New Amsterdam S1 ended in a fatal double ambulance crash – something that actually does happen now and then in real life. At the start of S2, with so many of the hospital’s staff in both ambulances, the doctors and nurses are still reeling as the truth about who survived the crash and who didn't comes out. "Our season really is about grief and loss and finding the hope, through that, that glimmer of life we can follow," says executive producer David Schulner. “We felt we owed it to the story, these characters, and our audience to handle this with both delicacy and suspense. The season is about how our lives can change in a moment, and Max (Ryan Eggold) won't be the only one experiencing death. All of our characters, even the ones who weren't involved in the accident directly, it's profoundly changed their lives.”
In a hospital, though, time doesn’t pause to allow you to process your grief. There are new tragedies at your door every day. Here are just five of the dramatic disasters the doctors will be facing this season…
1: Poison paint
In episode 4, Head of Psychology Dr Frome (Tyler Labine) and Head of the Neurological Department Dr Kapoor (Anupam Kher) have to both play detective and fight City Hall when it turns out that maintenance workers have poisoned an entire neighbourhood with lead-based paint when they were removing it from a nearby overpass. In New York, this has happened before and will likely happen again. One of the many incidents the show could have used for inspiration took place in 1992 when a painting crew working on the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn sandblasted lead paint chips all over the surrounding area while stripping the bridge of decades of paint during resurfacing – some of which dated back to before the ban on lead paint went into effect. Mothers in the area reported being advised to keep their windows closed, wash down their houses, wash their young children's hands, and have them screened for lead poisoning every six months.
2: It’s a sin!
A church bus crash turns out to have a sinful twist when the hospital winds up treating all the passengers for mysterious pre-existing conditions. But the real sinner is the episode is the US healthcare insurance system, which has priced most preventive and routine care out of the reach of ordinary citizens – especially poor, black communities. In episode 17, we’ll also see New Amsterdam Medical Center’s Medical Director Max’s growing frustration with patients having to turn to crowdfunding apps like GoFundMe to pay their hospital bills and expenses because the alternatives are death and bankruptcy. “We’re not reading medical stories. We’re listening to what people are talking about in the country right now and then making that a medical story. We’re not finding medical stories and then trying to wrap the patient around that,” says David.
3: Budget busters
The results of ongoing underfunding of hospitals has come back to bite countries around the world during the COVID-19 global pandemic. And in episode 13, Max is told he needs to cut $2 million from the hospital’s already squealing budget. During this episode we also find out that hospitals deliberately transfer terminally ill patients to other institutions to keep their “death rate” down, keep those five-star “consumer” ratings, and keep the cash from investors flowing in. Max gets cunning to twist donor arms in this episode to not only dodge the budget cuts, but bring in more cash to build a unit to treat dying patients humanely during their final days.
4: Painkiller problems
Max tries to find a way to end the epidemic of opioid-associated additions and deaths in the community by threatening to sue his own medical centre’s doctors for prescribing opioids to patients, and by tearing up the hospital’s contract with (fictional) drug company Nyler, which produces the opioids along with other less harmful drugs the hospital needs and uses. He tells his gathered staff in episode 15, “Since you all prescribe 79 percent of our opioids, I am giving you one year to prescribe 79 percent less. And anyone who does not meet that mark, will be fired.”
And then he takes the fight to the Nyler family, who make billions every year through the manufacture and aggressive marketing of unsafe and addictive drugs. It seems the sort of radical strategy that would only work on TV. Yet in the US in real life, Purdue Pharma, manufacturers of OxyContin, and the Sacler family, which owns the company, are currently offering to pay out over $10 billion in damages to settle over 2,000 lawsuits against them, brought not by individuals, but by entire cities and states in the US for their role in starting, nurturing and profiteering off the opioid abuse crisis.
On 12 March 2020, filming halted on this season of New Amsterdam, leaving the season with just 18 episodes. Viewers will see a special message from the cast at the start of episode 18. Actors Ryan Eggold and Daniel Dae Kim (new character Dr Cassian Shin) explain that the episode we’re about to see replaced the original 18th episode, titled Pandemic, because the action that had been scripted in it (written in 2019) was too close to what was then happening in real life. In fact, shortly after shooting the Pandemic episode, Daniel tested positive for the virus along with one of the show’s writers and three crew members. David Schulner commented at the time, “Today, we woke up to images of the military erecting tents to serve as makeshift morgues outside Bellevue hospital (the real-life inspiration for New Amsterdam) as New York is bracing for potential surge in coronavirus victims. Sometimes what the mirror reflects back is too horrifying to look at.”
When production was shut down, New Amsterdam immediately donated all their personal protective gear to the New York State Department of Health. “Our tireless crew, the costume department, set decorators and props staff, all went through every storage area, every nook and cranny of every set and put together half a truckload of PPE, masks, gloves, gowns and face masks,” reveals David.