TV Review: Ripper Street, Series 2 Premiere

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Plot: We return to the Whitechapel section of London in the year 1890. Our heroes from the “H Division” Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew MacFayden), Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) and medical examiner/American ex-pat Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) are embroiled in solving the mysterious assault on a policeman. They soon find themselves neck deep in the burgeoning heroin trade of London, which may be masterminded by own of their own.

It’s not good policy to point out the mistakes of a television audience, but in this case we’ll make the exception.

Photo Credit: © Tiger Aspect
Photo Credit: © Tiger Aspect

You all are sleeping on a great series. What else are you watching on Saturday nights? That expensive boxing or UFC pay-per-view? Reruns of movies you’ve already seen? Another Law & Order marathon?

BBC America has done a fantastic job of taking a night notoriously known for a scant television-viewing audience and filling it with quality, even masterful programming. Ripper Street is one such program and quite possibly one of their best Saturday night entries (well, maybe except Dr. Who).

The series revolves around a trio of lawmen (MacFayden, Flynn, Rothenberg) who patrol the former killing fields of Jack the Ripper. The plot currently has our heroes fighting the impending explosion of heroin sales to the people of the East End of London while still trying to deal with their own personal demons and addictions. Oh, and the Elephant Man is a recurring character as well.

What makes Ripper Street such a fine show is that it avoids all the cliches. It’s not a stuffy British costume drama despite being set in the 1890s and it’s not a by the numbers procedural although it has all the classics traits of one. This series is a violent retelling of a time gone by, almost reminiscent of Gangs of New York, even more so than its network cousin, Copper. Ripper Street is refined but still has a raw, edgy quality to it. The show’s nature is reflected in two of its lead characters — Reed and Bennett.

Photo Credit: © Tiger Aspect
Photo Credit: © Tiger Aspect

Matthew MacFayden portrays Reed as a man of reason and science — who believes in logic and deduction as the way to solve the case. MacFayden’s rich and measured voice creates the perfect air of civility and intelligence for Reed. Yet, like the series, Reed has his rough side as he isn’t worried about getting his hands dirty to solve the case. This is perfectly portrayed in the series premiere as he baits a dope sick witness with a dripping syringe of heroin in order to get a confession.

Jerome Flynn’s Bennet is the inverse of Reed. He’s a fists first kind of cop who is more blunt force trauma than he is by the book. Yet beneath his rugged exterior lies a man who has honor, respect and love for his job, his friend Reed and his wife in his heart. His quiet scene with his wife during the premiere was a really nice moment that could’ve been played for saccharine schmaltz, but Flynn injects such honesty into the scene that it’s a welcomed moment.

It’s these two actors who carry Ripper Street from the potential wasteland of “been there, done that” and into a realm of greatness. The chemistry these two have isn’t your typical cop relationship. This isn’t some sort of buddy comedy where the two guys hate each other in the beginning and then are like brothers by the end. These two walk the line between friend and superior deftly. They care deeply for one another and are always watching for the others safety and are not afraid to risk their lives for each other.

Photo Credit: © Tiger Aspect
Photo Credit: © Tiger Aspect

Yet, it’s Flynn who really shines in this series. He’s such a lovable character — the bare knuckle fighter, willing to solve everything with his fists and brute strength yet he’s soft-spoken, is madly in love with his wife and is often the purveyor of the cutting yet subtle one-liners. Much like he does with his limited onscreen time on Game of Thrones, he steals every scene he’s in. He’s less brash than his GOT character, but he still has that magnetic charisma, that air unpredictability surrounding him. Yet, it’s that soulfulness we mentioned earlier that really makes him the character you root for and connect with the most.

Outside of this duo, the acting on the series is more than solid and the writing is a fantastic blend of taught mystery, personal strife and historical fact. It seems to always click on all cylinders, but in all fairness, the Season 2 premiere’s inclusion of extended martial arts sequences, were a little whatever. It makes perfect sense within the context of the show, but it’s overuse onscreen, detracted from the episode and was a tad hokey.

Ripper Street is a must-watch show. So, skip your reruns and marathons, save that pay-per-view money and tune in or at least DVR this prime piece of British drama.

Ripper Street premieres this Saturday on BBC America.

Related Articles:

Review: Ripper Street, Series 1 Premiere (Bill Bodkin)

Review: Copper, Season 2 Premiere (Bill Bodkin)

Review: Orphan Black, Series Premiere (Jason Stives)

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

5 COMMENTS

  1. How Ripper Street was cancelled.

    Look…timeline of the events stateside:

    – BBC America announces to the Critics Association in July 2013 that Ripper Street will air in the states 01-Dec-2013 at 10pm. It would have pitted it against the Mentalist and the Good Wife, both high rated award winning shows.

    http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2013/07/25/bbc-america-announces-orphan-black-season-2-atlantis-ripper-street-premiere-dates-more/194030/

    – No promos whatsoever are aired on BBCA for Ripper Street from that point in July to Dec. The original air date of 01-Dec was not even posted on their web page except in an obscure location on their press page you had to pop into a search engine to find.

    – 23-Nov-2013 was the week before the original US air date. It was also the weekend of the big Dr Who global simulcast. US fans expected promos for Ripper Street. Nothing for Ripper Street, but a promo for Orphan Black which does not air until April 2014.

    – 24- Nov-2013, a sole tweet is made from BBCAmerica saying Ripper Street will now air Feb 2014, with no definitive air date. No other mention is made. So unless you had Twitter and found that one tweet, you had no idea what was going on. The tweet is here and the reaction:

    https://twitter.com/mappingtg/status/404693927690661889

    – Ripper Street, a joint BBC/BBCA production, is cancelled 04-Dec-2013 before ever airing in the states.

    -BBC America finally starts putting up minor promos for Ripper Street and a teaser trailer Christmas Day 2013. But the trailer says it airs 22-Feb-2014 at 9pm while the website said 10pm.

    – 21-Jan-2014, TV Guide (the states version of the Radio Times) tweets that BBCA just announced to them that Ripper Street will air 22-Feb-2014 at 10pm. Then they quickly correct themselves and say 9pm. Tweet is here

    https://twitter.com/tvguidemagazine/status/425661703682932737

    How does the cancellation not look contrived in the beginning and negligent towards the end? The only thing Ripper Street was promoted to do was fail.

  2. RIPPER STREET fans: you can still sign the largest online petition to help save this great show — visit change[dot]org…search RIPPER STREET and REVERSE THE BBC. Over 40,000 viewers from inside and outside of the UK have signed already. US fans: Season Two has just begun airing stateside — make your voice heard now if you want to see future seasons. Tweet them at @BBCOne, @BBCAMERICA and @bbcpress and tell them to #SaveRipperStreet

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