Copper: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


The dark horse drama Copper is a decent way into its second season, so I thought it might be a good time to analyze its first. Fair warning to those who haven’t caught the early-America cop show: there be spoilers for the first season after the jump.

Copper is BBC America’s first original scripted television show, the network heretofore being the one-stop shop for all dramas costumed and from the UK. Being an unabashed Anglophile and former actor, I’m a natural sucker for costume dramas. Add to that I’m inarguably Irish and a resident of New York City, and I pretty much land right in the sweet spot for Copper‘s preferred demographic. I recently discovered the entire first season was available for streaming via Netflix, and promptly added it to my queue.

Nicely succinct plot synopsis via Wikipedia: “The series centers on Kevin Corcoran, an Irish immigrant police detective trying to keep the peace in the historical Five Points neighborhood in 1860s New York City while searching for information on the disappearance of his wife and death of his daughter. It explores the effects of the American Civil War as well as the social stratification involving New York’s aristocracy and African American population.”

The show is uneven but certainly interesting. I explore how and why below.

The Good


The first few episodes give us incredible insight into early forensic pathology. Matthew Freeman is a ridiculously good surgeon who also happens to be African American. The relationship between Irish immigrants and black New Yorkers is tenuous at best, but it’s quickly established that Freeman is at the top of his newly burgeoning game and our fearless hero relies on him to discern the cause and timeline of death for many of his cases.

In the first episode, Doctor Freeman deduces a murder victim died from blunt-force trauma to the head then quickly sketches the bruise before it fades so as to more easily identify the shape of the weapon. That’s pretty old school, and it’s also pretty badass.

Then we’ve got Francis Maguire, the defacto second lead of the piece, who is both incredibly well-written and incredibly well-acted. I like to think it’s telling that a quick visit to Copper‘s IMDB page reveals that Kevin Ryan, who plays Detective Maguire, receives top billing in the cast list.

I have never so related to a TV character. There were multiple times—many multiples of times—when I either said his next line out loud to the television before he did, or actually cheered because he called someone out on their clichéd television character BS. He is very much the personification of the audience’s internal monologue, and sometimes seems like the only real person in a scene because of it.

The cinematography and production design are fantastic, and the cold opens for each episode are some of the best I’ve seen this side of Breaking Bad. The place and setting also deserve a mention, as New York during the Civil War was a place rife with civil and political upheaval.

The Bad


It’s pretty clear that Kevin Corcoran (Corky) is supposed to be a sort of prototypical John McClane: a loose canon who follows his own moral code and isn’t afraid to deploy some rough stuff if his gut tells him the guy he’s pummeling for information isn’t a shining example of the human race. Except he so often comes across as an unhinged psychopath that it seems like nothing short of a miracle when the people he beats up actually turn out to be scumbags.

He’s also a victim of the laziest kind of writing, wherein we’re expected to be in love with him because all the ladies on the show happen to be. And I mean all the ladies on the show are in love with him, with the exception of Matthew Freeman’s wife, who’s too busy being starry-eyed over her husband—probably to clue us in we’re all supposed to love Matthew, too. It’s the ultimate writer’s sin of telling and not showing, because this poor man’s example of a tough-guy cop is certainly not setting any hearts aflutter on his own.

There’s also a recurring storyline throughout the first season dealing with a recently rescued pre-teen prostitute who routinely throws herself at Corky in an attempt to seduce him. His stalwart denial of her advances is presented as an indication of his inherent goodness, which makes me want to send a note to the writers explaining that refusing to have sex with a twelve-year-old child doesn’t make one a paragon of humanity, but merely a decent human being of the ordinary type.

However, count this character and her arc up there in “The Good” section, because if this was Law and Order: SVU, her story would end with her being adopted by the nice rich lady, and we’d never hear tell of the repercussions of a lifetime of sexual abuse.

The Ugly


Now obviously I’m not saying any of these ladies are actually physically repugnant. I’m not blind, and I’m also not in the business of degrading anyone based on their looks in the first place. But nary a one of these women comes across as a real person and it kills me.

Sarah, far left, plays Freeman’s wife and spends her days moodily keeping house and being slightly sad about her brothers having been lynched during a recent draft riot. Slightly sad as opposed to, I don’t know, absolutely devastated? Later in the season she has more to do by being nearly sexually assaulted and getting pregnant.

The other three are in love with Corky, all of whom he beds within days of each other and one of whom is killed by another in a fit of jealous rage, in spite of the two being “best friends.”

Forgive me as I respond with a resounding “ugh.”

The good news is, these ladies are all quite talented (especially Franke Potente, who you may recognize from Run Lola Run) and they manage to find hints of complexity in their often lackluster plotlines. I’m also willing to give a bit of pass to the bad writing for their characters, as there are obviously a couple of men who don’t seem quite like real people, either.

Verdict: In spite of my complaints, I found something to like in each episode, and happily burned through the whole season over the long weekend. While it’s surprising even to me that I would commit to a show whose protagonist I couldn’t find duller, there’s still enough richness in the stories surrounding his to keep my interest. I’ll definitely be catching up with the second season, especially since it adds Donal Logue sporting a full period-specific beard into the mix.

What? I have a thing for beards.

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One Comment

  1. I had to stop watching the first season midway through because of the repugnant story line with the child prostitute. The character was just repulsive and it all smacked of pedophilia. Gross.

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