COPPER Series Premiere Review

I am of two minds about BBC America’s first original series, COPPER, which premieres tonight. On one hand, there are tons of great British shows that we don’t get to watch in the States, so it seems a shame that, rather than adding more fresh British programming, of which the station is relatively light on, BBC America is getting into making their own shows. On the other hand, it is a well-made, engrossing period drama that should be highly enjoyable.

COPPER follows Detective Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones, World Without End), a righteous man looking for information on his missing wife and daughter while patrolling the streets of New York City in 1864. Living among the lower class, and friendly with minorities, Corcoran realizes that the upper crust may just be uglier than the filth under their feet. Corcoran follows the path of justice, and while his methods may be brutal, torturing a man not yet proven guilty, or coldly killing thieves in the act, he cares only about the strength of character of the men he encounters.

The contrast between the slums where Corcoran often works and the pristine mansions the city’s millionaires inhabit is stark. This is even more apparent among the prostitutes, whom we see in both settings. For the first part of episode one, it seems like COPPER is destined to be dark and dank. But when Corcoran is summoned to the other world, there is a parallel drawn that is interesting, if not completely unexpected. COPPER will show viewers how both halves live, and what kind of people those lives make.

Now, yes, this may be a bit of class warfare. But all of the rich people aren’t bad. And besides, in these rough economic times, a little class warfare may appeal to many viewers in the States, who are tired of the well-to-do getting away with screwing the little people. As much as things change, they also stay the same, and in this, COPPER comes across as a timely series, still relevant to the modern world.

Some may be shocked by the raw reality of COPPER. The upper echelons of the police force are corrupt and use their position to leverage money from those they are supposed to be protecting. No one thinks anything of cops gunning down a gang of bank robbers, leaving their dead bodies decaying in the street. A child pleasures grownups for money. These are more often the subject of dramatic films, not cable television, at least not from non-premium networks. COPPER delves into this world fully, and doesn’t shy away from how disturbing it can be.

There is also a theme of race relations. Some of the whites in New York, especially Irish immigrants, still a few rungs down the ladder themselves, are terrified that the newly freed slaves with come north and take their jobs. Again, COPPER is drawing a parallel to blue collar workers who worry the same of modern Mexicans. To combat this fear, rather than argue or fight the prejudices, blacks are moving away from those neighborhoods most hostile to them. History will show that it takes another century for things to truly begin to right themselves, and the minority to get a fair shake. But in COPPER’s day and age, fear exerts heavy influence, just as it is today.

One such African American, afraid to stay where he is, is Doctor Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh, Blood Diamond). Last name that hits a little too on the nose aside, Freeman is a CSI genius, doing the type of investigative work on bodies that seems far ahead of his time, but would be right at home in this decade. Freeman can tell the type of weapon used based on the bruise, and examines semen samples. I’m not quite sure if this is historically accurate, if these types of investigations were done then, or if there were any black men educated enough to conduct them in 1864, but it does help keep the cast more balanced, racially. Plus, Matthew makes for a sympathetic character, torn between the need to do his duty, driven by a strong sense of justice like Corcoran is, or giving in to the worries of his wife, Sara (Tessa Thompson, Veronica Mars), who would rather they follow their ilk, not unjustifiably.

The rest of the very talented cast includes Anastasia Griffith (Once Upon a Time, Royal Pains), Kevin Ryan (Laredo), Franka Potente (The Bourne Identity), Kyle Schmid (Being Human), Dylan Taylor (Defying Gravity), Tanya Fisher (The Defenders, Life On Mars), David Keeley (Friends and Heroes), Ron White (not the comedian) and Kiara Glasco. They each bring a high level of talent, immersing themselves and the viewers in the world. Perfectly cast, this is especially impressive in Glasco, given how young the actress is, and how she holds her own among the others.

Visually enjoyable, well written, and intriguing, COPPER creates a world that lives up to the standards of BBC America. Again, I would definitely like to see more shows that were made in Britain make it onto the networks’ schedule, but if they’re going to do their own series, at least it’s as good as COPPER, which fits the expected tone and quality standards of the other things that they air.

Watch COPPER Sundays 10 p.m. ET on BBC America.