How can a series that started on such a strong note take such a colossal nosedive?
It was a question worth pondering well before New Amsterdam Season 5 premiered, and frankly, it’s an inquiry that still haunts us long after the series signed off.
For those whose introduction to this once great series was via binge-watching on Netflix, they’ll be treated, though it’s more trick than treat, to the final 13-episode season of this medical drama, which the streamer added September 20.
Sadly, they’ll experience the same disappointment, disbelief, and frustration as many of us.
By now, it’s a canon event in which they’ll have to experience themselves to truly understand how a series that once made us laugh, cry, and moved us beyond measure became the forbidden title not worth uttering without a hint of disdain.
In short, New Amsterdam Season 5 is not good. It’s downright awful.
It hardly seemed possible for the series to go any lower or get any poorer than New Amsterdam Season 4 Episode 22, which saw Max planning a surprise wedding to Helen on the rooftop of the structurally unsound hospital amid a hurricane, only to receive a phone call that the love of his life wasn’t coming.
And yet, New Amsterdam Season 5 said to itself, “Challenge Accepted,” and proceeded to do stunning work at disrupting everything we once loved about this series, stripping it of all that was great about it and leaving a shell of what it used to be.
In hindsight, it’s still baffling how New Amsterdam managed to fumble so severely. It’s one for the books, joining the graveyard of formerly great series who squandered the goodwill they built with their fans.
New Amsterdam’s most egregious offense of all was the disturbing character assassination of Helen Sharpe.
The final season quickly dismantles this character and everything she contributed to the series and stood for, tarnishing the memory of this character until she’s virtually unrecognizable.
It was shocking to learn that Freema Agyeman would exit the series before its final season.
We learned over time that it was discussed around New Amsterdam Season 3, meaning the entire fourth season could and should have been devoted to giving the character a proper sendoff worthy of her and the fans she amassed over her tenure.
And yet that was far from the case, contributing to one of many astonishing, baffling decisions that served as a domino in New Amsterdam’s fall from grace.
Nothing in our speculation about how the series could address the seemingly abrupt departure could prepare us for what they had planned.
The series had an arduous task ahead of itself when it was evident that they left things on a controversial note with Helen essentially standing up Max at the altar, and fans faced the double whammy of trying to determine what it meant for Helen Sharpe as a character, not exclusively as an extension of Max due to Sharpwin.
What transpired is something so offensive and incomprehensible it was outrageously out of tune for a series that at one point prided itself on being socially conscious and aware.
For those already on edge about how Freema Agyeman’s departure would affect Helen Sharpe as an entity, particularly after a cliffhanger that did not put the character in the best light, their worst fears came true.
The entire final season made a mission out of denigrating this character beyond comprehension.
New Amsterdam slyly makes Helen the story’s villain, frustratingly enough, without her ever having any space to counteract what’s lobbied against her.
The thoughtless evisceration of this character, one who was beloved and the co-lead since New Amsterdam Season 1 Episode 1, is so mean-spirited it feels vindicative.
Suddenly, Helen Sharpe isn’t the capable, loving, passionate, vivacious doctor who essentially ran New Amsterdam before Max’s arrival and, at times, while he was there.
She isn’t the colleague who had meaningful connections with other characters, from Floyd to Lauren, dynamics that stood on their own, built on a history and familiarity that preceded the series itself and Max’s arrival.
Somehow, Helen Sharpe becomes this husk Max needs to shed for his own growth (which never actually comes), some dead weight he and all of New Amsterdam needed to cut loose as if the single act of Helen abandoning Max was the sum of all this character was for four seasons.
Ultimately, it would’ve been kinder if New Amsterdam opted to act as if Helen Sharpe never existed at all, erasing her from existence as they have with previous characters.
Even killing her off would’ve been more considerate. It beats the alternative, as New Amsterdam Season 5 Episode 1 spends the entire premiere catching us up on what transpired.
