For about as long as people brought their workday to a close by sitting in front of the television set there has been polices procedural dramas. Good law abiding citizens were able to sit in the safety of their living rooms and watch criminals perform their exploits only to be tracked down and brought to justice by the police. I doubt a season has gone by in sixty years without several police or detective series represented. With the BBC expanding steadily on to our shores by means of an increasing number of cable networks and streaming video services offering BBC America programing it was certain that they would try their hand at the American detective series. The result was their first scripted dramatic show, ‘Cooper’. It was an unusual blend of the historically based period drama that BBC is famous for with a touch of the popular forensic investigations that comprise an overwhelming number of our crime mysteries are based. It was a bold experiment with a great deal of potential but was cancelled after only two seasons before it had an opportunity to secure a wider audience and solidify its narrative voice.it attempted to blend two very different types of series in a novel way and although I personally felt it was beginning to gel the network was of a different opinion.
The titular protagonist of the shoe is Kevin "Corky" Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), an immigrant from Southern Ireland and distinguished veteran of the Civil War. Although the war was in its waning days Corky has returned to civilian life as a detective for the New York City Police Department. During the war he saved the life of Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmidt), the son of an extremely wealthy and powerful industrialist. He lives in the pinnacle of high society on Fifth Avenue. There the only blacks or Irish to be found are in service to the rich. Corky, by merit of his close friendship with Robert is able to move rather freely in that social strata tolerated but not accepted. Robert is the typical lusty son of money whose lack of one leg does not hinder his enjoyment of life. He helped Corky obtain his position but the Irishman’s quick wit, inquisitive mind and burly demeanor makes him a natural for a detective in the worse section of New York, the Five Points. Not long before the start of the series’ time frame this area was the ignition point of the city wide draft riots that had the military bombard the neighborhood from the river. The streets go five Points were populated by criminals, brothel, saloons and the indigent.
The CSI slant is provided in a quite ingenious way. Corky has a close friend, Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), a freed slave and one of the first African-American physicians. He is able to secure a sufficient practice among the former slave to move uptown to the pastoral area, Harlem with his wife Sarah (Tessa Thompson). There is a great mutual respect between Corky and Matthew. At that time the Irish occupied a meager notch above the African-American in the social hierarchy. Mathew is not only a compassionate and capable healer his inquisitive mind and perchance for science makes him invaluable as a pathologist for Corky. These characters are among the list of principle players but by no means represent an inclusive one. They are, however, a brilliantly constructed cross section of the socio-economic classes of the time; wealthy white Protestants, poor Irish Catholic immigrants and freed slaves recently moved north. All of them have at least one thing in common. In one way or another they are looking for opportunities to improve their station. In that they are separated only by scope ranging from getting by to influencing national events. One of the best aspects of ‘Copper’ is the specific backstory of Corky. He is able to move between the dominant classes with relative ease. This serves a twofold purpose. It provides an efficient means to introduce the audience to the rigid social structure of the mid 1860’s but it makes Corky a superior detective. By being able to work with the poor whites, black and follow leads into the extravagantly appointed homes of the wealthy Corky’s cases are varied to s degree otherwise not readily feasible.
There is also one other segment of old New York that has to be accounted for, women. Like the menfolk the women are categorized along sharp lines of demarcation. A woman can be high born like Elizabeth Haverford (Anastasia Griffith), an Englishwoman married to one of Morehouse’s friend. On the other end of the spectrum are prostitutes. Here the example is Eva Heissen (Franka Potente), an immigrant from Prussia and a shrewd business woman. This acumen comes in handy; Eva is the madam of the local brothel. This is another point of commonality between rich men and poor, they want to have sex. After being rescued by Corky a young girl barely twelve, Annie Reilly (Kiara Glasco) is initially placed with Eva but eventually becomes the ward of Elizabeth. Despite her young age she is already a harden prostitute who has her eyes set on Corky. In the second season a familiar face is added to the cast, Donal Logue as Brigadier General Brendan Donovan. He is the new Captain of the police and political boss of the neighborhood. He doesn’t mind graft and corruption as long as his men keep it in check and he gets his cut.
The first season focused on a plot to burn New York to the ground, something that historically did occur. Woven through this was a conspiracy with the Southern loyalist to position the Booth brothers to assassinate President Lincoln. Following up after this in the second and unfortunately final season the aftermath is depicted as the nation struggles to remain together. Among sources of television programming there are none better than BBC for series set in a particular time in the past. They know how to capture the essence of the period from the broad stokes of the historical setting to the minute details of authentic props and costumes this series is greatly benefited by a cast of actors able to elicit the nuances of the characters they are portraying so convincingly that it is easy to forget what century you are in.
These were brutal times and even though Corky is the protagonist he is not opposed to beating a confession out of someone he is reasonably certain is guilty or utilizing painful integration methods to obtain crucial information. He was still better than his fellow officers, with most of them it is frequently difficult to tell who was more dangerous or corrupt, the criminals or the police. This had a considerable amount of untouched potential but at least BBC America is out to a good start.
Cast Commentary with Tom Weston-Jones, Franka Potente, Kyle Schmid, Anastasia
Griffith And Ato Essandoh