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BBC America's 1st Original Series: COPPER


Chief of Surgery
Aug 30, 2000
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Premieres Sunday, August 26th on Showcase (Canada)
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It’s hard to walk a straight line in a crooked town.


From Academy Award®-winner Barry Levinson and Emmy® Award-winner Tom Fontana, “Copper” is a gripping crime drama series set in 1860s New York City. Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones, “MI-5″), an Irish-American former boxer turned cop, returns from the Civil War to find his wife missing and his daughter dead. As he patrols the streets of New York’s notorious Five Points neighborhood, he seeks the truth about what happened to his family with the help of two wartime friends: the wayward son of a wealthy industrialist, and a talented African-American doctor. The three men share a secret from their experience in battle that links their lives forever.

The series is created by Tom Fontana (“Oz,” “Homicide: Life on the Streets,” “St. Elsewhere”) and Will Rokos (“Monster’s Ball,” “Southland”). Among the executive producers are Barry Levinson (“Good Morning Vietnam,” “Rain Man,” “You Don’t Know Jack”), Cineflix Media Co-CEO Glen Salzman and Cineflix Studios President Christina Wayne (“Broken Trail” and executive in charge of “Mad Men”), Fontana and Rokos.

The cast includes Tom Weston-Jones (“MI-5″), Franka Potente (“The Bourne Supremacy,” “Run Lola Run”), Kyle Schmid (“Blood Ties,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”), Anastasia Griffith (“Royal Pains,” “Damages”), Ato Essandoh (“Damages”), Kevin Ryan (“Tripping Tommy”), Tanya Fischer (“The Defenders,” “Life on Mars”), Dylan Taylor (“Covert Affairs”), Ron White (“The Line”), Kiara Glasco (“Angel Duty”), Tessa Thompson (“Heroes”) and David W. Keeley (“Rookie Blue”).

Most of “Copper’s” action will take place in the teeming Irish immigrant neighborhood of Five Points, but the series will also frequent the Upper East Side/Fifth Avenue mansions of the aristocracy and the emerging neighborhood of Harlem founded by New York’s burgeoning African-American population. True to any great cop show, “Copper” will feature well-crafted, close-ended police investigation mysteries with twists, turns and surprises. Set in the 1860s, plot lines relating to the Civil War permeate the series while it also exploring themes of power, politics and race in a country and community wrestling with rapid social change.

Kevin Corcoran played by Tom Weston-Jones (“MI-5,” aka “Spooks”) is a rugged and confident Irish cop who patrols the streets of Five Points and tries to follow his moral compass despite the blunt realities facing his turbulent community. Each week, we join him on his emotional and relentless quest to learn the truth behind the disappearance of his wife and the death of his daughter. Sharing a unique friendship with two men from two different walks of life who fought with him in the Civil War, Corcoran must navigate the contrasting worlds of Fifth Avenue and Harlem. Corcoran’s compatriot and friend Morehouse, played by Canadian Kyle Schmid (“Blood Ties,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”), is the son of a wealthy New York industrialist residing on Fifth Avenue; Freeman, another veteran, is an African American physician/forensics expert who lives in Harlem and is not afraid to question white authority. We soon learn that the three men share a secret from their experience on the battlefield that will link their lives forever.

Rounding out the cast are leading ladies Anastasia Griffith (“Royal Pains,” “Damages”), as the sophisticated and spirited Elizabeth Haverford and Franka Potente (“The Bourne Supremacy,” “Run Lola Run”) who plays Eva Heissan, a shrewd businesswoman and the Madam of Eva’s Paradise. Additionally Steve Cosens (“Durham County”) has signed on as Director of Photography, John Blackie (“Hell on Wheels”) is Production Designer and Delphine White (“Breakout Kings”) is Costume Designer.

BBC America general manager, Perry Simon reveals more about the anticipated series, “In the spirit of great BBC drama it’s brimming with fascinating and complex characters, giving us the opportunity to cast the best actors from both sides of the Atlantic.’

“We’re thrilled to have Tom Weston-Jones, Kyle Schmid, and Anastasia Griffith—all stars in the making—join the cast of ‘Cooper,’” said Christina Wayne, President of Cineflix Studios. “Franka Potente brings her undeniable talent and feature experience to the mix.”

The show is going up against Breaking Bad, The Newsroom, Political Animals, Masterpiece! and then later Boardwalk Empire and Homeland which is a bit of a gamble. It does make the statement that the quality of show belongs on Sunday nights. The first season will consist of ten episodes.

