BBC America continues to make original series, a fact that may irk those of us wishing they would carry more actual British programming, since they have so few shows delivering fresh episodes on a regular basis. The sad problem is, though, and this divides my opinion, they make good shows. First there was Copper, and now, beginning this week, is RIPPER STREET.
RIPPER STREET has a lot of similarities to Copper. Half of the main characters are policemen. The tale takes place long ago, at the end of the nineteenth century in this latest effort. There are prostitutes. The characters don’t have the luxury of sticking to peaceful moral codes, having to break the rules in the name of their duties. Both look at the early days of forensic science, using new techniques to solve crimes.
Also, like Copper, the sets and costumes are look terrific.
There are differences, too, of course. Copper is set a little bit later, in America. RIPPER STREET is less gritty, mostly staying away from the lowest class of citizen, unlike the class-divided Copper. There is quite a bit of nudity, at least in the screener I had access to. There’s porn, too, in its earliest incarnation, making RIPPER STREET more risque than Copper. The cops actually work in an office, rather than just roaming the streets.
RIPPER STREET stars Matthew Macfadyen (MI-5, Frost/Nixon) as Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, a detective who worked the murders of Jack the Ripper, and eventually gave up the hunt for the serial killer. Like many heroes on television today, he is wounded both physically and mentally. He suffered a terrible tragedy we know nothing about, which has made things very uncomfortable with his now-distant wife, Emily (Amanda Hale, The Crimson Petal and the White). He also has some extensive scarring on his shoulder.
It’s too bad that Reid seems so familiar. He is interesting enough, I guess, but he also comes across as the same as many other characters. He isn’t fresh or original enough to really stand out on his own.
The saving grace is Macfadyen. Even with a rather trite character, he performs the part well enough to keep viewers engaged. He does a fine job balancing the line between nobility and doing what he needs to do, even when that goes against orders. His face is more expressive than most of his peers, and he’s a large part of why RIPPER STREET works.
His partner is Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn, Game of Thrones, Soldier Soldier). Drake is the typical bad egg who has clung onto a good guy, and hopes to remake himself in his mentor’s image. Reid doesn’t treat Drake poorly, but Drake seems to feel a bit bad about using his fists so much, rather than his brain, and aspires to be like Reid. Again, it’s the actor who raises this character over the expectations, since his back story isn’t particularly unique.
Drake’s counter part is Rose Erskine (Charlene McKenna, Raw). Plenty of programs like RIPPER STREET, which are crime-based, wouldn’t take the time to balance out the cast between the genders. Rose is the answer to that, a prostitute that would like to raise her station in life. Unlike some similar characters in other shows, I believe that she can do it, given opportunity.
Then there are the true scoundrels. Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg, The Ex List) and Long Susan (MyAnna Buring, White Heat, Twilight) are on the run from whatever got them into trouble across the pond in the U.S. Susan runs the whore house where Rose works, while Homer befriends Reid, perhaps to protect himself, as much as because he might like the man. Interestingly, Homer is the scientist of the group, making him invaluable to his police friend.
Homer and Susan fight amongst each other as much as they fight others. They are people of deep passions and stubborn attitudes. They will create much of the conflict that should drive RIPPER STREET going forward, and straddle the line between likable and not enough that their actions can be unpredictable at times.
This will definitely be a show that solves cases, but they’ve also set up enough with the various characters to provide plenty of larger arcs and human-driven scenes. It may look like an old-timey CSI, complete with make-shift case boards, but there’s also something a bit more intelligent going on, too.
Plus, tying things to the Jack the Ripper case lend it that bit of history and legend that should draw in an audience, at least to sample the series.
In summary, the premise is slightly dull and done-before, however, the individual elements, each of which is well handled, combine to raise it above what it should be. I’m not saying that it’s my favorite new show, by any means, but it’s certainly one worth tuning into on a regular basis.
RIPPER STREET premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.