bill bodkin reviews the new crime drama on BBC America…
The search is over…we’ve found your new favorite TV show.
Yes, all our favorite gritty and taught dramas — Homeland, Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter, American Horror Story: Ayslum, Sons of Anarchy — are all pretty much finished for the year or are on a hiatus of sorts.
Ripper Street, the new historical crime drama from BBC America, handily fills the void left by these critical darlings. It’s a taught, visceral and engrossing piece of drama that has all the earmarks of a must-see, must-watch show, week-in, week-out.
The premise is simple: the Whitechapel section of London is still haunted by the specter of Jack the Ripper. Rumors, conspiracies and paranoid whisperings suggest the serial killer has not met his demise…especially when a murdered woman appears on the streets he once prowled…and left with the same distinguishing marks all his victims bore.
In steps the trio of Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (The Three Musketeers’ Matthew Macfadyen), his right hand man Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Game of Thrones’ Jerome Flynn) and the American surgeon Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg, of CBS’ The Ex-List) to tackle the case.
Reid, who worked the Ripper case, is hellbent on quashing pandemonium caused by the press and the throngs of civilians all of who are in fear of the return of the killer. Through his tenacity, Drake’s brute force and the shady Jackson’s encyclopedic knowledge of forensics, the trio work like a well-oiled-machine to uncover a conspiracy that involves the royals and early forms of hardcore pornography.
As a series, Ripper Street, at least in the narrative tone and visual feel, is very reminiscent of BBC America’s excellent historical crime drama, Copper. However, Ripper Street is far superior…and that’s not a knock at all on Copper. What makes Ripper Street a highly entertaining show is its sense of urgency. Reid and his crew are always in a race against the clock to a.) find the real killer and b.) meet a Friday deadline of the local newspaper, who will go forward with a report that the victim was that of The Ripper.
This sense of urgency, which is not overdone (luckily), gives the pacing of Ripper Street a “hey you gotta pay attention!” vibe to it. You are glued to your screen because something of great importance is happening — whether it be clues to the mystery or hints about our heroes (from a slight glance at Reid’s scarred shoulder to hints about Jackson’s shady past in the US).
The acting in Ripper Street is also top notch. McFayden, who’s a terrifically under-appreicated actor, shines here in the lead role as the no-nonsense, super-savy D.I. Reid. He sets the urgent tone for the whole episode, which is something you don’t often see — it’s usually the story that dictates the pace, not the character. McFayden has a commanding presence and he works wonderfully as the the linch-pin of the crime-solving trio. As Drake, Jerome Flynn exudes the same kind of blunt force brutality and subtle snark that he does on Game of Thrones. He’s the perfect, classic right-hand man and in this episode we’re given hints of a heart.
Ripper Street is the perfect answer to the void all the great fall dramas have left. But don’t look at it as a mere replacement — look at it as the next great British import you’ll be falling in love with.
Ripper Street airs this Saturday night on BBC America at 9pm EST.
All photos are credited to © Tiger Aspect / Jonathan Hession and used with permission of BBC America.