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Series / New Amsterdam (2008)

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"You will not grow old. You will not die. This is the gift we give."
Native American women, upon granting Johan immortality

John Amsterdam (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a New York homicide detective. He's also an immortal, born as Johan van der Zee in the Netherlands in the 1600s. While living in the New Amsterdam colony in what would later become New York City, he saved some native women from the depradations of his fellow soldiers, but was mortally wounded in the process. They granted him eternal life in exchange.

He uses his 400 years of experience to solve crime, all the while looking for his true love (who's the only one that can cure him of his immortality).

Not to be confused with the medical drama New Amsterdam (2018).

This series provides examples of:

  • Actually, I Am Him: A variation. When Omar needs cash, Amsterdam is shown using old-fashioned tools to carve an intricate piece of furniture. Omar sells it with the dealer gushing about how it feels to find a near-pristine piece by Benoir, a famous designer of a century earlier. A few episodes later, the dealer meets John and says he's a dead ringer for the designer, confirming that it was indeed John.
  • The Ageless: John Amsterdam has physically been 35 years old since the 1600s. In the pilot, he suddenly dies when it seems like he might have had an encounter with his true love, but he resurrects and walks out of the morgue.
  • The Alcoholic: John was one in the past, but at the start of the series he'd been sober for 40+ years. He gives an honest count of 15,495 days of sobriety at an AA meeting in the pilot.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: John had a relationship with Lily, a black woman in the 1940s. Due to the racial segregation of the period, they tried to keep it a secret until her father took her back home, berating John for becoming involved with a woman who would never be accepted in his white world, though John offered to take her somewhere they could be together openly. John arranged to propose to her at a swanky restaurant, but instead received a Dear John letter breaking things off. A heartbroken John enlisted to fight in World War II, but when John learned that Lily was pregnant with his child, he returned to take care of them both, arriving back just after the baby was born and gladly acknowledging Omar as his son.
  • Blessed with Suck: John was mortally wounded saving the life of a Native American woman, who in return granted him eternal life and youth, which would only be undone once he finds his soulmate. He will know who she is by "feeling it in his heart." Meanwhile, John outlives everyone he loves, including children and grandchildren. In the pilot John suffers a heart attack on a subway platform and dies, but he wakes up in the morgue. John is convinced this means his soulmate was on that platform, zeroing in on Sara, the doctor who tried to save him. Unfortunately, the series was cancelled before we found out whether it was Sara, or someone else on the platform, or perhaps someone he'd just met a few minutes ago, or if it even was the presence of "the one" that caused the heart attack.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Everyone thinks Amsterdam is one. He cites obscure historical trivia, takes foolish risks, swims at the Y after hours (naked), and has a habit of answering truthfully when people ask him where he learned something (a bar used to be a speakeasy he drank at, he learned lipreading when temporarily deaf after a shell at Normandy, etc). Eva interprets this as talking about past lives.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Amsterdam usually answers questions about his past honestly, but understandably, no one takes him seriously. Eva seems to have decided he's talking about reincarnation when he describes doing things decades or centuries ago.
    Eva: He has a really weird sense of humor…this weird past lives thing…
    • John is honest at an AA meeting about how long he's been a sober alcoholic.
    John: My name's John, and I'm an alcoholic. I haven't had a drink in fifteen thousand, four hundred and ninty-five days.
    AA member: Hey, guy, you think that's funny? I can do the math. You'd have to have been sober since 1965.
    John: I look young for my age.
    • A common bit will be Amsterdam talking about how a section of New York was decades ago with clear first-hand knowledge and people assume he's just repeating something he read about in a book.
    • When Amsterdam tells Eva he can read lips, she supposes he's also been deaf, which he confirms off-hand, "Was temporary. Normandy. A shell exploded too close for comfort." She just rolls her eyes.
  • Cursed with Awesome
  • Cut Short: The series was cancelled after the eighth episode, without resolving the plot. Though the only reason we got the show at all was due to the 2007 Writers' Strike.
  • Defiled Forever: The episode "Honor" has an Indian-American rape victim being killed by her father because she's no longer a virgin. The flashbacks to John's past also revealed that he had previously held the same notion that a woman who loses her virginity is defiled, until he discovered that she had in fact been raped.
