TV review: Copper

From the August 16, 2012 edition

Period pieces are always better when they contain brass knuckles. This isn’t the only reason to recommend BBC America’s newest drama, “Copper,” about a cop working the infamous Five Points beat in mid-1860s New York, but brass-knuckle fisticuffs from guys wearing top hats are always welcome.

Irish immigrant copper Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) is our guide through the squalor. He and his partner, Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan), spend the first two episodes investigating a young girl’s murder.

Corcoran is a tough-as-nails cop — a former prize fighter and Union soldier — who’s got little patience for the criminal element. If your daughter is murdered and your wife disappears under mysterious circumstances, that will happen to you.

The investigation of the girl’s murder is a point of entry into this world, and that story mostly wraps up at the end of the second episode, but Corcoran’s ongoing obsession with his wife and daughter’s misfortune likely will drive the series going forward.

Weston-Jones is good, not great, as the badass with a broken heart and haunted past. He’s an authentic browbeater, and his kinship with the Five Points’ lower classes — black physician Dr. Martin Freeman (Ato Essandoh) and prostitute Molly (Tanya Fischer) — feels organic. Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid) is intriguing as a war buddy of Corcoran’s. The way Schmid percolates with Morehouse’s wanton abandon and genial shadiness under his aristocratic exterior is enticing.

“Copper” has its share of flaws — the set design is all right, but far inferior to the authenticity of period shows like “Mad Men” or “Boardwalk Empire,” and occasional plot developments are either obvious or forced. Covering up the weaknesses is some brutal action/violence and a willful excitement factor.

“Copper” should plow through case-of-the-week stories while developing the main players and their motivations to round out the series. It can’t all be brass-knuckle beat downs after all.