One of the producers, Christina Wayne, was the AMC executive that helped develop Broken Trail and Mad Men. While she saw something great in the pilot script, she didn't think Jon Hamm was attractive or right for the role of Don Draper. Still her role in getting Mad Men on the air plus Tom Fontana, Will Rokos and Barry Levinson involved has me interested!

History of Five Points
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Not sure about the lead but I might watch an ep or two.
Boston Globe
BBC America’s ‘Copper’ casts a spell
By Matthew Gilbert

Sometimes, it’s a great thing to watch a TV show that’s been stocked with a mostly unknown cast. When you see the characters’ faces for the first time onscreen, you don’t have an instant sense of who they’re likely to be as the action unfolds. You’re not bringing a boatload of preconceptions with you about whether they’ll be good, bad, kind, coarse, or kooky — or playing against type. You’re as pure a viewer as you can be in these days of bottomless overexposure.

That’s one of the many things that make “Copper,” BBC America’s first original scripted series, something special. You enter the world of this transporting show — the dirt streets of 1864 Manhattan — feeling lost among complete strangers.
You’re a bit out to sea, which is what the creators and producers, including Tom Fontana (“Oz,” “Homicide”) and Barry Levinson (“Homicide,” “Diner”), are going for. They’re dropping us into a city that is alien and in ruins, despite the fact that it’s New York. A trio of un-uniformed cops chase bank robbers, shoot them, pick their pockets, steal from their loot — then retreat to their girlfriends, prostitutes living above a bar in the squalid Five Points slum. The cops look just like the crooks. It’s all strange and very Wild West.

“Copper,” which premieres on Sunday at 10 p.m., gradually lets you understand that the show’s three central cops, led by Irish immigrant Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), are indeed good guys — or, more accurately, good-ish guys — who kill in the name of law and order. Corcoran, with his noble frown, is the smart one, who served with the Union Army in the Civil War. Like the Civil War veteran in AMC’s “Hell on Wheels,” who seeks revenge for the murder of his wife and son, Corcoran is on a mission to learn the truth about the disappearance of his wife and his daughter’s murder. As he fights crime in the anarchic city with fellow detectives Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan) and Andrew O’Brien (Dylan Taylor), his family quest will form the 10-episode season’s long-term plot arc.

In the meantime, Corcoran finds solace in the arms of the saloon’s madam, Eva, who is played by Franka Potente, the show’s most familiar face to Americans. Potente was the athletic star of “Run Lola Run” in 1998, and she has since appeared in “The Bourne Identity” and “The Bourne Supremacy.” Here she is a businesswoman who is intelligent enough to capture Corcoran’s interest. She and a runaway child, Annie (Kiara Glasco), form a kind of surrogate family for Corcoran, which gives the show the potential for psychological layers. When Corcoran tells Eva, “You’re the only one I want,” you know — even if he doesn’t — that it’s not quite true, that the mystery of his wife is his true obsession.

While “Copper” is not exactly a Civil War drama, it takes place in the shadows of the war. Corcoran fought beside a dissolute Manhattan aristocrat named Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), who is now missing a leg, and their connection becomes important back in New York, as Corcoran, Maguire, and O’Brien work a particularly pernicious murder case.

Corcoran also secretly relies on a doctor who was Morehouse’s valet in the war, a black man named Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh) who performs forensic, “CSI”-like examinations on murder victims. Corcoran brings victims’ bodies to Matthew secretly; he knows that no one would believe Matthew’s deductions if they knew they came from a black man. Matthew and his wife live in quiet terror, as her brothers were lynched during the Draft Riots of 1863, a five-day protest against the draft and a violent racial attack. When Corcoran and his men knock on Matthew’s door in the middle of the night with a body to examine, Matthew instinctively pulls out his gun.

The set design of “Copper,” which bears some similarities to the hellish scenario of Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” rings of authenticity, as it is filled with rats, mud, and hungry people dozing in dirty barns. It’s all presented in an aged golden hue that recalls photos from old newspaper clippings. Occasionally, the dialogue includes a present-day turn of phrase, or the action seems to flirt with contemporary crime-show clichés — one of the suspects in the premiere, for example, who is a predictable baddie. Also afoot: saloon clichés, notably Eva, who may be the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold.

Those imperfections never jolted me out of the spell “Copper” casts. BBC America chose to launch a move beyond reairing British dramas and into original series by trusting two of the people responsible for one of TV’s best police dramas, “Homicide.” I’m inclined to do the same.

Copper: TV Review
by Tim Goodman

10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19 (BBC America)
Lowlife, Civil War-era Manhattan takes center stage on BBC America’s ambitious drama.

