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.
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.
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.
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.