'Copper' review: BBC America original

Tom Weston-Jones plays a tough Irish cop in Tom Weston-Jones plays a tough Irish cop in New York's Four Points neighborhood in the rollicking 1860s in BBC America's "Copper." Photo Credit: MCT

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REVIEW

SERIES PREMIERE "Copper"

WHEN | WHERE BBC America's first original drama debuts Sunday night at 10

REASON TO WATCH You think New York City is dark, dirty and dangerous now?

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Check out lower Manhattan's low-rise landscape in 1864. A police force is taking shape, but just barely. It's new, self-interested, brutal, beholden to the powerful and wary of all those arriving immigrant "Irish, heinies and emancipated Negroes."

Among that lot would be our protagonist, Kevin Corcoran (British import Tom Weston-Jones), a police detective who returned from the Civil War to grieve his dead daughter and seek his missing wife. He uses war buddy Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), a free black and skilled surgeon, as his unofficial medical examiner. They're in league with rich kid Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), a war amputee with some crazy ideas about equality between social classes.

Add Corcoran's two-fisted cop pals, the ladies at the local bawdy house (Franka Potente, of "The Shield" and the "Bourne" movies, is superb in anything), an orphan girl, a charitable society wife and others crossing paths in his rough-and-tumble Five Points 'hood.

MY SAY "Copper" resounds as a grimy, gritty portrait of a burgeoning city that seems a western outpost on the country's East Coast -- a pioneer attempt at instituting American ideals among many who saw no need for a new order. The show's roiling stew of moral questions, corruption, money and power should seem familiar to fans of its producers, Barry Levinson and series co-creator Tom Fontana of "Homicide" and "Oz."

The body count is high, the sexuality frank, with brass knuckles and broken bones as common as the opium, booze and morphine. Sunday's pilot episode presents a lot to take in, but the second hour follows that setup with a more manageable episodic structure that offers some resolution -- and perhaps a few too many pat or handy happenings.

But this is commercial series TV, so what kind of accusation is that, really? The characters hold promise, the show looks swell, the stories reflect rich history and the makers have earned our trust.

BOTTOM LINE "War-made millionaires," they say. Think "Copper" has something to say about today?

GRADE B+

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