Sunday, September 9, 2012


I've been meaning to write about this BBC America dramatic show that began running a few weeks ago. I had the idea I already did, but when I checked the archives I didn't see it. COPPER is set in the Manhattan of the mid-1800s, beginning during The Civil War. The main character is a detective, which were known as "coppers" because of the coppers badges they wore on their otherwise civilian clothes.

Turns out the two competing police forces in Manhattan had joined forces and the unformed ones we mostly associate with the period were from one force and the un-uniformed detectives were from the other. The hero is a Civil War veteran, as well as an ex boxing champ, who saved the life of a wealthy Manhattanite whose father then got our man appointed as a detective. Our hero can often be sensitive and caring but at times his heroics can also be casually brutal and insensitive.

The period and the way its handled is a little reminiscent of Scorcese's GANGS OF NEW YORK but not as colorful. For budgetary and other reasons the sets are dark and cramped and mostly shot in what reads as sepia, like a photograph from those times, rather than the reality which Scorcese captured of the flamboyantly colored clothing and styles then.

The early episodes begin right after the days when GANGS OF NEW YORK ends, that is after the "draft riots" that paralyzed Manhattan and left many dead, including black New Yorkers who shared the poorest sections of New York with the immigrant Irish but ended being strung up by many of those same Irish when The Civil War dragged on and they kept being forcibly inducted into the army to fight.

One of the leads in the show is a free black doctor with forensic skills that our hero met in the war and relies on to help solve cases but has to pretend it's his own detective skills because using the knowledge of a black man would put both of them and their jobs in jeopardy. There is a bit too much sensationalism at times, but the hardness of the characters it comes from seems historically viable, and I so love the history of this period in New York that I'm able to overlook the sometimes seemingly contrived aspects of the plot because the details ring so true to my knowledge.

There's some fine acting as well, and from actors I don't know for the most part. I'll let you discover them for yourself, if you're interested. I know I am. I'm definitely hooked.


EDP said...

Glad to see this commentary about one of my new favorite shows. You've covered it well, but I wanted to add an aside that I found interesting: a friend of mine is a costume designer for movies and TV (Liberal Arts is one of hers). She's working on a project now that's set in the same period as Copper, and when she flew to London to get costumes the supplier — who would ordinarily have had a lot for her to choose from — was almost out. Seems Copper got all the good stuff, and what was left was gobbled up by an unusual number of other productions set in the same era. Took everyone by surprise!

AlamedaTom said...

Hey Lal:

Been diggin' "Copper" from minute one. I hope it sustains its excellence.

~ Willy

Lally said...

Me too Willy. I love any show where they regularly use the word "boyo" since I regularly still use it meself. But I have to admit the sensationalism of some of the brutality sometimes makes me cringe, though probably true to some extent to the era.

And EDP that's an interesting story and I can see why. There's a lot of costumes used in the street and bar and houses of ill repute scenes. I've donned a few 19th Century costumes myself like in WHITE FANG and DEADWOOD. Loved it.

tpw said...

I discovered that I do get BBC America on OnDemand & started watching this show recently & also am enjoying it. Late 19th-century NY is a period that I find fascinating. Coincidentally, there's a new novel (murder mystery)out called The Gods of Gotham, set in 1845, a year that saw a conjunction between the arrival of the Famine Irish & the start of the NYPD. It's by Lindsay Faye (sp?), who does very well in bringing the period to life.

Lally said...

Thanks for the tip, tpw.