Tag Archives: Copper

Ripper Street – Season 2

ripper_s2_7

 

The second season/series of Ripper Street began on BBC America in February, and finished last month. I have my ups and downs with this show, and can’t ever decide how I feel about it. But I never really love it, and the second season was more of the same. It’s the sort of show you watch, but it doesn’t really hold your interest, and when you’re done you can’t really remember what it was about.

The second season had Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) again leading a Whitechapel detective squad with his right-hand man, Sergeant Drake, and his American scientist, Homer Jackson. But it’s the private lives of all three that bring about most of the problems across the season arc. Reid begins to see a new woman, June Cobden, after his marriage had fallen apart.

lady-624x558

I like her more than I like him, to be honest, and I’m comforted to see she’s based on a real person. She’s a feminist, a leader, a politician, and very interested in reforms that can help poor families. As a bleeding-heart liberal woman, I am 100% happy about her. But I still don’t really like Reid. He hides behind the guise of a good, moral man. Perhaps he is as moral as a man can be in that position in that age. But you cannot be a good, moral man, who employs a personal ‘enforcer’. I was most pleased with this season because the show finally addresses this fact. Drake has a certain moral superiority over Reid, because though he is doing the ‘enforcing’, Reid is the one pulling the puppet strings. I get really irritated with shows (like Copper, and somewhat Ripper Street) that imply that you can be a good guy, and still shoot/beat/intimidate people in order to get your own way, and that that behavior is somehow allowed because you are in search of justice.  Nope. The ends do not justify the means.

In the previous season, Drake wanted to marry Rose, one of Susan’s girls. She rebuffed him, determined to be an actress/singer. He marries a different one of Susan’s girls. This tells me that more than he wanted Rose, he just didn’t want to be alone. Forgivable. But the one he does marry, Bella, turns out to have a lot of baggage. She used to be part of some sort of violent, incestuous, proto-cult. She drags Susan into the matter and things go from bad to worse there. Drake loses his wife, and probably most of his mind. He leaves the station and deals with his grief by putting his body through physical pain—he works menial jobs (gravedigging, etc.) during the day, and at night he is a ‘boxer’. I hesitate to even call it boxing, because he has his hands tied behind his back and people make bets about how many punches he can take before he passes out. I would liken his behavior to a 19th-century form of self-harm. Easier to deal with physical pain than the emotional.

But this foray away from the precinct puts Reid in a very awkward spot. He has always been able to keep his hands clean of the riff raff. He would nod at Drake, and Drake would punch witnesses until they talked. Without Drake around, Reid is forced to come up with alternative tactics, or forced to do the punching himself. That made me feel better, but by the end of the season this dynamic reverts to where it was, without much change on either side.

The other big character shift was the relationship between Jackson and Susan. He loses her trust and her love, and things go from bad to worse between them. Men are so stupid sometimes, and Jackson is definitely one of them. Susan is forced to go through a lot of horrible things to keep afloat after Jackson’s stupid decisions.

08-RIPPER-STREET-S02-E05-Homer-Jackson-and-Susan

The other constant on Ripper Street is the highly unlikely plot points, usually relating to new technology emerging at that point. The first season had the invention of video—in order to make snuff porn. This season, in addition to featuring proto-cults, there were opiates, people smuggling diamonds in their anuses, electricity scheisters that did something very disturbing to a farm animal in order to prove the safety of their form of current (sadly, this is based on a very real and very horrifying truth), telegraph messenger boys as a front for gay pedophiles, police corruption, a garroted man, Joseph Merrick (the elephant man), and several scenes with pig carcasses that I had to watch between my fingers because yuck.

The problem I really have with Ripper Street is the lack of depth. They put a lot of effort into salacious plots and nefarious villains, but the character development is sometimes lacking. Reid has almost no internal emotions portrayed, and people are too often separated into the wholly good or wholly bad. There are exceptions. The women are believable, and have the most depth. Drake is probably the only man that I think has a level of substance that makes him relatable. Despite Reid’s use of him as a bulldog and nothing more, Drake has an understanding of the world and of himself, and also a fear of those same two things, that make him the most interesting man on the show.

