The introductory episode of any series is always a tricky proposition. Very often necessary explanatory exposition bogs down the story or drowns out the action. At best, this is forgivable as the viewers have to be introduced to the characters and their backstory as well as the premise of the show. At worst, this can be endlessly boring and drive eyes away from the show. With BBC America’s Copper, however, the first hour is an exceptionally paced, written and acted piece of television.
Series creators Will Rokos and Tom Fontana give us a script that should be everyone’s blueprint for how to start off a show. Within the first few minutes they let us know what kind of series Copper is. At its heart, Copper is a police procedural, but it is refreshingly different for being set in 1864 New York City. Rokos and Fontana have no qualms with showing us how justice was enacted nearly a century and a half ago while at the same time imbuing our main character with a little more righteousness than his professional superiors.
Kevin Corcoran is a troubled soul, but one that has an unwavering devotion to doing what is moral and right. However, he is not above using a pair of brass knuckles and other means to beat the truth out of a suspect. There are a few conversations along the way that illuminate the basic details about Corcoran’s past. He’s a Detective who is an Irish immigrant and a Civil War veteran. He returned home to find his child murdered and his wife missing. Additionally, he has a shared history from the war with Dr. Matthew Freeman, a black man considered to be on the lower end of society, and Robert Morehouse, one of New York’s elite.
Both of his war pals help Corcoran in his investigations. Morehouse indirectly guides the detective through the mire of upper-crust politics and power. The war has changed Morehouse and he no longer considers himself above any man and seems to hold the same desire for justice as our hero while walking a fine line in keeping his status and pointing out the corruption inherent in the elite. Dr. Freeman is Corcoran’s unofficial forensics expert. He has a shrewd, scientific mind, but, due to his societal status, will never get credit for his role in solving cases. Without both men, Corcoran might not gain vital clues in his investigations, yet he must explain their help as his own deductions lest their involvement be made known and their findings invalidated. This added layer is one of the more intriguing aspects of the show.
Rounding out his circle of friends are Corcoran’s deputies, fellow Irishman Francis Maguire and hen-pecked but kind-hearted Andrew O’Brien. And then there is the woman whose arms Corcoran finds comfort in, Eva Heissen, the Madame of Eva’s Paradise, a local saloon and brothel. All three know of Corcoran’s history and are all somewhat protective of anyone prying for more information on that past, no matter how well-intentioned. Much like Morehouse and Freeman, we learn just enough about these three to intrigue us and make us want to know more, all without bringing the narrative to halt. Every facet we learn about Corcoran and the other characters serves to pique our interest while at the same time propelling the story forward.
The first episode goes for a powerful story as it involves the murder of a child. This is obviously a case that hits Corcoran very personally, but it is also complicated by the fact that, while carrying the dead girl’s body, the detective sees the very same girl running through the streets. There is nothing supernatural going on and the answer to the mystery leads to some dark places, but, again, it is a very interesting story.
In the end, Copper takes the traditional cop show procedural, frames it in an unfamiliar era and mixes in an intriguing cast of characters. All of this makes for a show that, while somewhat familiar, feels new and different and, much like the very best dramas, leaves you anticipating the next episode. This is one of the most dynamic, best written and best acted first episodes I’ve seen in a long time. With quality this high out of the gate to build upon I am eagerly looking forward to the rest of the season. As their first original scripted series, BBC America has struck gold.
Set in 1864 New York City, Kevin Corcoran returns home from the Civil War to find his daughter has been murdered and his wife has disappeared. Distraught and searching for answers, Corcoranís relentless quest to find justice for his family fuels his pursuit to help the unfortunate residents of Five Points. Assisted by Sixth Precinct partner and friend, Detective Francis Maguire and Detective Andrew OíBrien, Corcoran goes the extra mile when investigating a crime, much to the dismay of his superiors.
More often than not, Corcoranís investigations lead him to the steps of the elite citizens of Fifth Avenue. When a young girl is murdered in Five Points, he finds himself at the home of trusted friend and Manhattan aristocrat, Robert Morehouse. Mustered out of the 71st regiment with Corcoran, Morehouse feels more at home with the immigrants in Five Points than with high-society types. When Corcoran digs into the girlís murder, Morehouse sets him on the trail of those who believe their status puts them above the law.
Corcoranís scientific methods of deduction when solving a case are solely the work of an African-American comrade, Doctor Matthew Freeman. But, Freemanís work must be kept secret as itís sure to be invalidated simply on the grounds of his race. When Freeman moves his wife to the up-and-coming African-American community of Carmansville, Corcoranís investigative territory becomes wider.
Whether saving the downtrodden in Five Points, guarding the elites of Manhattan, or protecting the civil liberties of African-Americans, Kevin Corcoran is a valiant and tenacious detective intent on delivering justice for the powerless.