Tag Archives: Ripper Street

Ripper Street – Season 2

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The second season/series of Ripper Street began on BBC America in February, and finished last month. I have my ups and downs with this show, and can’t ever decide how I feel about it. But I never really love it, and the second season was more of the same. It’s the sort of show you watch, but it doesn’t really hold your interest, and when you’re done you can’t really remember what it was about.

The second season had Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) again leading a Whitechapel detective squad with his right-hand man, Sergeant Drake, and his American scientist, Homer Jackson. But it’s the private lives of all three that bring about most of the problems across the season arc. Reid begins to see a new woman, June Cobden, after his marriage had fallen apart.

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I like her more than I like him, to be honest, and I’m comforted to see she’s based on a real person. She’s a feminist, a leader, a politician, and very interested in reforms that can help poor families. As a bleeding-heart liberal woman, I am 100% happy about her. But I still don’t really like Reid. He hides behind the guise of a good, moral man. Perhaps he is as moral as a man can be in that position in that age. But you cannot be a good, moral man, who employs a personal ‘enforcer’. I was most pleased with this season because the show finally addresses this fact. Drake has a certain moral superiority over Reid, because though he is doing the ‘enforcing’, Reid is the one pulling the puppet strings. I get really irritated with shows (like Copper, and somewhat Ripper Street) that imply that you can be a good guy, and still shoot/beat/intimidate people in order to get your own way, and that that behavior is somehow allowed because you are in search of justice.  Nope. The ends do not justify the means.

In the previous season, Drake wanted to marry Rose, one of Susan’s girls. She rebuffed him, determined to be an actress/singer. He marries a different one of Susan’s girls. This tells me that more than he wanted Rose, he just didn’t want to be alone. Forgivable. But the one he does marry, Bella, turns out to have a lot of baggage. She used to be part of some sort of violent, incestuous, proto-cult. She drags Susan into the matter and things go from bad to worse there. Drake loses his wife, and probably most of his mind. He leaves the station and deals with his grief by putting his body through physical pain—he works menial jobs (gravedigging, etc.) during the day, and at night he is a ‘boxer’. I hesitate to even call it boxing, because he has his hands tied behind his back and people make bets about how many punches he can take before he passes out. I would liken his behavior to a 19th-century form of self-harm. Easier to deal with physical pain than the emotional.

But this foray away from the precinct puts Reid in a very awkward spot. He has always been able to keep his hands clean of the riff raff. He would nod at Drake, and Drake would punch witnesses until they talked. Without Drake around, Reid is forced to come up with alternative tactics, or forced to do the punching himself. That made me feel better, but by the end of the season this dynamic reverts to where it was, without much change on either side.

The other big character shift was the relationship between Jackson and Susan. He loses her trust and her love, and things go from bad to worse between them. Men are so stupid sometimes, and Jackson is definitely one of them. Susan is forced to go through a lot of horrible things to keep afloat after Jackson’s stupid decisions.

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The other constant on Ripper Street is the highly unlikely plot points, usually relating to new technology emerging at that point. The first season had the invention of video—in order to make snuff porn. This season, in addition to featuring proto-cults, there were opiates, people smuggling diamonds in their anuses, electricity scheisters that did something very disturbing to a farm animal in order to prove the safety of their form of current (sadly, this is based on a very real and very horrifying truth), telegraph messenger boys as a front for gay pedophiles, police corruption, a garroted man, Joseph Merrick (the elephant man), and several scenes with pig carcasses that I had to watch between my fingers because yuck.

The problem I really have with Ripper Street is the lack of depth. They put a lot of effort into salacious plots and nefarious villains, but the character development is sometimes lacking. Reid has almost no internal emotions portrayed, and people are too often separated into the wholly good or wholly bad. There are exceptions. The women are believable, and have the most depth. Drake is probably the only man that I think has a level of substance that makes him relatable. Despite Reid’s use of him as a bulldog and nothing more, Drake has an understanding of the world and of himself, and also a fear of those same two things, that make him the most interesting man on the show.

Ripper Street

BBC cancelled Ripper Street after season two. But the fans of this show pulled together and sent emails, signed petitions, etc. to get it renewed. And it worked! Sort of. Amazon is going to make the third season. It will air on BBC and BBC America, after being streamed online. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the show, that makes me feel good. I wish things like email campaigns or kickstarters had existed when I was younger. That being said, I’m not sure I’m going to watch season 3. Despite my love of all things Victorian, I just can’t get into this show. This is a show that often eschews emotional substance in favor of flashy scandalousness. I would prefer a show that did the opposite.

 

Ripper Street Season 1

Ripper Street cast

Last week was the season finale of Ripper Street on BBC America, after a short 8-episode season. In the UK, it ended in February. The show has already been picked up for a second season to air in early 2014.

As I mentioned in my review of Whitechapel (here), this Jack the Ripper theme stuck to a traditional police procedural is a bit overdone and not very sufficient to make a show good or memorable or necessary.  That being said, I decided to give it a shot. It does take place in Victorian London–my favorite place and my favorite time.  That alone is reason to watch.

