Do you like cop shows? Of course you do. Say, a show that opens with a bank robbery, fellas running away with the loot, cops in pursuit, gunplay and, shortly after the manly fistfight, our hero hopping into bed with a hooker?
Such a show is Copper (Sunday, Showcase, 9 p.m.), the highly touted and new foray into the U.S. market by the BBC. Made as an original for BBC America, it was created by Tom Fontana (Oz, Homicide: Life on the Street) and Will Rokos (the movie Monster’s Ball), and was produced and mostly made here in Canada by the Cineflix company. Whatever the complicated route to existence, it’s a real novelty.
That’s not to say it’s brilliant or it’s really bad. For all the fuss, it is surprisingly bland. This will actually suit some viewers.
The time is 1864 and the setting is New York. The shadow of the Civil War hangs heavily. The city is teeming with newly arrived immigrants, and nobody seems quite sure what function the newly created police department is supposed to perform. There is widespread crime, most people live in dire poverty, prostitution is rampant, and the cops don’t have much leverage apart from their guns and fists.
Our hero is Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) who is Irish and a former boxer. Corky, as he’s known, is also canny and has a good heart. When the show opens, he’s horrified to find that the 10-year-old girl he’s talking to is a prostitute, and much of the first episode concerns his attempts to save and protect her.
What’s odd about Copper is that it is set in the violent, lawless world of Scorcese’s Gangs of New York, but it adheres to a very contemporary TV-cop-show format. Our hero has a sidekick who is a rogue; his police bosses don’t trust him; and there’s even a wizard of a forensics expert who can help him solve crimes. This is 1864, remember.
At the same time, and interestingly, Copper manages to touch lightly on larger issues. The forensics guy, Freeman (Ato Essandoh), is a freed slave who is deeply uneasy about his status in the city. He tells Corcoran that he’s going to move his family to an area of New York, clearly the Harlem of the future, where he and his wife will feel safer. The politics of the establishment corralling the immigrant vote is also touched upon, and there’s a reminder that women can’t vote at all.
The show is a kind of hybrid. It’s violent and has a mystery, like most conventional police series on network or cable TV. And yet it’s a sumptuous piece of period-piece drama of the kind the BBC does so well. It lacks the skepticism and raw acerbity of the best of cable cop series – The Shield, Southland – and while it is slightly dark in tone, it has a sentimental core; it’s a time-warped NYPD Blue.
Given its pedigree, Copper is a vaguely dispiriting drama. These are early days, mind you, and it could come kicking to life after a few episodes, but right now it is merely another cozy Brit drama set in the past. It is suitable for audiences appreciative of Brit period pieces: interested in cable-drama for grownups, but wary of the rigour and toughness of such shows.
It’s a nice show, and that’s a damning assessment for those who expected the BBC’s first U.S. drama to be cable-worthy and substantial.
ALSO AIRING THIS WEEKEND
Common Law (Sunday, Showcase, 10 p.m.) follows Copper and is new to us, having aired earlier in the United States. It is utter nonsense; banality beyond toleration. Two cops, Travis (Michael Ealy) and Wes (Warren Kole), are mismatched and sent by their boss into couples counselling. There, the other couples assume they’re gay. They’re not, they’re just perambulating clichés. Pay no attention to them or this.
True Blood (Sunday, HBO Canada, 9 p.m.) ends its season with, we are told, formerly ruthless vampire Eric trying to make formerly nice-guy vampire Bill into less of a pill. There is also the matter of permanently crazy Russell Edgington, the vampire king of Mississippi (brilliantly played by Denis O’Hare), looking forward to feasting on Sooki (Anna Paquin) and her friends among the fairy folk. Nothing is as demented and inventive as True Blood.