BBC America’s first scripted series, Copper, is a lot like the city and country it depicts: not quite there yet. Set in 1864 New York, it’s a tale of emerging identities. New York isn’t quite there; it doesn’t even have a morgue yet. The U.S. itself, torn by the Civil War, isn’t quite there; the abolition of slavery hasn’t exactly made the races equal, nor has there been much improvement in the immigrant experience.
our editor recommends

From Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, the series has an impressive pedigree (Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz), plus ambition, and BBC America clearly hopes to make a splash in the scripted world. On paper, there’s much to like about the premise. In practice, it’s a sluggish start to a big story -- and in today’s scripted environment, that usually doesn’t end well.
Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) is an Irish-American detective -- a “copper” -- who returns from the Civil War to find that his daughter has been murdered and his wife has disappeared. He’s seeking justice and the truth in their cases as he also tries to keep the wildly untamed Five Points area of New York in line. It’s a dark, dank part of the city, with mud and rot everywhere. People are poor and homeless, drunk and dangerous, and it appears that the Wild West has moved east. ****ehouses and bars do brisk business, most disputes are settled with violence, and Corcoran is in the employ of police who appear to be as crooked as the crooks.

That’s not to say that Corcoran is the hero. Like the rest of the coppers, he’s a “shoot first and figure it out after they’re dead” type of guy. He is sort of loyal to Eva (Franka Potente), the madam of Eva’s Paradise, and apparently his new love, though it’s hard to say that loyalty is really his game at this point. He’s aided in his detective duties by Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan) and Andrew O’Brien (Dylan Taylor), two Irish cops who have his back. However, all three are worried about their less-than-pure superiors, Padraic Byrnes (David Keeley) and Ciaran Joseph Sullivan (Ron White), who like the graft and do whatever favors the New York powers require.

But Corcoran has a link to that upper-crust world as well. One of the men who served with him in the war was aristocrat Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), who had his leg amputated (saving his life) by his African-American valet, Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), who now secretly works with Corcoran as a doctor to find out how murders occurred. The three men apparently consider one another equals, much to the dismay of Morehouse’s powerful father, who has been buying up much of New York.

And so viewers are being presented with a fairly vast canvas: the emergence of a city and all of its social structures in particular and America in general. It’s a big bite to take, particularly when the first two episodes focus more acutely on a murder mystery involving a young girl. It would be a mistake for the series to concentrate on procedural elements to the detriment of the big picture, so here’s hoping that changes quickly.

Based on the ambition alone, it’s probably worth sticking with Copper to see where it goes, though it’s a little slow out of the box. The story Levinson and Fontana are trying to tell here might add up to a fascinating novel, particularly if BBC America keeps footing the bill -- and they’d better: This is a series absolutely geared for the long haul, not the short reveal. Unfortunately, the first couple of chapters seem a bit off. The acting is stiff, as if everyone is still trying to make sense of the times and the mannerisms. The writing tends to be a bit obvious and long on exposition (even given the immense story being undertaken). In some ways, Copper has the same problems AMC’s Hell on Wheels does, which is that there’s an excellent show there somewhere, just not on the screen. If the actors and writers can hit their stride, whatever grand visions Levinson and Fontana have for Copper could be realized. But in the competitive world of scripted drama, the series is going to need to kick in quick.

The Bottom Line
A sluggish start to a big story.

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Review: With 'Copper,' the 'Homicide' team goes back to 1864 New York

An intriguing setting, but the new Fontana/Levinson drama's not quite there yet

By Alan Sepinwall

When I hear that Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson have a new cop show in the works, I pay attention. This is the team, after all, responsible for one of the greatest cop shows of all time, NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street."

When I hear that Fontana and Levinson's cop show is the first original drama for a cable channel, I pay attention. This is the team, after all, that gave HBO its first scripted drama in "Oz," the often-fascinating prison drama that in turn led to "The Sopranos," "The Wire," etc.

And when I hear that Fontana and Levinson's cop show is set in New York in 1864, I pay attention. The period is a familiar one from Westerns and Civil War stories, but in terms of what was happening back in the northeast — and also what urban policework was like in this long-ago period — it's ground that's only occasionally been trod.

So, yes, my anticipation was very high for Fontana, Levinson and Will Rokos's "Copper," which debuts on Sunday night at 10 on BBC America, a channel that until now was content to simply import content from the mothership in the U.K.

