June 24, 2013



COPPER:  Sunday 10PM on BBCAmerica

A tale of two low-rated series:  BBCAmerica’s two original scripted dramas COPPER and Orphan Black had comparable ratings in their first seasons.  Copper garnered a higher number of older fans (600K total viewers even after its initially higher-rated first few episodes, compared to just 3-400K for Orphan Black–which in fairness aired on much lower-rated Saturdays), but both needed rounding up to reach 0.2 in 18-49 year olds.  Nevertheless, it’s Orphan Black that’s building all the excitement and momentum.  The possibility of Tatiana Maslany getting an Emmy nomination for her spectacular lead performance has moved from “insane” to merely “long-shot,” and while there’s no guarantee the show’s ratings will explode when it comes back in 2014, it’s certainly poised the way other cable dramas have been for a big leap forward.  Even if the ratings stay low, Orphan Black has already put BBCAmerica on the map, exactly what a small network wants when it commits resources to original production.

And Copper?  It’s a classy drama and earns some prestige points, but its first season never generated much enthusiasm.  The series has made some changes for Season 2, bringing in new showrunner Thomas Kelly (previously a writer/producer on Blue Bloods) and having Donal Logue join the cast as a former Union general and Tammany Hall politician who runs the show’s Five Points district and is thus unofficially hero detective Kevin Corcoran’s (Tom Weston-Jones) new boss.  In its season premiere, though, there are few signs of any major improvement.

The season premiere, written by Kelly (from a story by series creators Tom Fontana and Will Rokos) and directed by Larysa Kondracki, picks up on last season’s storylines a few months later.  Corcoran is now living with his long-thought-dead wife Ellen (Alex-Paxton Beesley), who hasn’t gotten over the fact that she accidentally killed their daughter, and with sometime child prostitute Annie (Kiara Glasco).  Corcoran’s former partner Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan), who turned out to be the murderer they were hunting last season (on top of having an affair with Ellen), is in jail, although by the time the premiere is over, he’s been bounced for lack of evidence, apparently part of a deal whose other end we don’t yet know.  Corcoran’s friend Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid) is engaged to the widow Elizabeth Haverford (Anastasia Griffith), who has her own history with Corky and who is hoping to keep hidden that she’d been collaborating with Confederate spies.   Corcoran’s friend and medical colleague, former slave Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), helps Corcoran when necessary, and Matthew’s wife Sara (Tessa Thompson) is a seamstress who’s gone to work for Elizabeth.

Most of the premiere was taken up with the search for crazy murderer Buzzy Burke, who started the episode by carving his initials into the back of Corky’s pal (and one-time mistress) madam Eva Heissen (Franka Potente) and was ultimately caught.  There was also the start of what will clearly be a continuing crime story about boys in Five Points being abducted and murdered, but none of the character arcs were advanced very much.

Copper remains a reasonably handsome (given the non-HBO budget level) but inessential piece of television.  Corcoran, and for that matter Weston-Jones, haven’t been charismatic or interesting enough to make the show work as a character study, and while there’s plenty of period detail, it hasn’t accumulated in an illuminating or relevant way.  Even compared to Boardwalk Empire, another historical crime drama that has its issues, Copper has been one-dimensional and uncompelling.  This season premiere was important, because if the show was going to send out a message that it had addressed its shortcomings and had something better to offer, this was the time.  It didn’t happen.

Given Copper‘s basement-level ratings, it’s probably fairly safe on BBCAmerica for some time to come unless it bottoms out further.  The network wants to show that it’s friendly to name talent (in this case Executive Producers Fontana and Barry Levinson), and the series conveys the kind of quality patina BBCAmerica wants on display, even if there’s not much beneath that surface.  The most exciting thing the network aired during the premiere was the promo plugging Maslany’s Critics Choice Award for Orphan Black.  Just 9 or so months until that returns…

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."