One of the most ambitious new shows to be produced by the BBC is actually set on American soil. What's up with that? And "Copper" arrives with one of the season's most impressive pedigrees! Oscar winner Barry Levinson (6 total nominations with "Rain Man" earning him a Best Director prize) and Tom Fontana (3 Emmy wins for writing on "St. Elsewhere" and "Homicide: Life on the Streets") are the creative forces behind the series set in New York's immigrant neighborhood of Five Points. Set shortly after the Civil War, "Copper" showcases the unruly lawlessness that runs rampant in a city struggling to define itself. The streets are filled with murder, illicit sex, and unchecked racism. At the same time, the wealthy are embroiled in political scandal, dubious business dealings, and an equal proportion of unqualified racism. Straddling these two worlds is Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones in a star making role), a good cop who's not above coloring outside of the lines to pursue the truth or enact justice.
Corcoran is introduced as a troubled soul reeling from personal tragedy. Despite being a copper who commonly takes refuge in a house of ill repute, he also has ties to a more elite base of friends. Oftentimes within "Copper," these two divergent paths are at odds. In my opinion, that is one of the most fascinating aspects of the show. The lives of the rich are expertly juxtaposed to the travails of the less fortunate. Within its crime format, there are a lot of different topics struggling for attention within a crowded plot line. There are episodic crimes to solve, there is the long-range mystery of Corcoran's family, there is commentary on the immigrant experience, there is the birth of forensic science, there is the racial element, there is a land grab conspiracy, and there are anti-Lincoln politcal machinations. And not every weekly case is as compelling as some of the more enduring storylines, but the show never lacks for ambition. Expertly produced, the series creates a believable historical portrait of its specific setting.
In addition to its terrific production values, there is a great cast at work. Weston-Jones makes a fascinating anti-hero. He's not perfect or even necessarily good, but he tries to be just. But there is a scary ruthlessness simmering just beneath the surface that can lead to some unexpected acts of aggression. Kyle Schmid plays a rich ally with just enough mystery that we never know exactly what his real agenda might be. Equal parts charm and smarm, I really like Schmid in this. Franka Potente as the convenient lady in Weston-Jones life, Kevin Ryan as his faithful partner, Anastasia Griffith as a wealthy society matron, and Kiara Glasco as a troubled girl all make an early impact as well. In fact, as the season progresses--Glasco develops into one of the most unorthodox, strangely fascinating and disturbing characters that I've seen in quite a while. And Ato Essandoh scores as a black doctor that our hero employs (to much controversy and consternation) to look at bodies and evidence.
Season One is comprised of ten episodes. As I mentioned, some stories are inherently more compelling than others. If anything, the show probably tries to cover too much. As much as I like Essandoh's performance, his progressive forensic know-how seems awfully convenient. But every time the plot lines veer, Weston-Jones in on hand to ground the action. Thoroughly unpredictable, his energy makes "Copper" really unique. It may not be a perfect show, but you can't fault the ambitious attempt to stand apart from traditional television fare. Give it a look if you enjoy more complex TV designed for adults. KGHarris, 9/12.
Talent Commentary On Select Episodes
"Making of" Documentary
Character Video Profiles and Featurettes