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TV review: 'Copper' takes its time to captivate

By Curt Wagner

RedEye

7:21 PM CDT, August 19, 2012

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The New York City of 1864 in "Copper" rots with bank robberies, racism, police corruption, murders and economic dispair.

If you think about it, those problems still plague society today, making BBC America's original scripted series, from creators Tom Fontana ("Homicide: Life on the Streets") and Will Rokos ("Southland"), and executive producer Barry Levinson ("Oz"), more than just a nostalgia trip.

In telling the story of New York detective Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), who patrols the mean streets of the miserable Five Points neighborhood, "Copper" (9 p.m. Sunday, BBC America; 2.5 stars out of 4) looks back to the future, or at least the present, by evoking the battle between the 99 Percenters and 1 Percenters.

But in the first two episodes, "Copper" is a story told well only occasionally. Despite despicable villains, brass-knuckle beatings and whorehouse shenanigans, the series sleepwalks through its premiere and picks up steam only with a shocking twist in its second episode.

Weston-Jones leads a great cast as Irish immigrant Corcoran, who returned from the Civil War after learning his wife went missing and his daughter was murdered. Obsessed with learning the truth about the tragedy, he breaks from his mission of vengeance only to do his job--investigating crimes in Five Points.

In the premiere, the murder of a child prostitute reminds him of his own daughter, and he's like a dog with a tasty bone. He won't give up until he's found the killer and saved the girl's sister, Annie (a terrific Kiara Glasco)--no matter what the costs to his career or his own health.

Cocoran enlists the madame with whom he spends time, Eva Heissen (Franka Potente), to keep Annie safe while seeking help from two Civil War vets with whom he shares a mysterious battlefield bond. Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid) is the aristocratic son of a real estate mogul who can get Cocoran face-to-face with a high-society suspect, while Dr. Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), an African-American physician, secretly helps Cocoran study forensic evidence. Cocoran soon finds a new ally in Elizabeth Haverford (Anastasia Griffith), the wife of a wealthy 1 Percenter.

Through these relationships, "Copper" moves easily from the slums of Five Points to the mansions of the wealthy Uptown neighborhood, providing amazing visuals about life in both the gorgeous Gilded Age parlors and the ratty streets of the rough-and-tumble neighborhoods.

"Copper" doesn't open as confidently as I had hoped (or as its pedigree might lead one to expect), but given the classic themes, rich time period and great acting, I trust it will keep my interest.