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New Amsterdam - Season 5 Premiere, TBD - Review

The much anticipated first episode of the fifth and final season of New Amsterdam kicked off tonight on NBC. Long-time viewers of the show, especially Sharpwin fans, have been waiting with bated breath to find out how the writers would handle Freema Agyeman’s exit as the beloved character, Helen Sharpe. Viewers will remember that season 4 was a difficult one for Sharpe’s character. Despite the fact that she finally confessed her feelings to top doc Max Goodwin, their love story came with several obstacles and despite a season that was promoted with the tagline “more joy,” we saw Helen and Max face more challenges and heartache in one season than most TV couples face in an entire show’s run. Rest assured however, they were not the only characters on the show to suffer. The season of “more joy,” ended with all of the leads left standing in the ashes of their personal lives which imploded in the final episode. After attempting to repair their relationship Iggy and Martin called it quits, Lauren broke up with Leyla and Sharpe left Max at the altar. Season 4 in its entirety was difficult to watch. It was plagued with inconsistent story lines, gaping plot holes and a season finale that felt like it was written by a novice. Add Freema Agyeman’s exit to the mix and I have to say I had very low expectations for this episode. Still, a part of me hoped that the show runners would at least try to repair some of the damage done to salvage the show’s final season and hopefully recapture some of the season 1-3 magic that made this show so special. 

That brings us to 5.01 and the elephant in the room- how would the show runners handle Agyeman’s departure from the show? With only 13 episodes left, surely Sharpwin could still have their happy ending, right? Helen could be in London dealing with personal issues while Max waits for her in New York until the final episode when they are reunited…..but I digress. The episode begins with a montage of Max being supported by his colleagues from the hospital as he attempts to pick up the pieces of his broken heart and the broken heart of his daughter, Luna. In the montage, Luna turns five years old but in season 4, she was only three. This led me to think that a couple of years had passed. However, in a recent TVLine article, David Schulner, the show's creator, clarified that only a few months have passed. This is yet another inconsistency to add to the list. But that is not the worst part. In a move that felt like Schulner, who penned this episode, was adding insult to injury, we hear Freema Agyeman’s voice as Helen, reading a letter that she wrote to Max. In the letter, she explains that she cannot continue with the relationship, but does not give a solid reason why. Not only is having Helen break up with Max in a handwritten letter completely ridiculous (do people even write letters anymore)? But there is no way that Helen would ever do that to the man she loves, especially after being abandoned by her father as a young girl. And the fact that Max read the letter and didn’t even attempt to reach out to Helen is simply laughable. In what world would Max Goodwin, problem solver and go-getter, not chase after the woman he loves more than anything in the world? The woman who he has been falling in love with since the first season. He followed her all the way to London, uprooted his whole life and we are supposed to believe he wouldn’t at least try to call her? Fly there and make things right with her? This is not true to Max’s character at all and seemed like the easy way to write out Agyeman so that they can move on with the show without her. Yet another insult to fans. 

Throughout the episode, Max turns to Iggy for support and advice on how to move on. Leave it to Tyler Labine’s character (who loudly protested against Sharpwin from day 1 on social media) to prompt Max to stop focusing on the good memories with Helen, and look to the not so good ones instead. In doing that, we see Max flash back to scenes from season 4. The writers used any Sharpwin scene that could be construed as negative, to make Max believe that Helen never truly loved him. Utterly ridiculous and a slap in the face to Sharpwin fans who watched the slow burn between Helen and Max from season 1. Last week Schulner stated that this was planned all along, that they had planted these
tidbits along the way and if fans had been watching closely, they would have noticed it was not all roses for the couple. Who is he trying to fool here? Max and Helen were madly in love with each other. Of all the ways they could have written Freema’s departure, it is truly hard to believe that this is what they chose. I’ve read fanfiction that was better than this. What happened to the thoughtful and poignant writing from season 1-3? A friend of mine that isn’t familiar with the behind the scenes workings of the show, asked me if there were new writers for season 4 and that was very telling. It is impossible to believe that the people responsible for the incredible moments of the first three seasons are the same people who expect us to believe that Helen would dump Max in 2022 via a handwritten letter and that he would just accept it. Max chose Helen over the hospital many times, and now he decides to choose the hospital over fighting for the woman he loves? On top of that, it is hard not to feel like the female black lead was dealt a very bad hand. The amount of struggles that Helen faced last season in order to find happiness seemed unjustifiable, especially when she survived multiple blood clots all over her body, only to suffer a stroke that left her unable to speak. She already had unresolved trauma with her father. Why could the writers not focus on that instead? It is difficult to comprehend the rationale behind writing Helen as the cruel black woman leaving the poor white saviour and his daughter brokenhearted. Not only is this completely out of character for Helen, it paints a very negative picture for the show and its writing team. A show that has prided itself on its diversity and representation. 

