“Copper,” the latest crime drama from “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Oz” creator Tom Fontana, makes a solid case for New York City-based police procedurals set long before the days of DNA workups and due process.
“Copper” takes place in the Five Points area of lower Manhattan in 1864, the same setting for Martin Scorsese's “Gangs of New York,” and while Fontana is clearly operating on a much smaller budget than Scorsese, he capably evokes the squalor of the notorious slum and the moral ambiguity of 19th century law enforcement.
Tom Weston-Jones plays Kevin Corcoran, an Irish immigrant who fought for the Union in the Civil War and returned to Manhattan to discover that his wife is missing and his young daughter is dead.
Now working as a New York City police detective, Corcoran is naturally haunted by the loss of his family, resulting in his ongoing protection of Annie (Kiara Glasko), a young girl rescued from prostitution.
Regardless of the case at hand, Corcoran's Civil War past is never far behind him: His main allies are two men from his Union Army days — wealthy scion Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid) and Dr. Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), a black coroner working within the rudimentary confines of mid-19th century medical technology.
Fontana incorporates familiar themes from his past work into “Copper”: the emotional underpinnings inherent in Corcoran's continued protection of Annie recall Tim Bayliss' series-long investigation of the Adena Watson case in “Homicide,” and the series deals directly with class divisions and police malfeasance.
Performances are strong even when the storylines veer into melodrama, but the real appeal of “Copper” is found in the human tragedy of the Five Points slum, a place Charles Dickens wrote about with great sadness during his visit to America, and its contrast to the extraordinary wealth and genteel corruption found on Fifth Avenue. As “Copper” continues beyond these 10 episodes originally shown on BBC America, Fontana surely has plenty of material ahead of him, because the pestilence and crime-filled Five Points would not be cleaned up until 25 years after the time period of this solid first season.
— George Lang