|Ripper Street threesome: Drake, Reid, and Jackson (l-r)|
Ripper Street is one of those unexpected surprises. It has just the right amount of crime procedural, period piece setting, action-adventure, and character drama to make it an absolute gem.
My Sunday nights are not complete without this BBC addition (last week with the BAFTAs in its time-slot, I was quite disappointed). Yes television viewers, we did miss out. Luckily, it will return this week.
The first thing I thought, with an opening scene on bare-knuckle boxing and opening credits in a very Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes style, was that it was trying to be that type of story, just on a smaller screen. Wrong again. It has the quality of Deadwood with the quirkiness of Firefly; the feeling more of a Victorian era Western, if there ever could be such a thing.
The name could be misleading. It is set in Whitechapel, and the lead character, Edmund Reid (played with perfection by Matthew Macfayden) is based on a London detective who worked on the Jack the Ripper cases, but this is distinctly set just after the infamous spree. Reid is doing all he can to calm his streets in the aftermath, while at the same time clearly facing some deeper personal issues we have yet to fully understand. His right-hand men are Det. Sergeant Drake (Game of Thrones), and the somewhat mysterious ex-soldier, ex-Pinkerton, Yankee doctor, Jackson. Together they do what needs to be done.
The main casting couldn't have been better. Without it Ripper Street may not be the series it is. Matthew Macfayden (Spooks, Little Dorrit, Pride and Prejudice) shows the Ripper audience perhaps his best work as Edmund Reid, the Detective Inspector in Whitechapel's H division police department. Inspired by a real person, Macfayden's Reid is not meant to be a historical representation. He is given a fictional background, and Macfayden brings the perfect amount of humanity and action to the late 19th Century that fills our 21st Century needs. Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones fans will recognize him as Bronn) is wonderful as DS Bennet Drake. Reid and Drake play the good-cop, bad-cop with their suspects; Drake relishing the bad-cop role by roughing-up the bad guys until Reid gets his answers. Flynn's Drake is loyal to his Inspector, and, despite having that rough exterior, it clear that there is a human being inside. With British actors going to Hollywood, it's great to see an American actor, playing an American, in an English series. Talk about authenticity! Captain Homer Jackson gets more and more interesting everytime he's on screen. He is a wild card, Reid knows, but he is good at what he does. A former soldier, former Pinkerton (thank you Arthur Conan Doyle for my introduction to the Pinkertons), a doctor (Reid's coroner). Rothenberg brings the mystery, a Yankee confidence and swagger, and even loyalty to a character who always leaves you wondering who side he is really on.
The series brings modern ideas to the late Victorian era, but they seem to fit right in. We can see that social issues, modernity, and people are the essentially the same, even after a century of wars, and industrial and technological advances. That makes a series like this timeless. It has been renewed for a second series. With enjoyable series' so few and far between, I am glad that there is more Ripper Street on the horizon.