  • Epunymous Title: The hero, detective John Amsterdam, is secretly immortal and has been living in New York since it was the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.
  • Eternal Sexual Freedom: Averted somewhat with the second episode during a flashback set in the early 1940s, where John fathers a baby out of wedlock with a black woman named Lily. She gets fired when her employer learns she was seen with a white man, and previously she had to enter the hotel where they met through a service elevator. Her father becomes very upset with them both, and says they can never make it in the world (at this point, interracial marriage was illegal in most states, for one). John asks Lily to meet him for dinner in a fancy restaurant (the sort of place that likely would not welcome black customers), and has an engagement ring ready, but instead she sends him a letter breaking things off. It turns out she did so because she'd discovered she was pregnant, but John shows up at the black hospital and openly lays claim to his son; there are no overt comments and not much unspoken hostility either, for a white man who got a black woman pregnant. John also mentions that he's fathered many other children down the centuries as well (we meet one of them in a flashback, and his descendants), although it seems he did marry most of their mothers.
  • Expansion Pack Past: Amsterdam has been a history teacher, furniture maker, painter, battlefield medic, coachman, lawyer, grifter, comedian, and a soldier multiple times.
    John: The Army three times, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard; not the Air Force, don't like heights.
  • Exposition of Immortality: The pilot episode has John take a photograph of Times Square and put it on a board near other photos of the square from past years, dating back since photography was invented. Other people are also surprised at his intimate knowledge of old things, such as knowing about a club that used to be a speakeasy in The Roaring '20s. He also goes to AA meetings and honestly tells them (in days) how long he's been sober (over forty years). When somebody does the math and tries to catch him on that, he simply claims that he looks young for his age. Oh, and then there's the reveal that his friend Omar York (who is 65 years old) is really his son.
  • Fake American:
    • Justified In-Universe example in John Amsterdam, who was born in the Netherlands. Before there were any Americans in the modern sense.
    • Zuleikha Robinson, who portrays his partner, is a straight example: she's British playing American.
  • Fanservice: John's penchant for nude swimming.
  • Flashback: As John's been alive for about four centuries, these are common throughout the series, as they expand upon his past. Oftentimes, they show his past lovers (each time, he thought she was "the one"), children, and pet dogs.
  • Historical Person Punchline: "Soldier's Heart". Walt the orderly turns out to be Walt Whitman (who really did volunteer as a nurse in US Army hospitals during the war).
  • Honor-Related Abuse: The episode "Honor" has an Indian-American woman who was raped and then killed by her own family due to losing her "honor".
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: John wants to find his true love, so he can finally be able to grow old and die.
  • Immortal Genius: John has been alive since the early 1600s, and has had so many different careers (not to mention personal experience with most studies), he's pretty much an expert in everything.
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: Averted; Amsterdam's had kids all over the place. Likely part of the above. After all, outliving any children sucks. Being cursed to outlive all your children...
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: Amsterdam had a relationship with Emily Dickinson and knew Walt Whitman, Sarah Bernhardt, and John Coltrane. Then again, we are seeing the edited highlights.
  • Living Distant Ancestor: In one case, Amsterdam investigates the murder of one of his descendants, while his most recent son has grandkids of his own.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: John has a relationship with a black woman in the 1940s, but the racial segregation of the time makes it difficult for them to have anything other than a Secret Relationship. The woman's father gives John an earful after she loses her teaching job because the principal doesn't approve of mixing, scornfully describing how he watched her use the service entrance pretending to be a maid to get into his hotel room. When Lily becomes pregnant she breaks off the relationship without telling John why, and a heartbroken John, who had been about to propose to her, enlists in the Army. But, when John's secretary (and daughter) tells him about the baby, he rushes to Lily's side and openly acknowledges his son, with the strong implication he marries he given that her grave has the last name he'd been using at the time. (New York State never passed anti-miscegenation laws, so the issue is clearly just social pressure, but that was a powerful force at the time.)
  • Magical Negro: A bizarre twist and possible subversion: the protagonist's mentor who gives him sage advice and a beer whenever he needs to unwind and talk about his troubles, while a very stereotypical grizzled and kindly old black man, is also... the protagonist's son. Such are the vagaries of being an ageless immortal (the kind who can have kids but can't pass on the immortality).
