After my stint screening the post-Civil War brutality depicted in "Hatfields and McCoys," I was a little nervous about watching "Copper" (10 pm, Sunday, BBC America), a crime series set in 1860s New York City.
Thankfully, while it doesn't dodge the violence, brutality or griminess of the era, the depiction isn't graphic. It is, however, ambitious (maybe overly so) and a bit slow moving.
"Copper" is the story of Det. Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), an Irish-American cop working in the Five Points neighborhood, the same area depicted in "Gangs of New York." (And the same issues.) Corcoran is a tortured fella, in part, because his wife has disappeared and his daughter was murdered. He's trying to find her (and the killer) by any means necessary. Corcoran has a moral code, but let's just remember this is waaay before the concept of Miranda rights. Beating up, shooting, stabbing, it's all part of good police work.
Among his friends are Det. Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan) and Andrew O'Brien (Dylan Taylor), who Corcoran saved in the Civil War (by cleanly cutting off his leg.) O'Brien's father is a wealthy and powerful industrialist (Kyle Schmid), who is looking to control Five Points through an early form of gentrification. Another Corcoran pal is Dr. Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), an African American who performs uncredited medical procedures and autopsies for the detective. He has a skittish wife (Tessa Thompson).
That's a lot and there are more storylines and characters -- a crooked sergeant, a shady captain, a couple of hookers, a runaway. It leads to a lot of explaining in the first episode and not enough drama. Worse, the show takes itself too seriously. The grim era and tone, the seeming constant darkness (even when it's sunny, it looks overcast) gets to be a bit of a drag in the first episode. We know it's a drama, but even at the worse times people can find light.
Still, I think the second episode was stronger. The plot threads seemed to be coming together, there was more action and characters came into sharper focus.
The folks behind "Copper" include Tom Fontana, who also co-created "Oz," "Homicide: Life on the Streets," and "St. Elsewhere" and Will Rokos, who's behind "Monster's Ball" and "Southland." (Barry Levinson is executive producer.) Those track records deserves faith that they'll get things humming, and with 10 episodes planned, there's time.