Ripper Street – the new drama mini-series that will debut this weekend on BBC America – is equal parts Sherlock Holmes, CSI and Macguyver – all set in Victorian England.
It’s 1889 in London, England, and the city has just begun to recuperate after Jack The Ripper has gone into hiding. Unfortunately, crime still runs rampant in the city and when a new body turns up – all with Jack’s signature marks – fear is reborn and the night becomes terrifying all over again. This is how the first episode of Ripper Street begins and this sets the tone for the first episode aptly titled “I Need Light.”
The show centers around H Division, a small organization of detectives that were involved with the original unsolved case of Jack The Ripper. In the series, Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and Detective Sergeant Bennett Drake (Jerome Flynn) team up with American surgeon and former detective Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) to solve the case outlined above. Although some are easy to pin the murder on the return of Jack, their investigations turn up other information.
We’ll leave it at that to avoid any spoilers.
Let’s face it, the British can do a crime procedural show like no one else. I find myself often bored by such shows created in the U.S., but a British-made series about the very same subject has me munching on popcorn and whispering “Whodunnit?” This show, is no different, even in spite of its Victorian England setting. In fact, it is this setting that gives the show a unique perspective on crime dramas. These detectives all have to use their intellect and keen observation skills to solve crime. They don’t have the luxury of relying on technology that has not yet been invented. This premise creates a show that is intelligent and challenging and often surprising.
Macfadyen is the burly and sullen – yet optimistic – Detective Reid. He carries the weight of the unsolved case of the Ripper on his shoulders, but he does not allow it to define him. A scene between Macfadyen and Amanda Hale (who portrays Reid’s wife, Emily) is particularly telling, though. In the dialogue between the two, you can still see the hint of fear in his eyes that the Ripper is still present in his life, in spite of his suspecting otherwise. Reid is also as handy as Macguyver – In one scene, he fashions a makeshift bomb in ten seconds flat in order to save himself from certain death.
As Detective Drake, Flynn is the polar opposite of Macfadyen’s Reid – the tough cop who works undercover in an illegal boxing ring. His character is the brawn to Reid’s brains. The two have a chemistry that goes much further than the usual good cop/bad cop routine.
And then there’s Rothenberg as Captain Jackson, the “I’ll do whatever the heck I want” American. And surprisingly enough, the actor himself really is American (there’s nothing worse than a Brit doing a bad American accent). He’s sort of the comic relief and embodies everything the American Wild West might have been proud of: booze and women. But at the same time, he’s a genius and when Reid needs an autopsy done, Jackson is the only doctor he trusts. In fact, it is Jackson that determines that the new murder is not the work of the Ripper. Because Americans are just that darn good.
The show’s premise is tight and is based on real characters and events. With actors and writing that give Ripper Street life – along with camera shots that show the dark side of Victorian London – it almost feels like you’ve walked into that timeline and should fear the dark as much as the city’s denizens did at the time.
Ripper Street premieres on BBC America on Saturday, January 19th at 8/7c.