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Downplayed, where the premise is that the main character will be immortal until he finds and weds his true love. Only partly averted because any relationship with someone other than his true love would fall into this trope, including platonic relationships, such as his 67 children. He has mentioned being careful to avoid siring more children specifically because of not wanting to watch them grow old and die before him.
  • Off the Wagon: After John has a fight with his Lieutenant and resigns, he asks Omar for his best single malt scotch, and to bring the bottle. The suspect he's drinking with pours him more when he starts slurring out information he learned on the job that she can use. Turns out he's faking it and the bottle contains apple juice.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: John Amsterdam is an immortal man who has lived in the New York area since the 1600s. He's seen generations come and go, and most of his children and their subsequent children have all died in the interim. He's at the point where he's occasionally running into his great-grandchildren, and has to keep a chart of all his relatives to prevent becoming intimate with an unknowing blood relation. His latest son is in his 60s during the present day and has his own grandchildren.
  • Papa Wolf: One episode covers a case where John discovers a victim was one of his descendants, to the point of personally finding the murderer himself.
  • Pool Scene: The hero, 400-year-old hunk John Amsterdam, swims naked at the Y after hours (he has a key, since he's one of the founding members). His partner runs into him there and unexpectedly gets an eyeful when he climbs out.
  • Product Displacement: The montage at the end of the first episode showed Times Square change over the years, but with all the branding replaced with generic products. Apparently, Mom's Homemade Pies could afford large billboard space during the 1940s. Some brands, such as Virgin, are still clearly visible though.
  • Purpose-Driven Immortality: John will continue to be immortal until he finds his One True Love.
  • Reading Lips: Yet another skill that John has picked up over his long life, after becoming temporarily deaf when a shell exploded too close to him on Normandy.
  • Really 700 Years Old: John Amsterdam is four centuries old. One episode shows him regularly attend AA meetings. When introducing himself, he's truthful about how long he's been sober (about 50 years). When a guy assumes he's making fun of them, John just replies that he looks young for his age (which is true).
  • Resurrective Immortality: In addition to being The Ageless, John Amsterdam also possesses this form of immortality. He dies in the pilot, but he is resurrected a few hours later in the morgue.
  • Sarcastic Confession: John Amsterdam does this a LOT. He tells anyone who asks that he's an immortal 400-year-old. Paraphrased:
    John: I can read lips.
    Eva: You were also deaf, I suppose.
    John: Was temporary. Normandy. A shell exploded too close for comfort.
  • Secret-Keeper: Omar (and at least one other kid of John's) in regards to their father's immortality (not that anyone's likely to believe them anyway — though now that DNA tests have come into existence...).
  • Supernaturally Young Parent: The main character is 400 years old but looks 35 (the age at which he became immortal via magical means). He sometimes seeks advice from one of his still-living sons, who is a naturally-aging 65-year-old.
  • Surprise Incest: Defied. The immortal protagonist John, who is very much capable of having children by mortal women, keeps track of his family tree specifically so he can avoid getting into a relationship with someone who might turn out to be related to him.
  • Unbelievable Source Plot: The main character is an immortal early Dutch-American colonist that works as a police detective. He uses his hundreds of years of experience to solve homicides in present day New York. Everyone assumes he's a Bunny-Ears Lawyer since he does get the job done, they just don't know how.
  • Vampire Detective Series: Except for the vampire factor, it fits this trope perfectly.
  • Waking Up at the Morgue: This happens to John in the pilot. Initially it appears to be a throwaway gag and a way to explain John's "gift". It actually ends up having serious repercussions across the season, as in this day and age you can't just stroll out of the morgue without explaining yourself.
  • Wham Line: The opening conversation of episode 2 reveals that rather than just some old friend, Omar is Amsterdam's son.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out!: An episode has John help an old colleague who is dying of leukemia triggered by lead poisoning from a bullet that was never extracted.
  • Whodunnit to Me?: John's first partner as a homicide detective was shot but survived. Years later he's dying of leukemia triggered by lead poisoning from the bullet, and asks for John's help finding out who shot him.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: John Amsterdam was given immortality by an ancient spell that will only end when he finds true love. True to this trope, after a few hundred years he wants to do just that.