‘Copper’ Recap (Series Premiere): “Surviving Death”

BBC America has been showing Gangs of New York on an infinite loop for like the last week, you know what you’re getting here, guys.

Copper had its premiere tonight as the first original scripted dramatic series that BBC America is producing for its own network–it’s aiming for the same kind of cable prestige that imported BBC dramas or original shows from AMC or FX carry. It doesn’t have the production values of some BBC shows, and it doesn’t have the confident style of the many gritty American cable dramas that have achieved acclaim in the last few years (Justified, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, you know that bunch), but a lot of that can be chalked up to the shakiness that any pilot episode has. It would be miles ahead of the rest of the cable crime procedurals if only because of its setting, and it’s distinguished further from the rest of the pack by some interesting writing. It might get a little slow at times, but it’s well worth watching, if only for the variety of facial hair that you can revel in.

Our hero is Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), a Civil War veteran who has returned from the war to find his daughter dead and his wife missing. He’s a little broken up about this! His detective skills are unorthodox, and involve brass knuckles and shooting anybody who might look even a little bit like they’ve been robbing a bank–after witnessing Corcoran shoot down like four people, a filthy, mustachioed extra muttered “Jesus Christ” in what I guess was supposed to be a drunken Irish accent. I feel ya, man! Seems a little excessive. At one point, in order to interrogate a suspect, Corcoran strips him naked, brings him down into the sewers, and proceeds to kick him directly in the genitals for a while. After later finding out there’s no way that that guy could have done it, Corcoran has to rush back down to the sewers where he had left him, tenderly wrap a blanket around the man’s shoulders, and awkwardly apologize.

I just want to remind everyone that BBC America’s schedule has, up until this point, been 80% Gordon Ramsay shows and 20% Doctor Who commercials. This week they’ll be showing Jurassic Park for no apparent reason. I just think that–as a country–we have severely underestimated how genuinely crazy this network is. This episode focused on Corcoran attempting to solve the murder of a child prostitute, and unraveling that it was actually the twin of a child prostitute who was murdered–but at the end of her life, that twin was also forced into child prostitution. The topic was, wow, pretty prominent this episode–which is good, it’s an issue that certainly needs attention, but after enduring a harrowing scene where Corcoran is chasing after one child prostitute while hauling the dead body of another over his shoulder, it’s a little jarring to realize this is done on the same network that phones it in every Wednesday to show six hours straight of Top Gear. It was envelope pushing, especially for a network that doesn’t have an envelope.

The twin who escaped the bordello reminded Corcoran of his own daughter, which is why she will be a recurring character as he continues to protect her from the powerful aristocrat who killed her twin. The aristocrat, of course, has the entire corrupt police department in his pocket, which is why he gets away clean with the murder despite the detective efforts of Corcoran and Dr. Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), an African-American physician who provides some cool 1800s-style CSI scenes. Freeman also allows the audience an introduction to the racial tensions of the era and area, in the same way that the evil aristocrat’s British wife (Anastasia Griffith) hints at the gender and class issues of the time. There’s clearly a lot of players and components to the show, and the pilot definitely rushes trying to fit it all in, while at the same time establishing that this is a Serious Drama. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Corcoran’s maybe-girlfriend and brothel owner Eva (Franka Potente) and a bevy of other assorted prostitutes and mustachioed bros. Corcoran prowls the streets with a gang of scruffy dudes who will probably play larger roles in later episodes but mostly just pop up in the pilot–their characters just aren’t really developed enough to distinguish between them in the first episode and also, as someone who was genuinely tricked by Groucho Marx glasses as a child, there is a lot of bushy facial hair happening in this television show and it is kinda hard to tell them apart.

But all in all, Copper was a solid hour of television and definitely has the potential to pick up into something really awesome in the next few episodes. And really, what else would you be watching? The Newsroom? HA.

Other things of note in this episode:

-They had leather jackets in the 1800s, apparently! They looked good.

-If you badmouth Kevin Corcoran’s wife, one of his bros will actually choke you.

-I like that all the corrupt cops are easily distinguishable because they wear uniforms. This is convenient, if contrary to everything I have ever been taught as a child.

-I understand that the anti-hero character is very ‘in’ now, like he has perpetual five o’clock shadow and can kill five people no problem, awesome, but, okay, realistically–and I’m not claiming to know at all what I’m talking about here, because my historical expertise consists of a few Wikipedia searches and watching Gangs of New York like nine times in the past week (it was just on all the time)–but weren’t bullets not…great in the 1800s? Kind of more like metal pebbles than actual bullets? I’m sure they would still kill people, but less instantly and probably with a lot more groaning.

-There is also a lot of faux-Celtic fiddle music–and I mean a lot, okay, my name is McCarthy, so believe me here when I say that I have a genetic high-tolerance for absurd amounts of fiddle music, but this is just too much. In one scene, there were straight-up pan flutes. I know it says “BBC” in the network name, but you can’t fool me with this stream of mumbling Irish accents–I know this show is American. They can’t all have been Irish. It would be a much different show (probably one with less sewer-based nut-kicking) but how fun would it have been if they ramped up all the same stereotypes for like, a transplanted Frenchman? Just cruising down the gross dirt roads of New York on a bicycle, throwing baguettes at bank robbers while some weird hurdy gurdy music plays in the background? I DON’T KNOW, there’s a lot of racism and dead children on this show, I’m used to The Newsroom, this is a rough adjustment, okay?

-Friday at 9 they’re showing Jurassic Park III!

Allison Surette McCarthy is a third year at Hampshire College, studying television writing and social change. Her accomplishments include being Employee of the Month January 2012 at a Holiday Inn, and ...read more


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