Copper, BBC America’s first original scripted series, is set in 1864 New York City. The “copper” in question is Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), an Irish immigrant and Civil War veteran who is a detective in the rough Five Points neighborhood of Manhattan. Copper features enough nudity and violence to give HBO a run for its money. The series, created by Tom Fontana (Oz, Homicide: Life on the Street) and Will Rokos (Southland, Monster’s Ball), may be set in 1860s New York, but it has a Wild West feel.
Corcoran must not only battle crime on the streets, but deal with friction from the uniformed police who aren’t impressed with his “war hero crap.” Copper utilizes a sepia-toned look for the scenes set in Five Points. When the show goes “uptown,” and features Corcoran’s wealthy Civil War buddy, Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), the world is more colorful, with clothes and surfaces in jewel-like tones; the lighting more crisp and vibrant.
[L-R: Dr. Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), and Detective Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) of Copper]
In the first episode, “Surviving Death,” Kevin “Corky” Corcoran and his fellow detectives go from a bank robbery, which ends in violent death for all of the thieves, to a little stress release at the local brothel with Corcoran’s lover, Madam Eva (Franka Potente), to being pulled right into another case, this one involving the death of a young girl, Annie (Kiara Glasco), whom Corcoran had met earlier that day. But all is not as it seems, and the victim isn’t who he thinks she is.
In the tradition of great but unconventional detectives, Corcoran is haunted by his past. He returned home from the Civil War to find his wife missing and his young daughter dead. In his day-to-day police work he chooses to get help from unexpected sources. He takes the dead body of the murdered girl to his friend — freed slave, African-American physician, and CSI-in-the-making — Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh) for an examination before taking her to the official police surgeon. Matthew and his wife are about to flee Five Points, as they are fearful of the escalating violence towards African Americans in the district, but the doctor is intrigued by the case, and hangs around to perform some experiments to determine exactly what sort of weapon was used to kill the girl.
In the second episode, “Husbands and Fathers,” Corcoran risks life and limb (literally) while still trying to protect (the apparently quite alive) Annie, who suddenly seems to have a lot of people after her. With Corcoran sidelined, it appears that Annie suddenly has no one to protect her. The show doesn’t shy away from the Pretty Baby-like reality of child prostitution or Corcoran’s need to take the law into his own hands.
The injustice resulting from the stark class divisions is likely to be a recurring feature of the show, as Corcoran seems to have acquired not only dangerous uptown adversaries, but a possible ally in Morehouse’s friend, the lovely Elizabeth Haverford (Anastasia Griffith). So far Corcoran’s detective buddies are pretty indistinguishable from each other, in their similar scruffy period get-ups and hats. But Corcoran is a compelling character, and Copper is off to a great, atmospheric start.