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Is BBC America's 'Copper' Just 'Law & Order: 1864'?

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Aug 20, 2012 | 7:03am EDT

ALTWhile walking down a New York street, there's not only an overwhelming respect for the city's rich and fascinating history, but the sense that an episode of Law & Order has been filmed there, or is about to film there. (Take a look around you — if there's a camera and Richard Belzer, you've probably stumbled onto a Law & Order set. How fun!) 

While watching BBC America's new, ambitious original crime drama Copper, there's an overwhelming feeling that the series was aiming for a rough, blood-soaked trip back to ye olde New York like what Martin Scorsese did with the Oscar-nominated Gangs of New York, but instead wound up with a slightly more prim and proper Law & Order

That's not to take a swipe at Law & Order (there's a reason why it's on 23 times a day on cable) or at Copper for that matter, but for this to be from the same network that gives us the cult phenomenon Doctor Who, let's just say I was expecting something a little more... arresting. KA CHUNG! 

Like all procedurals, Copper follows an unorthodox antihero who plays by no one's rules but his own and with a dark past he may or may not be trying to make right. Here it's Irish detective Kevin Corcoran (relative newcomer Tom Weston-Jones, pictured in a scene from the pilot) trying to make the New York City streets safer in 1864, oft with the help of his one-eyed partner Detective Francis Maguire, played by Kevin Ryan, and local coroner/freed slave Dr. Matthew Freeman (Freeman... free man, get it?) played by Ato Essandoh

In last night's pilot, Corcoran and co. investigate the grisly murder of a young prostitute named Annie (Kiara Glasco), who was bludgeoned to death and then raped. Like in any episode of Law & Order: SVU, Copper didn't shy away from using medically accurate, albeit grotesque and unsettling language. There were the expected procedural twists (it wasn't Annie who was murdered, but her darling twin sister) and turns (the man convicted of the crime is innocent, while the real killer, a hoity-toity socialite goes free... for now) but none of it felt as thrilling as it should have. Yes, there's sex, violence, and an impressive ensemble cast (including The Bourne Identity and Run Lola Run's always-intoxicating Franka Potente as Corcoran's love interest) but there's still a key piece missing to this puzzle. 

Perhaps it's because the show is on the esteemed BBC America, or perhaps it's because it's got such a prestigious crew to its credit (Oscar-winner Barry Levinson is one of the series' executive producers) that Copper felt like such a letdown in its first episode. The show isn't as polished or distinguished as other great television procedurals (like, say, The Good Wife) to stand out among the pack, nor is it enough of a stylistic ratings grabber like CSI or Criminal Minds to blend in with the others. And though Weston-Jones' Corcoran is certainly a man to root for (he wants justice, stays true to his lady friend, among other admirable traits) the actor, who looks like a more refined Joaquin Phoenix, doesn't have quite the same screen presence as say, Christopher Meloni, to arouse interest. 

The performances are solid (particularly the young Glasco) if not a little bit unmemorable and the show's pacing is quick enough to keep things moving, but Copper still feels like it stops short. Had the series premiered a tad earlier this summer, when the want and need for quality original programming is at its peak, perhaps Copper would have been like a breath of fresh air, but with the fall season soon upon us, it was merely a reminder that all our reliable favorites are on their way. 

What did you think of Copper: an arresting procedural or a surprisingly standard drama? 

Copper airs at 10 PM EST on Sundays on BBC America. 

[Photo Credit: BBC America] 

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