WARNING: Significant spoilers follow!
BBC America’s first original drama has arrived amid much fanfare, and, at least from this reviewer, a considerable amount of disappointment. I’d had very high hopes for this series, but if the first episode is anything to judge by, and to be fair, it might not be, then this show just isn’t anything like it should be.
Copper is set in New York City in 1864. The American Civil War is still a thing, but it’s slowly winding down. Meantime, there’s poverty at a level so extreme it makes the streets of modern day Lagos look like paradise. There’s also racism, sexism and a police force so corrupt that the hero of the show is someone who is only slightly less corrupt than the rest.
That hero, Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), is a real problem. There’s very little about the character that is sympathetic or likable, beyond the fact that he’s the only one who seems really interested in finding the real killer of a little girl. Otherwise he is, as I said, quite corrupt and these days would be bounced from any police force. He murders people, assaults suspects, steals and generally does things that should land him in prison. He may be a realistic depiction of the average cop of the that time and place, but he isn’t anyone I want to see more of, at least not at present.
None of the other characters are especially likable or interesting, either. We have the son of a wealthy man, another cop, a couple of prostitutes, and a black physician whose character practically screams, “Look how multicultural this show is!”
Beyond the characters, the story itself is very paint-by-numbers. As soon as we found out what the murder weapon was, the identity of the murderer was narrowed down to basically one potential candidate. While this does nicely set up some of the class problems that existed in America back then (and persist even today), it doesn’t really make for compelling police work.
Add to all of this a rather clunky script, certain elements on the characters that appear to be very anachronistic and a soundtrack that’s intrusive, obnoxious and also anachronistic, and you might start wondering why I rated this show as highly as I did. I’ll tell you why. I think it has a great deal of potential.
See, at present I’m willing to chalk up most of the problems with this episode to “pilot episode strangeness”. Give it one or two more episodes, and things might settle down and become more interesting. I also think it’s entirely possible that the Corcoran character may be getting set up to evolve into a paragon of policing. If that’s the case, I’ll be extremely happy, since as he stands, I don’t want to spend even another minute with him, much less nine more episodes.
Given that the show is from Barry Levinson, who has made some of the best movies of the modern era, I do think it’ll probably wind up going to great places. So while I end episode one with a feeling of unhappiness, I go into the next episode with a sense of optimism and hope.