Our goodbye to this character comes in the form of a “Dear John” letter that feels entirely out of character, as the narrative tries and utterly fails to sell us on a narrative that Helen was too irrevocably broken to be with Max and would abandon Luna, a child she loved and wanted to raise, on a whim with no explanation or goodbye.
The premiere also works hard to completely shift everything we knew and loved about the Sharpwin relationship, not just romantically, but as friends and partners.
It colors everything beautiful about the dynamic and its evolution over the years and tells us that Max and the audience read it all wrong and that nothing is what it seemed.
The premiere, and yes, the entire season, backdrafts and rewrites the Helen Sharpe narrative, actively unraveling and destroying everything it spent seasons building just for kicks. We never really know.
And then, just as viewers attempt to come to grips with the gaslighting this series is pulling on us, it thrusts us right into an alternative romance for Max, spending the majority of the season hurtling forward with a half-baked Max and Wilder pairing that never really takes flight or feels as if the show itself is even committed to making reality.
Not only does this series continuously take digs at Helen Sharpe, arguably working to brainwash us into buying into a new narrative as if they say something enough times, it’ll suddenly be accurate, but they utterly decimate everything Helen represents professionally as well.
At some point, in a season that displays unethical behavior by the characters at such a startling frequency, it genuinely disturbs and makes one question how we ended up here; the season doubles down its puzzling vilification of Helen Sharpe.
They reach into the New Amsterdam archives, pulling up an old case of Helen’s to call into question everything that she was as a doctor and as a Black Woman too, tying her to a controversial medical trial that not only makes zero sense whatsoever but is such a racially questionable gaffe it leaves a permanent stain on the series’ memory.
But the final season isn’t solely unsatisfactory because of the Helen malignment. The stories and characters all fall into themselves, no longer appealing in meaningful ways.
The final season highlights how little they knew what to do with Floyd.
There’s no real conclusion for that horrible cheating, polyamory, baby arc.
Instead, the season pretends that most of that didn’t happen, only to further saddle him with a lackluster new romance that doesn’t serve his characterization or the plot well.
It’s so underbaked that there’s zero investment, and for good measure, the final season also sprinkles in Floyd’s complex relationship with his father, and then they don’t invest in it at all; it’s merely there.
To make matters worse, they insert a mental illness arc that is an injustice to depictions of it, a far cry from the series’ former efforts to tell compelling stories at least and try to understand the topics it opted to portray.
It’s one of many instances highlighting how the final season fails to commit to any of its characters and goes through the motions. It trounces through the season dutifully with no genuine attempts at tying anything together, honoring the narratives it built up, the characters, or even the loyal audience.
Lauren’s arc is bewildering and aimless.
If Sharpwin’s demise and the handling of Helen didn’t already elicit discomfort and critiques for its lack of conscientiousness and grace, the series’ poor management of Lauren and Leyla’s relationship and Leyla as a character would have.
If once was an accident, does twice prove ignorance, negligence, or apathy?
To a lesser degree, yet another woman of color was so poorly written off and vilified it was as astonishing as it was disappointing.
The final season disassembles the Leyren relationship quickly, shuffling Leyla off into No Man’s Land, treating her as every bit the contrived plot device that she was, and proceeds to stick Lauren in such uninspired, redundant and dull plots that it feels like a genuine disservice to her by the series’ end.
Laura’s storyline is marred by insensitive addiction gimmick plots and family drama whose sole purpose is to kick the proverbial puppy; all the while, she shows a staggering lack of growth.
However, she doesn’t regress as a character quite like Iggy, who pulls a full Benjamin Button-level reversal, somehow kicking the series off as a fan-favorite and evolving into the bane of most viewers’ existence.
Iggy’s final arc is a mish-mash of poor decisions as the season breezes past all of his flaws and his personal life while he simultaneously inserts himself into other people’s business and proves to be one of the most incompetent psychology professionals on the air and one of the most annoying characters.
