August 27, 2012



COPPER:  Sunday 10PM on BBCAmerica – If Nothing Else Is On…

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’

Previously… on COPPER:  In 1864, as the Civil War wanes, Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) has come back from the Union Army to be a New York police detective.  While Corcoran was away in the War, his daughter was murdered and his wife disappeared; when he can, he searches fruitlessly through New York’s slums for any sign of his vanished spouse.  Meanwhile, he solves crimes, most notably the murder of child prostitute Kate Reilly, but her killer turns out to be the real estate tycoon Haverford, who proves to be beyond the reach of the law.  What Corcoran can do is protect Kate’s sister Annie (Kiara Glasco) from Haverford’s clutches and those of the corrupt upper levels of the NYPD.  Corcoran has a few friends and aides, including partner Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan), freed slave and doctor–and in a pinch, pre-CSI level coroner–Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), and wealthy Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), whose life Corcoran and Freeman saved in the War (Freeman amputated Morehouse’s leg).  Corcoran has a romantic relationship with madam Eva Heissen (Franka Potente, so far barely visible), but isn’t above spending time with Maguire’s favorite whore Molly (Tanya Fischer)–and he’s attracted the interest of Haverford’s freethinking wife Elizabeth (Anastasia Griffith).  

Episode 2:  The second hour of Copper was mostly concerned with resolving the Annie Reilly story, which it did violently, as Corcoran had Annie “sold” to the same evil madam (not Eva) who’d peddled Kate to Haverford, then held Haverford down while Annie stabbed him to death.  (Corcoran himself did the honors for the child-procurer.)  That isn’t the last we’ve seen of Annie, since at the end of the episode, the newly-widowed Elizabeth Haverford adopted the girl, going along with the cover story that her husband had been protecting Annie from the madam when he was killed.  Meanwhile, a larger story arc involved the plan of Morehouse’s industrialist father to buy up the Five Points neighborhood in lower Manhattan, throwing out its immigrant inhabitants–a plot that Elizabeth Haverford aided.

Considering how much is going on in Copper, the first two hours have been surprisingly dull.  The show was co-created by famed writer/producer Tom Fontana (his shows include Homicide:  Life On the Streets, Oz and St. Elsewhere) with Will Rokos, one of the writers of the film Monster’s Ball and a writer on Southland (Rokos wrote Episode 2 from a story by both), and it hasn’t found its focus yet, being part procedural, part Deadwood/Hell On Wheels post-Civil War epic, part serialized man-on-a-mission thriller, and part social commentary.  Corcoran isn’t a particularly interesting character, and as played by Weston-Jones, he’s not very stirring, nor is the hunt for his missing wife.  None of the supporting characters have sparked so far either.  Both of the initial hours have been directed by Jeff Woolnough, and while he’s no doubt been struggling with a limited budget (this is BBCAmerica’s first original drama), the show has had a cramped, claustrophobic look, without even as much scale as AMC affords to Hell On Wheels.

Copper certainly has the potential to find its footing and become a more compelling show.  Fontana is a very strong showrunner, the era is a fascinating one, and New York in that period will provide plenty of material to the writers.  As with any other continuing drama, though, its success will depend more than anything else on the strength of the characters and their storylines. While Copper didn’t get off to a tremendous start in the ratings, not even reaching a 0.4 in 18-49s, behind many other cable networks in its crowded Sunday 10PM hour (as a period piece, it did somewhat better with older audiences), its numbers weren’t bad for BBCA, and the network can be expected it give it time and support as long as the show seems viable.  The series will need that kind of backing, because there’s plenty of work for it to do if it’s going to work.

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."