First Watch: Copper – “Surviving Death” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Have you ever wanted to watch a western that isn’t actually a western (because it takes place in New York City), but shares the same time period and sort of kick-ass-and-take-names bravado that we expect from an Old West police (or Raylan Givens) so that it feels enough like a western that we can call it an almost western? If that eloquent and totally-not-confusing  description didn’t work for you, how about Justified meets Gangs of New York?

Yeah? Me too.

Let’s talk about BBC America’s Copper.

Copper follows Kevin “Corky” Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), an Irish immigrant  working as a police detective (“copper”) who serves in Five Points, Manhattan a year after the Draft Riots during the American Civil War. Corcoran works primarily alongside two fellow detectives: short-tempered, pugnacious Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan) and not-yet-characterized Andrew O’Brien (Dylan Taylor) — the three of which open the show with a violent shootout against a few bank-robbing criminals. So far, the main purpose of the two other detectives is to reveal background information about Corcoran’s past — though, Maguire does have some pretty badass moments in that shootout.

The pilot episode deals with the death of a young girl, which Corcoran believes to have been a murder due to some strange inconsistencies. Corcoran takes the body of the girl to his acquaintance, Dr. Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), who reluctantly assists him with determining the cause of death for the girl. Dr. Freeman’s initial resistance is due to the fact that he is trying to move out of Five Points after two of his wife’s brothers were lynched during the Draft Riots the year before, but his desire to help bring justice to the dead girl gets the better of him.

While Freeman diagnoses the cause of death, Corcoran obsesses over the case: neglecting his duties to collect the taxes for his superiors in favor of finding the girl’s murderer. This pursuit leads to some good, old-fashioned interrogation scenes featuring Corcoran viciously beating the answers out of a man working as a guard for the brothel where he suspects the girl was killed.

It’s clear throughout the pilot that the sixth precinct might have some problems with corruption, especially in its leadership. The relationship that is being established between Corcoran and his superiors, Sgt. Padraic Byrnes (David Keeley) and Cpt. Ciaran Sullivan (Ron White), is similar to the relationship between The Wire‘s McNulty, Rawls and Burrell. Corcoran, eager to do ‘real police work’ and clean up Five Points, constantly collides with the corrupt Byrnes and politically-focused Sullivan in the pilot, and I’m certain that the struggle between ‘real’ police and ‘political’ police will be a reoccurring theme in Copper, as it was in The Wire.

While I wasn’t blown away by the pilot of Copper, I wasn’t expecting to be. There are few television shows that are properly polished in their first episode and Copper is no different (Justified, Sherlock, and Hannibal come to mind as shows that were). That being said, I can see the promise in this series and I am ready for more. So, why not give America a belated birthday present and watch a British show about an Irishman trying to clean up the streets of one of the most notorious areas in Civil War America? It’s the least you can do.

  • Rating: “Ready for more”.
  • Comment: In the midst of a seemingly never-ending sea of Top Gear and Doctor Who reruns (not complaining),  BBC America’s first original television series shines like, well, copper.
  • You might like Copper if you like: costume dramas, crime dramas, westerns, Gangs of New York, Justified, The Wire.

Copper is currently in its second season, with episodes airing on BBC America at 10 PM PST on Sundays. You can also catch up on the first season on Netflix.

About Daniel

I'm a guy who spends way too much time playing board games and watching television with his friends. View all posts by Daniel

4 responses to “First Watch: Copper – “Surviving Death” (Season 1, Episode 1)

  • NotMikey

    Damn good show, can’t wait for the second season to be up on Netflix.

  • Josie Kafka

    Daniel, nice review! Are you going to review more episodes of this show? I watched this when it premiered and wanted to like it so much , but got turned off by the nineteenth-century CSI-stuff (since that’s just not how they did things back then). I’d love to know if I should give it a second try.

  • Daniel

    Thanks, Josie! Our current compromise when it comes to completed season of currently airing shows is that we only do the first and last episode (a first impression and overall season review) so that we can catch up to the current season where we try to do every episode. However, there will probably be a “Turning Point” somewhere in-between, so you’ll at least have an idea about what episode I get hooked (if at all) on the show.

    That being said, I do try my best to please our readers (it’s a good part of the reason we’re doing this!), so if enough people want us to bend our rules for a show, I’m sure we could try to work something out.

    So, short answer: Yes, I will have a “Turning Point” for Copper sometime soon, I imagine.

  • MistressCinder

    Copper is currently my favorite show. Thank you for spotlighting it!

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