Ripper Street

BBC cancelled Ripper Street after season two. But the fans of this show pulled together and sent emails, signed petitions, etc. to get it renewed. And it worked! Sort of. Amazon is going to make the third season. It will air on BBC and BBC America, after being streamed online. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the show, that makes me feel good. I wish things like email campaigns or kickstarters had existed when I was younger. That being said, I’m not sure I’m going to watch season 3. Despite my love of all things Victorian, I just can’t get into this show. This is a show that often eschews emotional substance in favor of flashy scandalousness. I would prefer a show that did the opposite.

 

Copper, Season 2

Copper_S2_DVDThe second season of Copper ended last month, but I haven’t felt particularly excited to review it. The truth is, the show is just not exciting enough to talk about for an entire 500-word post.  But, if you were wondering whether you should watch it, I’m here to tell you you shouldn’t bother.

As season 2 opens, a lot is going on:

  • Corky has been reunited with Ellen (his wife), and they are living together with Annie (the Lolita from season 1), but things aren’t going well.  Ellen and Annie are both mentally disturbed, and their time together does nothing to improve either of them.
  • The 6th ward gets a new boss , Brendan Donovan. Corky likes him because he’s Irish, and he at least purports to want to bring order and justice to the seedy parts of town.
  • Copper-Blog-DonalRobert and Elizabeth are to be married, but Elizabeth is keeping the horrible secret that she was conspiring with Kennedy (the confederate traitor).
  • Dr. Freeman and Sara prepare to move back to 5 Points to confront their horrible memories of the race riots they endured, and so that Dr. Freeman can practice where his skills are needed

By the end of the season, a whole lot of shit has happened.  One of the women is dead, another is addicted to morphine, Lincoln has been assassinated, Sarah’s mother has been rescued from the deep South, Frances Maguire is reinstated as a detective after being cleared of all charges. Donovan proves to be formidable and despicable.  Dr. Freeman, Robert, and Corky are forced to remember and relive their horrible experiences in the war.

With all of this happening, you’d think the show would be truly compelling.  In trying to think about what has me so ‘meh’ about it, I can only land on the writing.  There’s little suspense, and emotional peaks and valleys for the characters are more like speed bumps.  Maybe it’s just the sheer number of characters we need to care about that makes it difficult, but…It’s almost as if the writers are afraid of being too climactic.  But this isn’t a Jonathon Franzen novel, it’s a TV show about an incredibly dramatic and violent time period.  They’re not afraid to show nudity and violence, but they do seem incapable of focusing on grief or tragedy or disgust in a quiet and overpowering way.  In the entire season, I never felt a strong emotional connection with the characters.  None of them.

Part of it is that we’ve all seen shows about the detective, obsessed with justice, willing to go to any length to see it done.  Luther comes to mind as a show where this is done perfectly.  But still, it’s a common trope.  If you’re going to make that the crux of your show, you have to do it in an unusual way, or do it unusually well.  I don’t think Copper accomplishes either thing.  And I think it’s got to be down to the writing. But I don’t know what goes into the directing, so maybe I’m not knowledgeable enough to point out the flaws there. I’ll let them share blame.

The show exists in a world where death is nearly constant, so I think it’s inability to show grief is what bothered me most. They devote almost an entire episode to the funeral/wake for Corky’s wife.  She’s been mentally ill, she was pregnant (did we ever find out who the father was?!), and then she killed herself.  What a better writer could do with all of that…but for all that happened, it’s as if she just died in her sleep one night after a peaceful life.  Death is something that (in my opinion) you can’t pretend you’ve experienced if you haven’t.  It seemed to me, watching this episode, that the people involved with it either had never experienced true grief, or were desperately pretending they hadn’t.  It didn’t ring true at all. Real grief, especially at an unexpected loss, involves a fair amount of numbness, of shock and inaction.  There should be anger, in this situation there should also be relief. And then more anger. But it was just flat, a flat grief that I have never experienced in my life.

I just read that the show won’t be returning for a third season.  Obviously I’m not terribly disappointed; I wasn’t going to be turning in either way.  On the other hand, I feel like it should be common practice for networks to either a-let showrunners know in time for the last episode to be a true finale or b-give the show one last episode, maybe during the summer, to create some closure.  I despise leaving a show behind on an open-ended episode.

The show had some compelling characters–I imagine this is down to the actors who played them–but they were never given enough to do.  I rooted for Corky, as I was meant to. I liked Robert and Eva.  Dr. Freeman is a tough one; he was presented as such a paragon that it’s difficult to take him seriously as a character.  But I liked him too.  These likeable characters were always bogged down by such tiresome secondary characters and plot lines that I never felt I had time to appreciate them in the show.  In fact, a lot of them are likeable because they are around such unsavory (or worse, boring) characters.

