Two more great BBC shows: Ripper Street & Copper
I was just over a month ago when I was anxiously awaiting the return of Doctor Who’s seventh season, that I discovered two new series from the BBC, Copper and Ripper Street. Two shows similar in nature, but quite different in their execution. I watched Copper first, as I had heard some pretty good things about it and it was already available on DVD. The ten forty-five minute episodes were a breeze to get through and the three discs only took a weekend. On one of the discs was a preview for Ripper Street which was to be released on DVD in the coming weeks, and once it was available, I gave that a watch too.
Copper tells the stories of Kevin “Corky” Corcoran, an Irish immigrant police detective trying to keep the peace in the historical Five Points neighbourhood in 1860s New York City. While Corky was away fighting in the Civil War, serving in the Union Army his wife disappeared and his daughter daughter died. Now every day he tries to solve that case as well as whatever crime falls in his lap. As well as dealing with interesting crimes from week to week there are several overreaching story arcs throughout the season. First we have Corcoran’s search for his wife; terrorist plots from Southern agents to destroy New York City; the death of a fellow detectives prostitute fiancée; the potential romance between Corcoran and a member of New York’s aristocracy; relations with the African American population; and the relationship between Corcoran and a child prostitute he has rescued that reminds him of his late daughter.
The show is very graphic in its violence, and gritty in its realism, and there are very, very few characters that are actually likeable. Corcoran is at least fairly honest though obsessed with his wife’s disappearance, and Tom Weston-Jones does an excellent job in his portrayal of the Irish copper. Matthew Freeman is an African-American physician who served in the war with Corcoran and also acts as an informal pathologist for him. Played by Ato Essandoh he is one of the very few of the “likeables”. Robert Morehouse is the lazy, alcoholic son of a wealthy Fifth Avenue industrialist, and formerly Corcoran’s and Freeman’s commanding officer in the Union Army before he lost his leg, a leg that Freeman amputated to save the Major’s life. Francis Maguire (Kevin Ryan) is another Irish cop on Corcoran’s team who seems to be withholding something from his boss. Andrew O’Brien (Dylan Taylor) is the final member of Corky’s team and again an unlikely likeable character. His fear of his wife is probably what keeps him on the straight and narrow, though none of the men are beyond breaking the law a bit to get their results. Beatings and torture in place of interrogations are routine in Five Points. Anastasia Griffith plays Elizabeth Haverford, an English woman whose husband is a friend of Morehouse. She is a character that I liked and wanted to keep liking, but towards the end, I lost a bit of my liking for the character. Lastly we have Annie Reilly played by Kiara Glasco. Holy crap, this kid freaks me out! This is the child prostitute who Corcoran saves and attempts to rehabilitate early on in the series, but she just disturbs the heck out of me! I will admit that the absolute corruption of this child is well played, but boy I just don’t want to see her on the screen any more because it just seems so, so morally wrong. Uggh!
Copper is the first BBC series entirely done by BBC America, who previously only aired shows from the UK or co-produced shows. Barry Levinson is one of the executive producers of the show, and it has been renewed for a second season, slated to begin airing on June 23rd, 2013.
Ripper Street is set in London in April 1889, six months since the last Jack the Ripper killing. In Whitechapel H Division is responsible for policing one and a quarter square miles of East London: a district with a population of 67,000 poor and dispossessed. The men of H Division had hunted the Ripper and failed to find him. When more women are murdered on the streets of Whitechapel, the police begin to wonder if the killer has returned. That was the breakdown for the first episode and I was very pleasantly surprised that the entire series was not about Jack the Ripper. It only makes natural sense that once that case went “cold” that those officers would have to work other cases, and this is what Ripper Street is mainly about. Think of H Division as a sort of “special forces” or elite branch of the police force, though they are shunned by the Metropolitan officers inside London. Filled with more realism and the gritty atmosphere that only the BBC can present, the eight episodes of Series 1 were excellent.
Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and Detective Sergeant Bennett Drake (Jerome Flynn) team with US Army surgeon and former Pinkerton agent Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) to investigate the crimes of Whitechapel, whether Ripper related or not. In stark contrast with Copper, I enjoyed all the characters of Ripper Street. Reid is a driven, dedicated, hard working man though he does neglect his wife Emily (Amanda Hale) who has now dedicated herself to helping the fallen women of Whitechapel despite her husband’s reservations. The Reid’s marriage is particularly strained because at some point before the show takes place, the couple have lost their daughter in an accident and though she is presumed dead, neither can admit it or give up hope for her safe recovery, or at least some sort of closure. If Reid is the brains of H Division, Detective Sergeant Drake is definitely the muscle, and plays the tough streetwise cop to perfection. Relying on his military training and discipline, he is devoutly loyal to Reid, and my favourite character on the show. Apparently Jerome Flynn is also on Game of Thrones, as Bronn, so once I finally finish reading those books I’ll have to check that show out too. Captain Jackson is a bit of a mystery, operating mainly on the side of the law, but occasionally straying to a greyer side of the line (he does live in a brothel and has a definite past with the madam Long Susan who came from America with him. Reid has contracted him to work for the police, setting him up as their forensic specialist. Ripper Street has also been renewed for another eight episodes set to air in early 2014.
There were several similarities between the two shows, both lead detectives have missing daughters, both have outside agents acting as their medical officers, but I must say that I preferred Ripper Street. I found the stories more self contained and just a bit better. In my opinion the characters were a lot more likeable and drew me in more than those of Copper. Both were quite good, but if I were to only be able to continue watching one, I would pick Ripper Street. Agree or disagree? Let me know, I’d love to hear what others who have seen both series think!