TV Review: Donal Logue Brings New Energy to BBC America’s ‘Copper’

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CHICAGO – Barry Levinson & Tom Fontana’s very good “Copper” is even better in season two thanks to the inclusion of the always-great Donal Logue as a detective returned to New York City after serving in the Civil War. Logue’s General Brendan Donovan brings a new dark energy to a piece that seems to be getting denser and more engaging as it goes along. The BBC America program is approaching “Deadwood” levels of plotting in the way the show focuses on a part of the world at a time when lawlessness seemed to be one of the driving forces of its formation. This is strong drama. Television Rating: 3.5/5.0
Television Rating: 3.5/5.0

At the start of season two of “Copper,” Detective Kevin Corcoran (an increasingly charismatic Tom Weston-Jones) seems to be getting more confident and powerful in New York but that power comes with more responsibility and more required wheelings and dealings with the elite. Corcoran might be one of the few remaining detectives who actually cares about abused whores and dead homeless boys. Corcoran’s ability to play politics while also being morally righteous is challenged most of all by General Donovan, a character that Tom Fontana admits was designed as a “Boss Tweed like character to shake things up.” And shake things up he does.

Photo credit: BBC America

1865 New York City must have been a remarkably tumultuous place. When the second season of “Copper” picks up, immigrants are pouring into the city, the 13th Amendment has passed, and the Civil War continues to take sons from mothers. In this stew of humanity that continued to boil in New York, men played games with each other’s lives. A crime could be overlooked if it came from a politically-connected individual. Corruption was starting to grow in New York and Fontana & Levinson’s show captures that perfectly.

Photo credit: BBC America

When “Copper” stays focused on the crime of 1865 New York and the men who play games with the ever-changing laws and their rights to enforce it, it can be riveting television. Weston-Jones makes for a charismatic lead and Logue makes everything he touches more interesting.

It’s when “Copper” strays from its lead that I find the show sags a bit dramatically. I have yet to be engaged by characters like Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), Elizabeth Haverford (Anastasis Griffith), Madame Eva Heissen (Franka Potente), or Doctor Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh). None of the performers are weak. It’s just a show that doesn’t have the depth in its ensemble like the great shows that it seems to emulate (“Deadwood” being the most striking example).

But it feels like it’s heading in that direction. The addition of Logue adds a supporting character at least as interesting as the lead and Fontana & Levinson’s abilities to play the long game — build ensembles and subplots over multiple episodes — on shows like “Homicide” leads me to believe that “Copper” is headed on an upward trajectory. It’s close to a great show now and could easily be one by the end of this season.

“Copper” stars Tom Weston-Jones, Kevin Ryan, Kyle Schmid, Ato Essandow, Tessa Thompson, Alex Paxton-Beesley, Franka Potente, Anastasia Griffith, and Donal Logue. It returns to BBC America for its second-season premiere on Sunday, June 23, 2013 at 9pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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