Checking in on Copper: Life on the Streets (of 1864)

Copper S01E01–S01E04: "Surviving Death," "Husband and Fathers," "In the Hands of an Angry God," and "The Empty Locket"

Now more than ever, we television viewers have access to an embarrassment of riches when it comes to shows set in historical times. Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Downton Abbey, and Hell on Wheels, among others, have all proven an interest in using the norms of the past as a relative metaphor for the present. But what about those of us who are happy just visiting a foregone era without a lot of thematic heavy lifting? Gaslights, spilled harlot cleavage, drinking songs, muck, the word "boy-o"—Copper delivers exactly what it promises and nothing more in the best way possible. The procedural from Homicide: Life on the Streets and Oz creator Tom Fontana, plus vets Barry Levinson and Will Rokos, is set in 1864 New York and basically a solid police drama, with all the genre's hard-boiled one-liners, gruesome crimes, and tortured heroes, covered in soot and caked in the blood of our nation's legacy. At its best, this first original series from BBC America uses the hopeless nature of slum living and accepted corruptness of the law to show that even heroes have dirty hands.

Our guide through the seedy community of Five Points New York is Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), an orphaned, Irish Civil war vet haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his wife and the death of his six-year-old daughter. Also he was raised a boxer, which definitely helps him loosen up his share of clues. Joining "Corky" is best friend and follow detective Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan), ex-war Doctor Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), and wealthy businessman/former war buddy Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), along with a rogues gallery of prostitutes, shopkeepers, beggars, and law enforcement brass. There are no weak links in the bunch and outside of the always-welcome protagonist Corcoran (imagine Tom Hardy from Wuthering Heights meets Leonardo DiCaprio from, uh, Gangs of New York), each character is used like a spice—sparingly and effectively.

In the first four episodes, Corcoran investigates a child prostitute's death, gets his leg broken for digging too deep, murders a socialite, uncovers the truth behind a racially charged hanging, and roughs up a corrupt man of the cloth in his own church. While all this is going on, he also tracks down a locket once belonging to his absentee wife—the only clue to her current whereabouts. There are assassinated abortion doctors, emotional opium hallucinations, a murder motivated by the craftsmanship of a suit, trollop-on-trollop throat-slitting, and at least one prosthetic limb used in a bar fight. Yup, this is 1864.

Copper expertly balances these realistic case-of-the-week investigations with an over-arching plot involving the back-room land-grab of Five Points, and a budding romance between Corcoran and the rich woman he widowed, Elizabeth Haverford (Once Upon a Time's Kathryn Nolan). Whereas a modern-day procedural might lose focus while diverging into the worlds of one-off witnesses (how interesting is a person who owns a deli in 2012?), each one of Copper's peripheral character—be they maid or guttersnipe—builds the world without losing steam.

Copper is a lot of fun and doesn't really need to change a thing to keep hitting its own designated marks. Occasionally, the somewhat modern (TV) crime-solving format is so committed to mystery tropes (i.e. red herrings, forensic sessions, etc.) that it doesn't take full advantage of its historical setting, but you don't complain about a cat because it's not a dog. It's a cat! If, however, Copper wishes to go above and beyond the call of duty (a.k.a. be more than a new take on a familiar genre), stylized cinematography and music beyond old-timey Irish strings certainly wouldn't hurt any. For now, though, I'm happy walking the beat with Corcoran.


Have you been watching Copper? If so, what do you think?

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Good show, great cast, interesting arc - I really want to know what happen to Corky's wife.

All and all, I basically cannot wait for the next episode to show up.
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i was immediately impressed and hooked on this down and dirty drama with actors who know what they are doing and an excecution that for us amatures seems close to flawless...very difficult themes and stories that are real enough to turn the stomach and help you realize how difficult life use to be,but watchabe partly because the characters are real,flawed but goodness in some while others are lowsome to the core watchable because they trat the audience like grown-ups....well done bbc and fontana...i had a good feeling about this one and i guess it paid off...
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Eva needs to get killed off next! I can't believe what she did to molly. After I saw that, I was literally in shock, I just stared at the tv screen like, "What?!?!" I can't believe she killed her! She's such a coniving bitch, first she doesn't even bother to tell corky about the locket and now she kills off all the competition?!?! What other secret is she hiding? I feel so bad for Francis, It broke my heart to see him cry like that... Corky definitely needs to find out soon so she can be brought to justice! Sorry for the rant but I just watched this episode moments ago and I'm still fired up about it... But I still love the show XD
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Love this show! So fun, and not a single moment where I think about fast forwarding to a better scene. Hope it gets picked up for multiple seasons.
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Really enjoying it so far. The historical details seem good (apart from a couple of costuming nitpicks*) and doesn't shy away from the seedy underbelly of the times. Excellent acting as well. And it's tough to tell the good guys from the bad guys at times because there's a lot of ambiguity. Young Annie may well be a sociopath. I kinda wish that Corky and Maguire didn't look/weren't styled so much alike though. I keep getting them mixed up in low lighting.



