We really don’t deserve Freema Agyeman. Read that again, and notice that it’s a statement that winds up on Twitter nearly every time I watch her in anything, especially New Amsterdam: We do not deserve Freema Agyeman—never have, never will.
First, she saved the world as Martha Jones, the Tenth Doctor’s criminally underrated companion. Martha never really got the credit she deserved, either for traveling the world to spread the word of the Doctor or for simply being the type of character who felt like a real person, even when she existed in the science-fiction realm of Doctor Who.
Simply put, Agyeman’s subtly brilliant performance as Martha made her, and the TARDIS by extension, believable. That’s not to take anything away from any other talents on that series; it’s just a statement of fact.
But her talent wasn’t even fully on display at that point. She simultaneously lifted and destroyed hearts as Sense8’s Amanita, the only “normal” (non-sensate) main character. But she wasn’t just Nomi’s wife. She was a fully-realized person, again due to a quietly stellar portrayal.
We really haven’t earned the privilege of watching Freema Agyeman work
That brings us to New Amsterdam, a series she quite literally brought me to. Certainly, these three series are not the only things she’s ever been in…But with two of them clear examples of overlooked and (like Martha Jones herself) underrated excellence, the progression from Martha, to Amanita, to Dr. Helen Sharpe is particularly interesting.
In Sense8, a lesser actor would’ve made Amanita “just” the love interest. Her Doctor Who character has often been written off as something even worse, and everyone seems to forget that Martha was a doctor herself.
As Sharpe, Freema Agyeman plays one half of Sharpwin, the ship that had better be endgame, or else there are likely to be riots (online, if nowhere else). She’s also one of the most brilliant physicians in the hospital and just about the only person on the planet who can ever talk any sense, whatsoever, into the well-meaning, yet often misguided, Max Goodwin.
Helen is, in so many ways, a combination of all the best things about both Martha and Amanita. But she never feels like Freema is simply rehashing familiar ground.
Certainly, that’s partially due to fantastic writing and directing. But yes, it’s also because we do not deserve Freema Agyeman. We do not.
Every week, there’s at least one moment where she manages to steal the spotlight. It does not matter whether it’s as part of the romantic arc with Ryan Eggold’s character or as a physician, preparing to give heartbreaking news to a patient.
In New Amsterdam Season 3, her emotional work has been centered around letting Helen open up, peeling back the layers of the Sharpe onion to see who she really is underneath all that armor, and giving her difficult family struggles. Week after week, episode after episode, she not only delivers but does it in a way that is better than everything that came before.
It’s difficult to say what, exactly, makes these performances so consistently (and increasingly) brilliant, but perhaps the devil is in the tiniest of details. In New Amsterdam Season 3, Episode 12, “Things Fall Apart,” there wasn’t any particular dialogue that made Agyeman’s performance particularly strong. It was in the handling of tasbih beads, a series of nervous swallows, the placing of one hand on top of another.
While all of that minutiae related back to the Sharpwin of it all, there was never any indication that Helen Sharpe was there as “only” a love interest. She has always had the perseverance in the face of doom that a Martha Jones would, all while containing the ability to love and feel joy of an Amanita under that tough-as-nails surface.
Oftentimes, when we know an actor for a role, it’s difficult not to see them as that person even when they’re playing others. It takes a rare kind of talent to bring all of these elements of past selves along for the ride, all while constantly getting better and better with each outing and making the current character something entirely unique.
The best acting is the type that makes you forget you’re watching fiction. Freema Agyeman not only does that but somehow manages to give more of herself to Helen Sharpe than most people do to their actual selves.
So, yeah. At the risk of repeating the same thing over and over again into oblivion: We simply don’t deserve her. Never have, never will.
What’s your favorite character played by Freema Agyeman? Send us a comment!