BBC Video // 2013 // 585 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jason Panella // January 17th, 2014
New York, 1865. There Are No City Limits.
The first season of Copper showed promise. Does the second season follow through?
Things finally seem to be calming down in the 1865 world of Kevin "Corky" Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones, World Without End). The Irish immigrant-turned-New York cop was reunited with his missing wife Ellen (Alex Paxton-Beesley, Alphas) at the end of the first season and has settled into something close to a normal domestic life (albeit one with former child prostitute Annie (Kiara Glasco) lurking around as a sorta-foster child). Corky is still cruising around Five Points with fellow detective Andrew O'Brien (Dylan Taylor, Covert Affairs), busting heads and taking names. Not busting heads with them: consistent scene-stealer Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan, Paddy's In the Boot), who is in the pokey for murder.
Elsewhere in New York, wealthy Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid, Being Human), Corky's friend former commander in the Union Army, is preparing for his nuptials to social climber Elizabeth Haverford (Anastasia Griffith, Damages), who may or may not be in league with the Confederate spies who tried to blow up New York last season. Dr. Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh, Elementary) and his wife Sara (Tessa Thompson, Veronica Mars) round out the core cast; the former slaves leave their rural home to move to the Five Points and the now-vacant medical practise there. And brothel owner Eva (Franka Potente, The Bourne Identity)? She still gets a few lines here and there.
Do you want the good news first, or the bad news? We'll go with the good news: after an uneven first season, the Barry Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam)-produced Copper improves on most fronts. The plots are a bit tighter, the acting less hammy, and the increased budget gives Five Points a believable depth that the show lacked in the first season. Expanding its second season to 13 episodes, Copper also ditches the feeble attempts to be CSI: Historical Slum in favor of some longer-running story arcs. The show starts making good on some of its promises from the first season, in other words.
Much of the new-found narrative urgency comes from the arrival of Tammany Hall cigar-chewer Brendan Donovan (Donal Logue, Terriers). Donovan assumes oversight of the boys at the Five Points precinct and sends them out after a series of increasingly crazy cases, including one that involves a deadly ring of money forgers. Logue is fantastic in most of his scenes, and his character acts as a lynchpin for the season's various plot threads. The second season also integrates some historical events (a speech from Frederick Douglass and the inauguration of President Lincoln) much better than it did the first time around; with this and a more substantial sense of set design, Copper occasionally feels like it takes place someplace other than a soundstage for once.
The bad news? Despite some tweaks, showrunners Tom Fontana (Oz) and Will Rokos (Monster's Ball) still can't get the characters to resemble real people. Corky is a significant step up from the tortured caricature he was in the first season, but he -- along with most of the major characters -- are still various shades of drunk and miserable (or opium-addicted and miserable, in Elizabeth's case). Copper rarely digs past the surface, so it's infrequent that we get more than "Morehouse is miserable because he's been betrayed" or "Corky is miserable because his noble heart is heavy with tragedy" or "Francis isn't that miserable, because he's Francis" and that's that. Like in the first season, the Freemans tend to be the lone island of sanity in some insane story-related waters, and their plots suffer less than the other protagonists if only because fewer bundles of misery are lumped on them over time.
Copper's second season also ups the grit factor significantly, which doesn't always work. Exploding faces look more explody, stabbed throats looked more stabby, and the quota for almost-nudity and ugly social circumstances goes up a few ticks. Look, we get it: life was awful for most people during the Civil War, a point the first season fell back on as often as it could. Cruelty ruled the narrow alleys and back-rooms of Five Points, sometimes because of the police and not in spite of them. But instead of attempting to place this in any sort of meaningful context, it's just "things were crappy back then."
But the biggest bit of bad news? Days before the season two finale aired, BBC America announced that Copper, once the network's highest-rated show, would not be renewed. Despite my complaints above, I thought the show really had become better in many ways that would really have paid off in a third or fourth season. Alas, this isn't going to happen.
BBC America's release of Copper: Season Two includes all 13 episodes (approximately 42 minutes each) on three discs. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer works well enough, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track sounds full and clear. As for extras, it's a major step down from the slew on the first season's set: we get "Set Tours" (8:16), "Insiders" (4:51) and "Character Profiles" (2:42), which are exactly what they sound like.
While Copper has problems, it takes small steps forward with the second season. Too bad we won't get to see what happens with a third season. So pour yourself a finger of rotgut and wallow in the filth of Five Points.
A posthumous "not guilty" for our departed Copper, cut down
like a dog in the gutter.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 585 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
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