The cop drama has been done before and it will be done again. The question when you’re doing a police-centered television show is if you can bring something new or different to the table. It would be easy to state that BBC America has opted to do “new and different” in their police drama, Copper, solely by setting the show in 1864. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. Still, if I’m wrong and it is fair, the creative minds behind the series (which include Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana) and the folks on screen do it all so well, that it doesn’t particularly matter.
Copper stars Tom Weston-Jones as Detective Kevin Corcoran, an Irish-American Civil War vet who has returned home to the Five Points section of New York only to find his daughter dead and his wife missing. He isn’t perfectly fresh from the war though, so he does have something of a thing going with local madame, Eva Heissen (Franka Potente). Over the course of the season he also has kind of a will they-won’t they deal going with uptown rich woman Elizabeth Haverford (Anastasia Griffith). Plus, there’s the fact that this pre-teen girl who has lived through numerous horrors, Annie Reilly (Kiara Glasco), kind of loves him.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The point of Copper, as with many police dramas, is often less to find out whodunit than to learn about the lives of the characters (the original Law & Order being a notable exception to this rule). I don’t want to give away any will they-won’t they bits or a what happened to Annie in the past or during the series – this may sound odd, but watching the gritty cop show (and it is a gritty cop show) is a joy. It isn’t just well conceived, it’s well executed. The characters may not be wholly accurate depictions of people in the mid-19th Century, but they appear close enough that most folks out there will accept them while still appreciating their mirroring of today’s world.
Beyond that, the murder of the week cases are interesting (when there is a murder of the week), even if they’re not really reasons to watch. What Copper offers us there is a look at how detective work was done (or might have been done, I’m not going to delve into the veracity of the techniques shown), and it’s completely fascinating. Corcoran has a friend, Doctor Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), who uses the latest forensic methodology to help Corcoran put together answers. Their relationship is one of the more interesting bits of the show.
Freeman, being black, also allows the series to explore race in the north during the Civil War. And, with the help of Elizabeth and Corcoran’s war buddy, the incredibly wealthy Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), the show gets to explore differing classes. They even have a different Irish cop, Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan), so we can get an outside perspective on what it means to be a poor Irish cop.
If there is one part of the show that is troublesome, it is the series’ desire to get every possible aspect of 1864 New York involved. It feels as though an overt decision was made to show as many parts of society as possible and then characters were created in order to fit the necessary roles, and that rings false even if little else does. The problem isn’t with the stories each person from their respective group undergoes—those feel real enough—it is with the fact that the show has opted to be so incredibly heterogeneous.
Copper, actually, mainly overcomes this issue with the strength of the writing and the acting. As stated, you’re going to care about the characters and you’re going to be engrossed in the stories. It will trouble you that the stories are happening, but it’s much more one of those things that you keep in the back of your head than one that bothers you every single second of the show.
The production values, on the whole, tend to be tremendous. It can be hard for a television series to do period well, but Copper is nearly completely successful with it. From great outfits to varying locations, the show looks beautiful (and looks beautiful on Blu-ray). One of the biggest issues is with what is apparently green screen work that just doesn’t feel anywhere near as realistic. Whether that is a byproduct of the blu-ray transfer or this being done on a television budget, not a film one, isn’t wholly clear, but with it being a new series, it seems more likely to be a budget/time issue than a transfer one. Other than that, the Blu-ray really shows the detail work well, offering up plenty of different locales and states of decrepitude, and having them all look great even if they look horrible. The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack is good for a television show. It isn’t as active or involving as a movie, but one is not wholly unaware of the surrounds and everything is well-leveled. It is a new TV show come to Blu-ray and you’re not going to have any complaints even if you’re not wowed by anything but the production values.
The extras included with the set are all relatively standard fare. They include commentary tracks, behind the scenes bits and pieces, deleted scenes, video profiles, and an Ultraviolet code. All of it is vaguely interesting, but there really is nothing here that is a must watch or that will stick with you long after being viewed… except for the discussion of eating pig’s feet by Dylan Taylor (he plays policeman Andrew O’Brien). That section is pretty memorable (and seems to not wholly be true after watching the episode). Be warned with the Ultraviolet code, as of this moment the link on the sheet included with the code seems not to work. Going directly to Flixster and navigating their menus does, however, result in success.
Copper is good sleuther with a bunch of interesting characters who probably just shouldn’t be together. Fans of both period pieces and the police drama genre will find a lot to like there. Just one other note, it is rather gruesome and cruel at times and consequently probably isn’t for the squeamish. The series is BBC America’s first original scripted program and shows the network is off to a pretty good start.