The whole season was just–and I feel terribly harsh for saying it–a waste of time.

 

 

 

 

 

TV Show Review: Whitechapel

Whitechapel tv series

Preparing for the premiere of the new period drama Ripper Street, BBC America recently aired the entirety of a similar series: Whitechapel.

Both series use the name of Jack the Ripper to place their shows within a rich history of mystery, of horrific crime, and of a specific place in London. Whitechapel is a small area of London, NE of the Tower of London. It’s pretty unremarkable when you consider all the things that have happened during the course of London’s history (see my post on Boris Johnson’s Life of London), but it is known world-wide because of Jack the Ripper, and because of all the things that changed for modern society, for the press, and for police work during the one year that Jack the Ripper terrorized the neighborhood.

It has been almost 150 years since Jack the Ripper committed his crimes, but he is still the best known serial killer in the world, and a source of endless fascination and theoretical postulating. So both of these shows are anchoring their (relatively standard) police dramas to the J-t-R myth in order to draw in viewers.  The problem inherent in this strategy is that after you talk about Jack the Ripper, almost every other case and every other villain is going to be anticlimactic.

Whitechapel was first broadcast in the UK in 2009 (US in 2011), and has had three seasons (series) so far. A fourth season is set to premiere in the UK this year.

This is a modern police procedural, but it attempts to draw a line between past crimes and current ones.  The first season is 6 episodes, all following a Jack-the-Ripper copycat. The main characters include:

Whitechapel-tvseries characters

DI Chandler (middle): The OCD new leader of the schlubby old-school homicide detectives in Whitechapel. Much of the show is devoted to his relationships with the other detectives, and his own neuroses. Played by the very posh Rupert Penry-Jones

DS Miles (left): This character is played by Phil Davis, who I recognized immediately as the murderer/cabbie from the very first episode of Sherlock. While watching that episode, I remember thinking that this guy was a great actor, so I was thrilled to see him in something else.  He plays Chandler’s second in command, and the two often butt heads on how to manage the other detectives and how to pursue cases.  But he is a very human character and fulfills a void left because of Chandler’s lack of connection with others.

Edward Buchanon (right): Edward is a Ripper-ologist during the first series, lending his expertise to the search for the copycat.  After that, the idea the show takes is that current crimes can be compared to older crimes and historical information can help to point police in the right direction. While this might be true on a large scale (e.g. knowing that women are more likely to kill by poisoning), I fail to see how comparing one specific modern crime to one specific historical crime can be considered accurate. There has to be a reason why the modern crime would happen in the same way as the historical crime. You can’t just assume a correlation!  At any rate, Edward manages the historical archives and offers his advice based on these historical data.

The first series, as I said, deals with a Jack the Ripper copycat.  I found this series the most exciting, and was let down when the following series dealt with the legend of the Kray brothers.  Their fame has not quite reached this side of the pond, so I had no connection with them.  In the third series, instead of focusing the entire 6-episode arc on one villain, there were three two-part episodes. I think this worked a bit better.  The last villain in particular, called the Mantis, was pretty scary.

I think season 2 was the low point for me, but it started to recover in season 3. DI Chandler’s OCD continues to plague him and his relationships with his fellow policemen are strained and rearranged due to his emotional problems.  Often, people with OCD are portrayed on TV in humorous or quirky ways (e.g. Monk) and it was interesting to see someone in a more serious role with this affliction.  It wasn’t humorous at all.

Miles and Chandler are full-fledged characters, but everyone else fades easily into the background. I could only name one other character on the show. That’s not the mark of good writing.

Plus, do we really need another police procedural? Is this different enough from CSI, Law and Order, Copper, etc. etc. etc.  Probably not.  So if we don’t need Whitechapel, do we need Ripper Street?

Ripper Street

Ripper Street premiered a few weeks ago in the UK, and in the US shortly after.  I’ll withhold judgment until I watch at least the first series.  Unlike Whitechapel, it is a period drama, taking place in 1889 in Whitechapel.  From what I can tell, it’s Copper in London.  I have hope for it because I do love Matthew Macfayden.  But I hope that attaching the Jack the Ripper name to the series isn’t the only thing they’ve done to make it more than your average cop show.

TV Show Review: BBC America’s gritty crime drama, Copper

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.