It’s not often a television series takes on prostitution, child molestation and murder, along with ethnic hatred and genteel Gilded Age society — in the first two episodes.
“Copper,” the new police detective drama set in 1864’s New York City, is the first original scripted series created by BBC America.
By setting “Copper” on the East Coast, award-winning creators Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, and Academy Award nominee Will Rokos, brings in the turbulence of the 19th century as well as the clash of ethnic and racial politics on the small island of Manhattan.
All this makes an intriguing stew. But despite the harsh, brutal beatings, and whorehouse shenanigans, it’s almost too gentle in its recreation of the rough-and-tumble period. Then again, if it was period accurate, no one might want to watch. (It is a cable series, so be prepared for nudity, sexual situations and provocative language, including the n-word.)
While the pilot is rough, by the end of the second episode “Copper” hits its stride.
Police detective Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) patrols Five Points, a seamy area with houses of prostitution, corrupt cops and bank robberies. A recently mustered-out veteran of the Civil War, he’s returned to the city to discover his wife missing and daughter dead.
This leaves him vulnerable to a young runaway, Annie, who turns out to be mixed up in a far more dangerous situation than first seems.
While most of his friends also are Irish, two stem from Corcoran’s war service: Dr. Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), an African-American physician, and Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), the aristocratic son of a noted real estate mogul who is interested in taking over Five Points to redevelop it.
Freeman’s work for Corcoran is kept undercover, as the racism of the time would put the doctor’s actions in danger. The effects of the New York conscription riots of 1863 are part of Freeman’s life; his wife’s brothers were lynched in front of her house, and she lives in paralyzing mortal terror of it happening again to her family.
Morehouse lives in the Gilded Age world of economic expansion that fuels a high society whose denizens sometimes visit Five Points to discreetly satisfy their more crass desires. In this case, it means sex, rape and murder of children.
With a mixture of slums, middle-class tensions, police corruption, and a growing aristocracy fueled by money from the industrial revolution, “Copper” will be interesting to follow.
Premieres at 10 p.m. EDT Sunday