BBC America is making quite the to-do over its first original scripted series Copper, and with some justification. The drama stars Tom Weston-Jones as Detective Kevin Corcoran, a soldier fresh home from the Civil War policing the Five-Points slum in 1964 New York City.
Not only did Corky come back to find his daughter murdered and his wife missing, he’s mysteriously connected to a high society bon vivant Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid) and Doctor Matthew Freeman (At Essandoh), a Black man who has found a way to become a physician (it was possible, just not common). Turns out the three of them are bonded by their time together in the war.
The show is mostly well-acted. The sets are gorgeous and look reasonably historically accurate. But two things put me off. One was the extreme violence of the early scenes in which Corky and his pals basically shoot the snot out of some bank robbers. Sorry, didn’t need to see the blood spatter behind the guy shot in the eye. Yes, we need to know that policing in NYC isn’t quite the same game it is today, but the show didn’t need to go that far.
The other thing is a little less tangible. The trick of period drama like this is to bring us into a world that is essentially foreign – none of us were around in 1864 and most of us aren’t that into history – so you need some common ground for your story’s foundation. But at the same time, the story can’t be too familiar or it won’t feel like a period drama no matter how historically accurate the story might be. And unfortunately, the first episode involves Corky investigating the murder of a young girl who has been sexually abused. I’m not saying that men didn’t buy young girls and prostitute them in the 1860s – they most certainly did. But it’s the ripped from the headlines nature of this story, plus the way that Corky relies on Dr. Freeman to do the autopsy and the scientific style of crime-fighting he employs (which was very new then, but old hat now), that makes the whole show feel a little like Law & Order, the Early Years.
One thing I will concede that Copper does exceedingly well is brutally remind us why cops have to play by the rules they do nowadays. Yes, those are brass knuckles in Corky’s hand in that picture and it was perfectly legal back then. Just what I’d want to see the next time I get pulled over.
If you’d like to see some options for when your kids are awake, check out my blog, YourFamilyViewer.com.