantime we tolerate a pudgy face or two and storylines involving new dads and broken families and mysterious pasts. It’s not easy, it’s not too difficult to pull off—balancing established tropes and tactful/hip variations.
Hulu recently threw up the first and only season of Fox’s 2008 show, New Amsterdam. A cop show based in New York, the catch is that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s character, John Amsterdam, is actually 400 years old because some Native Americans saved his life with a powerful enchantment back when Old New York was New Amsterdam. He can’t die until he finds his true love. He’s lived in New York all his life and he knows every speakeasy; he’s slept with various famous women; he worked alongside Walt Whitman as a surgeon in the Civil War; hung out with all the jazz legends; and is a master furniture maker. Now he solves murder cases, surrounded by a group of inoffensive set characters to absorb his oddities.
The combination works when Coster-Waldau’s character comes off like a Greg House—unassailably brilliant, witty, self-effacing and lady killing. It doesn’t work during most of the incredibly banal flashback scenes to his earlier lives. Brain candy that’s gone stale, it feels forced. Coster-Waldau is surrounded by lingering evidence from his past lives: a 65-year-old man is actually his son; a former secretary is actually a former wife; and so on. Somehow, all of these characters accepted the show’s premise, which is fine: sometimes we need to suspend some logic for the sake of a half-decent narrative. But when he runs into The One Woman Who Will Change His Life (meaning he can finally age and die), she throws a decent Are You Fucking Kidding Me response to his situation, and storms off. Perhaps the show’s producers knew they were under the knife and wanted to push up the timeline, forcing a courtship and whatnot sooner than it should have appeared.
It’s good to see such a sharp take on your basic detective show. Maybe it would have found more fertile ground with another season or two to stretch out. With the exception of Detroit 1-8-7, today’s crop of murder-solving shows is pretty grim.