I debated whether to review this show or not. I went back and forth. It’s on BBC America, so…that almost automatically qualifies it to be on the blog, right? On the other hand, it takes place entirely in America with zero British characters. Well that’s a problem.
The actors are a mixed group. The lead, Tom Weston-Jones is British, as is Anastasia Griffith. Other actors were Canadian, Ghanian, Irish, plus whatever Franka Potente is, besides adorable. German, isn’t she? So none of that is much good, although it all has a very United Colors of Benetton feel to it. The show creators are not British. It’s shot in Canada.
So perhaps it doesn’t fit on this blog, but I’m going to review it anyway because it is on BBC America, and it gives me a chance to talk about the channel and how they seem to be shifting. This show is entirely American, and other shows seem to be more catered to Americans lately. Another example is Richard Hammond’s Crash Course, created specifically for an American audience, it didn’t air in the UK until months after it aired here.
Copper is BBC America’s first original scripted show. I can see why Copper makes a good fit for exploration into scripted shows for BBC America. It’s a period drama, which is what the BBC does better than anyone else. It’s not, however, a Jane Austen miniseries. It has a lot more violence and is much more masculine than most of the period dramas you find on BBC proper. It makes Downton Abbey look about as masculine as a pink tutu. So they can tap into some of the BBC America demographic that tunes in for Top Gear and Bond marathons. The show is very adult with lots of violence and some weird sexual stuff (10-year-old prostitute/sex slave, for example). BBC does that as well. I’m still scarred from some of the stuff in Luther.
I’m glad BBC America is moving into original programming, but I don’t know why they feel that all of that programming has to be US-centric. Surely, we’re tuning in because we like the U.K., right? I feel a little let down that they think we won’t watch unless it takes place in America.
But enough rambling. Is the show any good?
Well…I’m not confident enough to say it was great, or to highly recommend it.
The combination of sets and CGI scenes makes a very convincing 19th-century New York, and that’s perhaps the most interesting part of the show. It very realistically recreates a time and a place and makes those lives seem real an accessible. I’m not an expert on 19th-century New York, so I can’t tell how accurate the sets, costumes, etc. are, but the people and the place feels real. Harlem is desolate farmland, and ‘Five Points’ is a slum occupying what is now the general area of City Hall and Chinatown. Central Park is inhabited by sheep only, from what we see. Seeing these places as they were is surreal, but sort of wonderful.
The actors are good, particularly Tom Weston-Jones as the main character, Kevin Corcoran. His story is the most compelling, but not the most tragic we encounter. He has returned from fighting for the Yankees in the Civil War, to find that his wife is missing and his daughter has been murdered. He asks every day if anyone has seen his wife or a locket she prized. He is on the hunt for answers.
Like Luther, House, and many other lone wolf heroes, Corcoran is a moral man who will go to any lengths to accomplish his tasks–including doing some fairly immoral things. It’s a pretty wild time, and we see fairly quickly that (at least for Corky), being a pacifist or less willing to force his way through barriers, just wouldn’t get it done in his world. He’s got no problem with violence, when he thinks it’s justified, and I found it hard to empathize with him for this fact.
Most of the wealthy characters are apathetic at best and terrible at worst. The audience isn’t given much to care about with their characters. The only possible exception is Robert Morehouse, a soldier with Corky in the war, who makes a fairly impressive journey from drunken heir to honorable man by the end of the season.
Many of the poorer characters are more evil and more compelling all around. There’s Eva (Franka Potente), the street-smart brothel runner, Annie, the 10-year-old Lolita, and Francis, the most Irish of Irish cops, who is harboring more than a few secrets. Dr. Freeman is a particularly likable black doctor who has just moved with his agoraphobic wife to Harlem, but consults on Corky’s cases in a forensic capacity.
So there are compelling characters (though you shouldn’t go in expecting to truly like any of them) and great work done with costumes and sets. I think that the writing is what holds back this show from being more enjoyable. There are plenty of twists and reversals of fortune, mysteries and conflicts, but for some reason I wasn’t emotionally invested in much of what happened. I’m not skilled enough at dissecting shows to pinpoint exactly why, but I think it has to do with the dialogue. I found that often during this show I would want to do something else while I watched, from playing solitaire on my phone to checking emails. It didn’t keep me riveted enough to sit and watch. The dialogue exists in a sort of no-man’s-land between modern utilitarian speech and the more fancified 19th-century variety. It lacks the poetry and artistry of true period speech, which can be used to create an incredible emotional tension (based entirely on what isn’t said) and it isn’t quite as compelling as modern speech. It just isn’t good enough.
I would only recommend this show to people who are particularly interested in the period or who really loved the film Gangs of New York. I may tune in for the second season (I haven’t decided yet), but it’s not a must. I will say, however, that anyone who is a facial hair aficionado must watch this show. It’s got it all. Corky is always sporting an aggressive five o’clock shadow, but there are also full beards,
something I’ll call mustache chops,
and, my favorite, the Martin Van Buren:
Copper has already been picked up for a second season, so tune in next year for your follicle fix.