September 23, 2013

THE SKED Series Finale Review: “Copper”


Road trip!  It was a decidedly odd way for COPPER to exit the scene, even if last night’s episode was intended just as a season finale, not as an end to the entire series.  (BBCAmerica didn’t cancel the low-rated show until last week.)  But nevertheless, our hero Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) and his pals, the escaped slave and now doctor Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh) and wealthy, one-legged (Matthew had amputed his other leg during the war) Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid) decided to head out of New York and take one of Morehouse’s private railway cars to hunt down John Wilkes Booth, who had just assassinated Abraham Lincoln–a plan so half-baked that even the characters kept talking about how dumb it was.  In the end, the trio had an emotional return to the battlefield where they’d originally met and the plantation where Matthew had been a slave, with copious black-and-white flashbacks to their bloody first encounters, but Booth had already been killed, and they headed back to the city.

Only a quick scene early on in the episode, written by series co-creator Will Rokos and directed by Larysa Kondracki, and the last five minutes served to set up what would have been the show’s third season, with Corky possibly serving as an alderman as he fought a more open battle against the forces of Tammany Hall, which had repossessed the secret files he’d taken from villain Brendan Donovan (Donal Logue) after killing him two episodes ago, and which seemed to have kidnapped the very pregnant madam Eva Heissen (Franka Potente), who Corky and the others had just barely succeeded in freeing from jail and a date with the gallows.

Now none of that will ever be.  Copper was meant to put BBCAmerica on the map with original programming after years as the US affiliate carrying such British items as Doctor Who and The Hours, and it was designed as a prestige piece of drama, produced by Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, who’d given us Oz and Homicide: Life on the Street, much as Netflix kicked off its own originals with the David Fincher/Kevin Spacey/Robin Wright House of Cards.  But its dark period take on a police procedural never really developed any momentum or buzz, the ratings were nothing special in Season 1 and only worse this year (just a few hundred thousand people, predominantly over 50, tuned in), and it was a no-show in awards discussions.

There was reason for that:  Weston-Jones was a mediocre lead, much of the plotting was strained, and the pace was slow.  An attempt to refurbish the series with the arrival of new showrunner Thomas Kelly, from Blue Bloods, didn’t help; the stories became more serialized and less episodic, but Donovan was a cliche of a honey-tongued Irish baddie, and Corky’s partner on the force Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan) switched from troubled sidekick–and illicit lover of Corky’s eventually suicidal wife–to villain to (plot twist!) undercover good guy with little logic.  BBCA also didn’t put the money into Copper that an HBO or AMC would, and the cost-shavings showed in the series production values.

Copper was a fair try at an original slant on historical drama, but not good enough to deserve much mourning.  Ironically, after all the effort and credentials that went into the series, it was in an even cheaper, pulpier Canadian co-production that the network found what it was looking for, as Orphan Black became an unexpected buzz magnet and its star Tatiana Maslany one of the hottest new names on TV.  In Civil War New York as in modern day Hollywood, William Goldman’s immortal words hold true:  Nobody Knows Anything.



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."