Tuesday, September 18, 2012

TV Show Review - Copper

I mostly hate cop shows. It's not that there's not a ton of potential for a police show to be awesome, but more often than not, they turn into a lame procedural thing where the cops solve a different case every week. It turns into a formula where a body turns up (for some reason, there are no cop shows about cops who investigate shoplifting), then the police start hunting up leads, then there's some sterling detective work and the bad guy is apprehended. Basically, every episode turns into a villain-of-the-week, and no matter how you try to trick it up with surprise guests and crazy murderers, after a while, it's BORING.

This is not the only reason I dislike cop shows, though it is the main reason. Even some shows with tons of potential, like Longmire or Luther, fall prey to this cookie-cutter story format, and it's a damned shame that we can't get a show about the life of a cop. One of my best friends is a cop, and his life cannot be broken down into one-hour episodes. Different stuff happens every week - he has to deal with an irritating co-worker, or he has to go out of town to chase bad guys who run to small towns, or he gets to throw the cuffs on bodybuilders who could rip off his arms if they didn't know damned well someone would kill them for it. I want a cop show that tells a story, and one that doesn't wrap every episode with a neat little bow.

Enter Copper. This show, which is on BBC America right now (sorry if you don't have cable), features Kevin Corcoran, or Corky to his friends. He is a police detective in New York - but this ain't Seinfeld's town. This is Five Points in 1864. Corcoran has been fighting the Confederates for the last four years, and comes home to find his daughter murdered and his wife missing. In the meantime, he has a job to do - and policing Five Points was a nasty job at the best of times, and a downright impossibility most of the time.

Brief history lesson for those of you who missed Gangs of New York. In the early 1800s, there were a lot of immigrants to New York. Many of these were Irish people fleeing the devastation back home. Many were Jewish immigrants. And many were black people looking for freedom in the North, and discovering that being free often meant being hungry. They all got funneled into Five Points, a segment of New York reserved for immigrants that rapidly became grossly overpopulated and dirtier than a farm hog's ass crack.

So right off the bat, Copper is about police at the very beginning of the nation's organized police force, charged with fighting crime in a place where crime was most peoples' day job. There are multiple brothels, and nobody even tries to shut them down, because when bank robberies and murders were commonplace, policing morality was less than an afterthought.

I knew I was going to like Copper when, in the first five minutes, Corcoran and his fellow coppers are surrounding a band of bank robbers. Corcoran decides to spring the ambush and leaps out from behind a wall, shoots one bank robber dead, and then yells, 'Police!' Yeah, in that order. Due process was not exactly an overwhelming concern, and once all the robbers are dead, the police chief shows up and takes all the stolen money... back to his house. These were gritty men in a gritty time, and if they did things a little questionable, there weren't a lot of people who could object. After all, the coppers might keep you from getting murdered in your bed, so if they kept some 'evidence' for their efforts, you may have been willing to let it slide.

I love the tarnished brass of Copper, but that's not enough to make me come back every week. What keeps me anxious for the next episode is the story. Corcoran's search for his lost wife is a continuing thread, as is his affair with the madame at his favorite house of ill repute. We also get to follow Annie, a very young girl who is abducted, sold into prostitution, rescued from said prostitution, and then - well, I don't want to give it away, but suffice to say this story feels a lot more believable than the one with Daddy Warbucks. And there are more bodies.

In fact, not an episode of Copper passes without someone getting, at a minimum, beaten like a cheap rug, and most of the time, somebody gets snuffed. Stabbings and shootings and throat-slittings were practically routine in Five Points, and thanks to a story that refuses to shy away from the uglier truths of our glorious nation's past, we get to see a whole damned lot of them. I do like a show with a body count, and this one even has a boob every now and then. If you ask me, that makes it a keeper.

If you prefer your police shows to follow the old tried-and-true method of busting a new bad guy every week, you'll probably be fine with Law and Order: CSI. But if you want to see a story develop, if you like to see what life was like 150 years ago, or if you just like to see good guys get away with bad things, you might really dig Copper. It's fun and violent and dark and cool, and yet hopeful and noble at the same time. It's in full swing right now on BBC America, with five episodes aired. You might be able to catch up if you have On Demand, or you can go download the episodes from iTunes or the Zune marketplace. I highly recommend it, though I gotta tell you, it's not for everyone, and certainly not fit for the squeamish.


Unknown said...

Check out Homicide: Life on the Street (1993-1999). It's not about one cop, but a bunch of cops in the Baltimore Homicide Department, but it's far from procedural, it's mainly about the cops, and not the cases. Andre Braugher as Det. Pembleton is fucking amazing in it.

It was based on the documentary book of the writer of The Wire (which is also recommended). Also: The Shield.

Vince said...

If you go WAY back to the 1970s, there was a short-lived TV series called "Police Story". It was an anthology, slice-of-life type series and every episode had a different cast. Definitely not murder-of-the-week; in fact, of the episodes I can remember after all these years there were NO murder investigations, just stories around random situations cops ran into on their daily routine. Of course I have no idea if this show is available anywhere nowadays.

Shawn said...

Very late to the story, but you might want to check out The Wire if you have not. I know it gets a lot of ridiculous praise, but in my opinion it actually is all it is hyped up to be.

Matt Drake said...

I just started watching The Wire. So far, so good.