Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


The White Man Savior Doctor Returns

Thank the pop culture maker! The TV season is back!

Not that I don’t love summer TV, with all its easy, breezy reality shows and crime capers. (Raise one for Claws, ladies and gents.)

While I was busy watching the entire 10th season of American Ninja Warrior, I kept seeing ads for the new NBC program New Amsterdam.

Or, as I like to call it, White Man Savior Doctor.

You’ve seen the ads. That Liev Schreiber-looking dude (OK, it’s Ryan Eggold) walks into a meeting of hospital staff and immediately fires the cardiac surgery department and says some platitudes about helping people.

You can’t blame New Amsterdam for existing, though, knowing Hollywood. I’m guessing NBC’s primetime executives saw the success of FOX rookie show, The Resident, last season, and thought they should grab their own bit of that coin.

As a frequent watcher of Gordon Ramsay reality shows on FOX, I saw lots of ads for The Resident, too.

The formula is clear. White Man Savior Doctor bursts onto the scene at a jaded, overworked hospital.

White Man Savior Doctor is tough. He’s gruff, for the right reasons.

His casual racial microaggressions are meant to be endearing. On The Resident, he greets the Indian-American doctor with a “Namaste.”

White Man Savior Doctor is very handsome, and young.

He battles bureaucratic corruption like a hard-boiled detective. On New Amsterdam, White Man Savior Doctor Max Goodwin (really, guys?) says, “Any department that places billing above care, you will be terminated.” Problem. Solved.

On The Resident, Conrad Hawkins, our White Man Savior Doctor (who isn’t even a doctor yet!), confronts Bruce Greenwood about his cover-up of a botched appendectomy that results in a patient’s death. “Who’s the hospital gonna believe?” Evil Dr. Greenwood says. “A third-year resident, or a doctor who bills $20 million a year?” Mmm, it’s right out of Chinatown!

He has all the answers – crazy, wildly unorthodox methods that should get him sued for malpractice! He breaks the rules to heal the system.

White Man Savior Doctor makes proud declarations dripping in writerly progressive profundity. “Let’s be doctors again,” New Amsterdam’s Goodwin says. When a troubled teen abused in the foster care system needs help, Goodwin gives another doctor permission to “help her as a human being.”

The people who receive most of these pearls of wisdom? Gender and ethnic minorities also working in the hospital, of course!

New Amsterdam’s White Man Savior Doctor fires a black male surgeon (in a fancy suit, no less!) and then rehires him to build a new cardiac surgery department. He does much of this by speaking in sentence fragments.

On The Resident, Hawkins dismisses an Indian-American doctor’s Harvard education by saying “it just means you have to unlearn more than the guys who weren’t paying attention,” and tells him, “You do whatever I tell you. No. Questions. Asked.”

Our hero, people!

And, of course, the pretty, white nurse practitioner set up to be the love interest believes in White Man Savior Doctor. “Watch and learn,” she tells Indian Doctor Harvard. Take that!

He also has a tragic past! Maybe he overdosed a child cancer patient, or his mother died at the hands of his abusive father, or his best friend died from an IED explosion when he turned back to grab our hero’s lucky wristwatch. Maybe he himself has a terminal disease.

But don’t worry, folks. White Man Savior Doctor will say something gruffly inspirational to the Affirmative Action Naif or Jaded Black Functionary to set them straight in the OR.

He saved that Mormon mother of seven! But will he save … his own soul?

As New Amsterdam and The Resident continue their moves across prime time, I pour one out for The Knick.

The Steven Soderbergh-directed dramatic series, which ran on Cinemax for two seasons, starred Clive Owen as Dr. John W. Thackery, a chief of medicine at the Knickerbocker Hospital in 1900 New York.

As you’d expect in 1900 America, surgery was still very much an experimental science, with ether only a recent discovery, high mortality rates, and no blood transfusions. Every surgery scene was both indelibly tense and grisly.

It easily set itself up for a White Man Savior Doctor. Thackery was gruff and standoffish, yet wounded and haunted by his past. He battles a cocaine addiction while also taking on bureaucratic corruption in the hospital. He could have been Gregory House’s grandfather, right?

Thackery objects to the hiring of a black doctor, Algernon Edwards (Andre Tolland), by the hospital’s president at the behest (and ransom of the hospital’s electricity system) of the hospital’s benefactor family. As often in these plots, Edwards shows his quality early, Thackery reluctantly takes him on as deputy director.

A jealous white rival of lesser talent, Dr. Everett Gallinger, who has all the WASP patrician hallmarks, stews on some “they took my job” mess.

But, from the first few scenes of the show, when Thackery’s partner commits suicide after failing to save a pregnant woman in surgery, the show tears apart any attempts at a White Man Savior Doctor and literally pulls his guts out.

Nearly every character suffers a terrible fate, their choices circumscribed by the mores of their day.

Edwards’ surgical talents are cut short by racism. Cordelia, the wealthy Robertson daughter, is undone by the patriarchy that turns her into a possession, setting her own family against her.

Lucy, a young nurse from West Virginia who starts a romance with Thackery, has to overcome fundamentalist Christian moralizing and an abusive father. An Irish Catholic nun, who sees up close the travails and horrors of impoverished, pregnant women, is locked up for performing abortions.

Thackery, in rehab for cocaine and opium addiction, is treated with what was believed to be a weaning substance – heroin.

He kicks all the habits, but his own intestines are rotting from the drug abuse. Thackery, our White Man Savior Doctor, performs bowel surgery on himself, and bleeds out after he accidentally nicks an artery. “This is all we are,” he says, holding his own innards.

This all makes me think of Random Acts of Flyness artist Terrance Nance’s latest project, White People Won’t Save You.

The website plays clips from films featuring the trope of the white savior – from Dangerous Minds and Dances With Wolves to, sorry folks, To Kill A Mockingbird and Cool Runnings – as a chorus sings “white people won’t save you” on repeat with increasing intensity.

You’ll likely break before the video stops, if it ever stops. See how many movies you spot on sight: Cry Freedom, A Time To Kill, The Help, Lawrence of Arabia, Avatar, Glory, Lincoln, Children of Men. It seems endless.

What happens to Gallinger, the jealous, racist doctor on The Knick?

Among other things, he sabotages Edwards’ career, and goes on to promote eugenics in early 20th-century Europe. Yikes.

He definitely won’t save us.


Click to comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply


Forces of Geek is protected from liability under the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) and “Safe Harbor” provisions.

All posts are submitted by volunteer contributors who have agreed to our Code of Conduct.

FOG! will disable users who knowingly commit plagiarism, piracy, trademark or copyright infringement.

Please contact us for expeditious removal of copyrighted/trademarked content.


In many cases free copies of media and merchandise were provided in exchange for an unbiased and honest review. The opinions shared on Forces of Geek are those of the individual author.

You May Also Like


“Welcome Back, Welcome Back, Welcome Back!” For the first time ever, all episodes from the classic TV series are brought together in one set...


Along with 1883 and 1923, Lawmen: Bass Reeves is the third period western miniseries from Yellowstone creator Tyler Sheridan. The series was initially conceptualized...


It’s time to BELIEVE! The heartwarming and critically acclaimed comedy series, Ted Lasso, is making its highly anticipated debut on Blu-ray and DVD, bringing...


Two years after its six episode run, the most interesting thing about revisiting Moon Knight is that it feels like the most serious break...