And, indeed, Fontana and Rokos' script has a lot of fun playing with our expectations of contemporary cop dramas by showing how things would have worked in the mid-19th century. When our hero, Civil War veteran Kevin "Corky" Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) corners a crew of bank robbers, he shoots first and yells "Police!" after. The police department feels only vaguely organized — Corcoran and his partners Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan) and Andrew O’Brien (Dylan Taylor) seem to do most of their planning in Corky's living room, or at the brothel where Corky and Maguire's girlfriends work — and corruption among the rank-and-file is an accepted fact of life.

Fontana has never had much interest in police science — "Homicide" was a show where cases got closed by detectives talking suspects into confessing — but he finds an interesting way to use forensics here. First, it's 1864, so the science is all beyond primitive compared to what we know from "CSI," and is barely trusted by most of the cops themselves. Second, the man doing the autopsies and crime scene analysis is Dr. Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), an African-American physician whose work for Corky has to be kept a secret because it would be instantly discredited by the white doctors on the department payroll.
It's a promising framework for a series, and the first two episodes of "Copper" work in fits and starts. The scenes involving Freeman and his wife Sara (Tessa Thompson) moving to the rural area that will one day become Harlem because of Sara's overpowering but understandable fear of white people, for instance, are terrific. And the casually violent nature of policework at the time is well captured.

But "Copper" doesn't arrive fully-formed in the way that "Homicide" or "Oz" did. This is a big, ambitious project with a lot of layers and a lot of practical considerations to be figured out, and you can almost see Fontana, Levinson and Rokos figuring out what they can and can't pull off over the course of the opening two-parter.

Because all of Manhattan — including the Five Points neighborhood(*) where Corky works — couldn't remotely pass for 1864 anymore, the series is filmed primarily inside a large studio in Toronto. Sometimes, the show is able to maintain the illusion that we've traveled back in time to 1860s New York, while at others it very clearly looks like actors on a stage, or actors standing in front of a green screen. The difference in the aesthetic quality when the show actually goes out to a real physical location like Freeman's new house is striking.

(*) It's the same setting from Scorsese's "Gangs of New York," which also took place in this time period. (Scorsese had a bigger budget to work with, and had his set built in Rome.)

The series also wants to portray more than just the working-class life of the cops at the time by frequently making Corcoran cross paths with his wealthy former Civil War commanding officer, Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), and with socialite Elizabeth Haverford (Anastasia Griffith). Though all the actors (including Franka Potente as Eva, Corky's sometime-girlfriend) seem, to varying degrees, to be working to adapt themselves to a different era, style of dress and manner of speaking, Schmid has the most obvious difficulty with it. What I imagine is meant to be a charismatic and morally elusive character instead comes across like he's not entirely sure how to carry himself.

The series was originally developed at AMC five years ago, and Fontana and Rokos expanded their original pilot script into a two-part story to better allow them to introduce the characters and this world. Given how alien so much of the policework is, that was probably a good idea, but it also means expanding the first case — in which Corky and his partners have to rescue a child prostitute — to seem more prominent and lurid than may have been intended, like this is less a 19th century "Homicide" than a 19th century "Law & Order: SVU."

"Copper" is very much a work in progress, but it's a work in progress from a creative team whose track record all but demands investing the time to see what it becomes. Fontana isn't infallible (even in the cop show realm, his short-lived UPN series "The Beat," starring a young Mark Ruffalo, was more noble experiment than compelling drama), but the pieces are certainly here for him to do something special down the road.
You can't get a better pedigree for a cop show than Levinson and Fontana. I will be a week behind the rest of you guys, but otherwise count me in as a regular viewer.
Saw this last night. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I liked it a lot. Part procedural, part costume drama, part western. It is somewhat basic, but it definitely has its charm and the cast is quite enjoyable. It can see them growing into their roles enough that the weekly case won't matter, as the characters will be enjoyable enough to follow all on their own.

Was a bit surprised about how much they got away with in terms of the violence and the sex and in that sense it felt like a proper BBC production.
I've been watching this OnDemand and it's pretty good. It's like the eastern version of "Hell on Wheels". Last night's episode was very good. I'm surprised at Eva. I wonder if she had something to do with the disappareance of Corky's wife.
Been catching this on OnDemand and I found that this show is surprisingly good.
I actually met Ato Assandoh, who plays the doctor character along with one of the top writers Kyle Bradstreet. Some of us film majors met up with them at a bar this past November and talked about the show, their past lives and working with Tom.

And Tom Fontana is a great guy. Very nice and charitable who donates to our college since he is an alumni. Plus, we visited him at his house in NYC. The man loves his history, as he has his own private library to do his research.

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