Recently picked up for a second season, the BBC police procedural Copper (2012) has a very rich premise — an Irish-American cop Kevin “Corky” Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) patrols the gritty streets of the Five Points district in New York City in the 1860’s during the Civil War. In addition to solving mid-19th century crimes with his team of raggedy police buddies — as well as Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), an African American doctor who is sort of like a crime scene investigator before there was such a thing — he must contend with corrupt superiors who aren’t much better than the criminals he pursues.
This is not a perfect show. The writing could be better; the acting is mostly mediocre. Perhaps, my biggest grievance is with Corky, himself. He’s too handsome, and his character doesn’t possess enough edge. Sure, he’s got plenty of vices — he routinely sleeps with prostitutes, and in one scene he beats up a local reverend in order to get information out of him. The thing is that in some ways he’s too much the Renaissance man – the way he doesn’t utter crass language, never treats women of the time with anything other than respect, and his general “do the right thing” attitude. This is a mid-19th century Irish American former pugilist and Civil War veteran; something tells me he would have picked up a few more bad habits in his lifetime. And that is why the show can sometimes feel inauthentic to me.
Still, the plots of this show are strong. There’s a very disturbing and strong developing plotline revolving around a homeless young girl whom Corky helps to save from a life on the street. Plus, Corcoran’s Sisyphean struggles with his own police superiors adds an excellent layer to the show and it’s fun to see how he finds ways to subvert their authority even as he’s solving crimes. Catching criminals for our Copper is easy; the hard part is making sure they pay for their crimes. ***