The season gives Iggy a series of plots one can only refer to as side quests with shallow attempts at digging into his history in a manner that’s far too little too late, and then rushes to tie up his storyline in a way they hope is satisfactory but in the end, only elicits indifference because it’s hard to care anymore.
And somehow, proving that the fifth season is where good things go to die, the final season manages to take Elizabeth Wilder, the bright spot of New Amsterdam Season 4, and ruin her well and often.
The attempts to develop her further were so poor and dodgy that it was nervewracking, particularly opting to reduce her to a love interest more than anything else, causing her to spend much of the season pigeonholed into fulfilling the massive hole Helen leaves behind.
The series treats her as if she can simply be slotted into that void as a replacement rather than her own character without much issue, failing to realize that it limits and diminishes the character and becomes a disservice to everything that Wilder was and could have been.
We’re treated to a version of her that illustrates questionable moral quandaries and ethics without consequence or challenge, leading one to conclude that she’s meant to be perceived as “in the right.”
And despite Sandra Mae Frank’s best efforts, more often than not, she doesn’t stand a chance against the shoddy writing and characterization working counteractively to her.
And most frustratingly, Max’s arc all season feels so haphazard, as if he’s a passive passenger in his life and the series. His character development stalls in such an insufficient way for the lead character.
He goes through the motions throughout the season, his shtick of circumventing the rules to create a better system becoming more performative than inspiring and aspirational.
The season pulls the trigger on attempting to peel back more layers and dig into our main character far too late, five seasons too late, to be exact.
After a meandering season that feels like the characters and their portrayers are, more often than not, “phoning it in” and going through the motions, it catapults into a saccharine and predictable series finale that feels emotionally manipulative.
It may get the desired result of eliciting a few tears due to nostalgia and loss. But when you reflect upon the series finale enough, you eventually realize later that we lost New Amsterdam as we knew it well before its swan song.
Much of New Amsterdam Season 5 Episode 13 attempts to wrap things up in what they deem a satisfying way.
However, more than anything, it feels rushed and unplanned, as if the entire season was flying by the seat of its pants, filling in and biding time until it got to a picture-perfect ending that pulls from a great medical drama of yesteryear.
It felt terribly cliche, perhaps effectively emotional in the moment for some, but not exactly groundbreaking.
And with that, the series finale fizzles, taking it with heaps of squandered potential, the decline of a once great series’s slow death fading away into notoriety and obscurity.
It isn’t all bad, of course. There are glimmers of its former self sprinkled throughout the season.
Notably, some of New Amsterdam’s guest stars and side characters often steal the show and serve as a reminder of how great the series can be at making even the smallest role meaningful and impactful.
It takes a bold swing with the landmark New Amsterdam Season 5 Episode 7 dedicated to Women’s Reproductive Rights, showing that it still has something to say.
The notable guest stars, like Marlee Maitlin, left their mark and were compelling to watch, and the attempts to cover topical and controversial issues felt true to form.
The camaraderie among the characters felt reminiscent of the early days, and the series’ needle drops and direction were often sound.
Nevertheless, the final season leaves such a sour taste in one’s mouth that it strips the series of any rewatchability factor, putting the final nail in New Amsterdam’s coffin.
And in its stead, we’re left with bittersweet memories of what was, what could have been.
You can currently stream all five seasons of New Amsterdam on Netflix.
If you’d like a more thorough unpacking of each installment to accompany your binge-watching, you can check out our New Amsterdam Reviews.
Over to you, New Amsterdam Fanatics.
Are you interested in tuning into the final season? Have you tuned in, and do you regret it? What are your thoughts on the series’ swan song? Sound off below!
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is an insomniac who spends late nights and early mornings binge-watching way too many shows and binge-drinking way too much tea. Her eclectic taste makes her an unpredictable viewer with an appreciation for complex characters, diverse representation, dynamic duos, compelling stories, and guilty pleasures. You’ll definitely find her obsessively live-tweeting, waxing poetic, and chatting up fellow Fanatics and readers. Follow her on Twitter.