The end of the episode has Max confiding in Iggy on the rooftop. Max admits that perhaps the signs were there that Helen wasn’t as committed as he was, but he was so intent on fixing her problems that he didn’t see the writing on the wall. The scene ends with Max asking Iggy, “so what do I do now?” We then pan to the cast at the hospital which has been converted to a Bollywood movie set for a young cancer patient whose dying wish was to be in a Bollywood movie. The cast is dancing and the camera focuses on doctor Elizabeth Wilder, with Max watching her. She notices him, and coaxes him to dance in a flirtatious way. He bashfully declines but continues to stare at her as the camera zooms in on her dancing. The episode ends with Max smiling at a dancing Wilder. It is disappointing that the writers would reduce a great character like Elizabeth Wilder to being Helen’s replacement but it is even more disappointing that they would have a white woman attempt to heal the heart of a man who had his heart broken by a black woman. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in the writers room when these decisions were made. Maybe then I could understand why they thought this was the best way to go. For a show that has won awards for its ability to tackle social justice issues, it is truly baffling and disappointing. 

It appears no joy is to be had for the other characters in season 5 either. Fans will recall that in the season 4 finale, Lauren broke it off with Leyla because she felt that their relationship had been tainted by money. She also allowed Leyla to continue living in her home so that she wouldn’t be deported back to Pakistan. In true Lauren fashion, this decision was made without a plan of where she was going to live and this episode reveals that Lauren has spent the past few months couch surfing, most recently at Floyd’s, until he kicks her out. After begging people in the ER to take her in, Lauren decides to bite the bullet and turns back to Leyla at the end of the episode in the hopes that they can try to live together as friends. There’s a moment where we feel like this may be a reconciliation but to Lauren’s surprise, Leyla has already moved someone new into her home and her heart. This will serve as a huge shock to Leyren fans who hoped to see the two get back together this season. I can’t imagine where the writers are heading with this, but Shiva Kalaiselvan (Leyla) has not been seen filming on the New Amsterdam set yet this season. 

Aside from being Max’s personal therapist in this episode, we see Iggy and Martin amicably co-parenting their children, though Iggy visibly has regrets about the situation and we see him attempt to text Martin, saying that he wants to end the separation. Ultimately, he decides to delete the texts before sending them. At the hospital, Iggy meets a new patient and his mother. The patient is a middle aged man named Alex who is living with Autism. Alex’s previous therapist recently passed away, and his mother is hoping that Iggy will take over Alex’s therapy. However, Alex already has a skilled team of physicians in his corner, and his mother is shocked when Dr. Frome states that the only way he will take her son on, is if she lets go of the established team of doctor’s already on Alex’s treatment plan. Iggy’s rationale is that they have been with her son since childhood and they are not enabling him to grow as they are likely using the same techniques and it could be detrimental to her son if they pass away, too. Iggy states that his goal is to help her son prepare to be independent in the untimely event that she passes away, too. The mother agrees and Iggy has his first session with Alex where he appears to win him over. While it is good to see Iggy back to being the caring therapist that he was in earlier seasons, his actions last season have painted him in a negative light that is difficult to see beyond. 

Meanwhile, Floyd shows Lauren a video of his daughter who appears to be almost a year old. Despite him telling Lyn, the baby’s mother, that he would stay out of his child’s life and let her raise his daughter with her husband, Claude, it appears that he does have a relationship with her as he references facetiming with her to Lauren. Floyd also confides to Lauren that he has been trying to develop his relationship with his father, but his father keeps canceling their plans. At the end of the episode, Floyd shows up on his dad’s doorstep with a bag of food and his dad reluctantly lets him in. It will be interesting to see how this relationship develops. Floyd hasn’t had a solid storyline since before the pandemic, so hopefully the writers will do this character some justice in this final season. 

Finally, Floyd and Dr. Wilder work together to help a young boy who is dying of cancer get his dying wish, which is to be in a Bollywood movie. He tells Floyd that Bollywood movies help him forget that he is dying, but his parents are not able to forget. He hopes that if they see him in his own Bollywood film they will be able to forget, even if for a moment. His story is so compelling that he manages to convince tight pockets Karen Brantley to fund the wish. Although it is too risky to take the patient to India, they instead bring India to him, converting a wing of the hospital to a Bollywood set with Indian Bollywood actors. This storyline reminded me of the show I fell in love with in season 1. One that focused on the doctors coming together to do whatever it takes to help their patients. Unfortunately, this was not enough to overcome all of the other negative decisions made by the show runners and without Helen Sharpe, it just did not work. 

It will be interesting to see how the remaining episodes play out and whether or not fans will stick around to watch. So many things could have been handled differently, and it is a shame that after so much negative press after season 4, Schulner and team did not even attempt to make an effort to salvage their final season. Agyeman’s exit did not mean that the show’s main ship, and the draw for the majority of their fanbase, had to end, nor did the writers have to further damage Lauren and Leyla’s relationship. Both were conscious decisions that will be sure to have fans saying good riddance to the show, instead of bidding a fond farewell. Such a tragic way to end a show that held such promise only a few months ago. 

Did you watch the episode? How do you feel about the way they handled Freema Agyeman’s exit? Where do you see the show heading from here? Share your thoughts in the comment box below and engage with me on Twitter- @Miss_C_Almeida.

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