by Deborah Harter Williams
In its first scripted series, not created in the UK, BBC/America presents a historical police drama, set in America, that’s as International as it gets. Located in New York City during the Civil War, Copper is a police series set against a backdrop of class, race and ethnic friction in the Five Points neighborhood of lower Manhattan.
Kevin Corcoran, played by English actor Tom Weston-Jones (MI5, Spooks), is an Irish immigrant cop enforcing the law while looking for answers about the disappearance of his wife and death of his daughter. Canadian actor Kyle Schmid (Blood Ties, Being Human, The Cheetah Girls) is Robert Morehouse, son of a wealthy industrialist and resident of Fifth Avenue. He is a friend of Corcoran’s from the war but his loyalty is tested against his loyalty to family and class.
The ones who don’t have to worry about their accents are German Actress Franka Potente (The Bourne Supremacy, Run Lola Run) as Eva Heissen, a brothel madam, British actress Anastasia Griffith (Damages, Trauma, Royal Pains) as Elizabeth Haverford, the British wife of a wealthy Fifth Avenue friend of Morehouse and Irish actor Kevin Ryan playing Francis Maguire, a fellow Irish cop partnered with Corcoran.
Representing America, and a standout for his screen presence is Schenectady, NY-born actor and playwright. The son of parents from Ghana, he also has a degree in chemical engineering form Cornell), Ato Essandoh (Blue Bloods, Damages). He plays Matthew Freeman, an African-American physician who functions as Corcoran’s go-to physician/pathologist. To add to the international mix, the show is shot in Toronto with a number of Canadian actors.
If Copper fails it will not be to lack of writing and producing skills. Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson (The Natural, Good Morning Vietnam, Rainman) and his producing partner Tom Fontana have been behind such groundbreaking series as Homicide: Life on the Street and HBO’s Oz. Here they are partnered with Christina Wayne, who formerly led AMC into the dramatic worlds of Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Writer Will Rokos (Monster’s Ball, Southland) rounds out the cast of executive producers.
The show is dark in many ways. Gritty settings reflect the harsh times. Children and wounded veterans sleep in the streets while the rich and privileged ride in carriages, attending fancy and sometimes depraved parties. Skin color or accent assigns the characters to one camp or the other, though villainy lives in both. Those who would travel in-between live by their wits and frequently compromise or skirt the edge of morality. Scorsese mined the same time and location in Gangs of New York (2002).
While the darkness of the scenes is atmospheric, it makes it hard to track what’s going on. It took me awhile to sort out who was who. I had to turn up the brightness on my TV and then during some of the more gruesome scenes was sorry that I did. The accents take getting used to also, and may make you activate your caption feature if you have one.
I was surprised to hear the phrase “my leg’s been bugging me,” and a reference to chop suey. My history lessons are not up to date but those sound like anachronisms to me.
It was a violent and brutal time and the show reflects that. I found it more depressing than uplifting. My bias is towards shows where justice triumphs at the end of the hour, even though I know that’s not particularly realistic. Yet the characters of Corcoran, Morehead and Freeman are compelling and the women’s roles are complex, demonstrating different kinds of strength. Copper is well worth a look-see.
Copper airs Sunday nights on BBC America. Learn more on the show’s website.