(*Costuming nitpicks: A) They need to use more petticoats. One should not be able to see the outline of the hoops from a hoop skirt through a woman's outer skirt. B) I could be wrong about this but don't think they made a lot of men's coats in leather in those days. Not frock-coat style coats anyway. I had a similar nitpick with Lord Blackwood's leather greatcoat in the first RDJ Sherlock movie.)
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Very much enjoying this show! Hoping you'll have weekly reviews going forward!
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I admit that I thought there will be a whole lot more fighting and shooting going on in "Copper", but I also gotta say, I warmed to the style that is, and I'm really liking this show. But why oh why did they have to kill off Tanya Fischer's character, she's gorgeous. Get rif of Franka Potente instead I say!
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Yes, I've been watching Copper. And I can compare to Deadwood of HBO.
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I really liked molly. Eva is not good for kevin, Maybe she know's more about his wife missing(Ellen)? Poor Francis!!! He really loved molly. This show is like watching a great movie every week & hoping it does not end. Watch out elizabeth, if eva thinks your hot for corky,she will kill you too.The acting on this show is oscar worthy. (BBCA you are one of my fave channels now)Keep copper!!! Long live copper!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Thanx, Ryan! Didn't know this series to exist at all!

Gonna "marathon" tonight...
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I like it very much. I hope that it will become The Wire back in '800. A great period piece. I just have a blind trust in Tom Fontana.
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Solid show. Sometimes a little too dark for my tastes, but well-done and keeps my attention. Hope people give it a chance.
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Good things: Period piece, Irish music, Corcoran, accents(!), great side characters.



Bummer things: they killed my favorite prostitute, Sarah Freeman (same actress who played Jackie on VM, every Sarah scene I keep going "ugh, Jackie again")



Quick question: Have they said how old Annie Riley is? How much time has passed since her "marriage" and is she still 10?

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Good thing about BBC is that they aren't playing to stereotypes here. Sorry, but the black woman here is not a prostitute she is the doctor's wife.
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Sorry, that's not at all what I meant. It was a list of two things I think are bummers the first one being they killed off my favorite prostitute Molly (I was trying to avoid spoilers, but see that several other commenters have used her name), the second thing I think is a bummer is the use of Tessa Thompson to play Sarah Freeman.
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Haverford is played by Anastasia Griffith. Nolan is a character she plays. You make it seems that it's her real name. She is also Jamie Bamber's (Battlestar Galactica) sister.
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great show, Corky is bad ass and the rest of characters are great, you should review full episodes after all its beating rating records alongside Dr.Who :)

glad you wrote about it since its a great show and even more peeps should watch it
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dude, full fledged episode review needed for this epic show.......
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i'm glad you're reviewing it. i really like this show a lot and look forward to it every week.
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Solid historical police drama. Hopefully this will get at least 2 or 3 seasons worth of plot treatment. Also, you guys at TV.com should do weekly reviews of episodes, just saying...
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I am so happy the BBC America cares to give us the very best!
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We need more Copper reviews because this show f****** rocks.
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I totally agree with everything said here. I think people should check it out, it's certainly worth a watch. In regards to the latest episode I didn't see that throat slashing coming, I thought she would be around the whole series, it's certainly getting more and more interesting.
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I have to agree. Molly was a pretty good character. And they could have brought out a plethora of plots through her. Especially tension between the two friends that happened to sleep with her. But this is the BBC, they kill off people. And that is why they are better.
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"trollop-on-trollop throat-slitting" Hilarious Ryan. Well done.



I have been watching the show. I think it is a quality show. i expect nothing less from BBC. I think the overall story arc is well done and incorporated into the story as well as the case of the week. All of the characters are fantastic, and the mix between the five points and the rich is very well accomplished. The setting is good, and the time of the show is fantastic. I hope it lasts for a while.
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