The show focuses mainly on Inspector Reid, played by Matthew Macfadyen. Inspector Reid

Reid is the standard good guy, walking the line between being a gentleman and doing what it takes to solve the terrible crimes he encounters in the grimy and rough East End.  The show takes place a mere six months after Jack the Ripper’s last victim is found (1889).  Reid was one of the inspectors on the case, and it left him emotionally stunted and physically scarred.  He’s lost his daughter under mysterious circumstances, and that has caused an extreme rift between he and his wife.  His life is mysterious at first, with bits revealed throughout the first series to explain who and what he is.  I like Matthew Macfadyen, so I was predisposed to like Reid.  As a character, however, there are things that really bother me about him.  He neglects his wife and then is unfaithful.  Worst of all, he seems to exist as a thinking man and employs his faithful sergeant to do the dirty work of policing.  Of course, just like Copper, the show exists in an era well before the police were required to protect and not harm suspects and witnesses. Brutality was a way to accomplish their goals.  On the other hand, if you’re going to have a character who believes this behavior is warranted, it’s a little uncomfortable to watch him require his second-in-command to shoulder the burden of brutality.

The second-in-command is Sergeant Drake, an ex-soldier with the appearance of a thug, but he proves himself an honorable man.  He becomes smitten very early on with a local prostitute named Rose:

Drake and RoseDrake is very good at exacting information and subduing suspects through brute physical force, but that doesn’t mean he should be used for that alone.  He was in the Boer War in Africa, and has horrific memories of being a man prone to and enjoying violence–memories he is trying to run away from.  Of all the people in the show, he is the most afraid of violence and simultaneously the one forced to utilize it in his work.  Knowing this about him makes Reid’s reliance on Drake as an enforcer all the more repugnant and…there’s something class-ist about it.  Reid treats Dr. Jackson as an equal, but Drake as an inferior.  Drake is inferior to him at the police station, but their relationship seems to be predicated on social class and not career standing.  I did not like that fact, and it made me not like Reid because of it.

Dr. Jackson is known as ‘the American’ by most of the characters.  He has a suspicious past, is married to a woman who runs a local brothel, and seems to be a pioneer in the art of the autopsy:

Homer Jackson and Susan HartHe is Reid’s medical adviser, performing autopsies and necropsies. He acts as a one-man CSI lab, despite the limited technological advances inherent to a show set 130 years ago. He has a very mysterious past–the first thing we learn about him is that he has something to hide.  Later, it is revealed that he is using a false name, running from the Pinkertons (19th century private police force in the US), and has committed a serious crime.  Reid protects Jackson from being discovered by his enemies, but at the same time uses this information to force Jackson into continuing his work for the police.  It makes me think that Reid is just obsessive about solving cases, and all of his other values take a backseat to this need to find out whodunnit.

The show is very violent and regularly contains extremely graphic scenes, either of murder or sex or both.  The very first episode was about the making of the first snuff film.  The show makes it very clear that we’re living in a world with evil and with very little good.  There are no heroes to be found; everyone is flawed and many are downright monsters.

Reviews have been fairly mixed. Critics are especially irritated by the anachronisms.  I am currently writing a Victorian-era historical fiction novel, and feel a shiver of dread thinking about the websites that might crop up over my mistakes.  It’s simply very difficult to think about every piece of clothing, every word or idiom, every bit of food, and to research whether said item was available/used/known in that time period.  Then again, I would hope the BBC would have better resources than I do–my current resources include Google and a library card.  A Guardian column discussed the outlandish crimes committed during the running of the first series and where they had historical precedent. More of them were accurate than I would have guessed.

I’m still deciding my final opinion of the show. The first 2-3 episodes were incredibly dull and took a lot of work to get through.  It picked up at the end, with the last 1-2 episodes being pretty tolerable…but those first 2-3 episodes make up a large chunk of the season. So I’m not sure it’s worth the effort for the 1-2 good episodes at the end.

The acting is good and parts of each episode were truly enjoyable.  At the same time, the show was never great (in my opinion).  I was never enraptured, even when I was interested.  It also didn’t feel true to the period. It didn’t transport me to a different time, it felt more like I got off the bus in a bad neighborhood.  But I liked the characters, and I did feel for them.  I did become invested, especially in Drake and Jackson.  I will be tuning in for next season, despite mixed feelings.  I just hope they drop the Jack the Ripper stuff and deal with other types of crime and realities of living in that time and that place.

Top Gear season premiere

top gear trioThe nineteenth season of Top Gear starts tonight on BBC America.  It premiered in the U.K. last Sunday (the 27th).  This will be the first time TG is airing in the US anywhere near the same time it airs in the U.K., so that is exciting.  And, like Ripper Street, BBC America has decided not to condense the program to fit into a 1 hour block of American TV.  If you’re confused–these shows are both 1 hour in the U.K., but because the BBC doesn’t have commercials, the American networks have to decide how to handle this difference when they import the show.  Previously, BBC America generally removed about 12 minutes of programming from TG episodes in order to fit in commercials and make it take a 1-hour block of programming.  I’m not sure if they’ve changed their strategy because of the popularity of TG and of the network as a whole, or because they realize that sticking to strict blocks of programming time is not as important in the age of the DVR.  Either way, TG will be 1 hour 20 minutes on BBC America, same as Ripper Street.

For those of you unfamiliar with TG, despite my many mentions of it on this blog, let me indoctrinate you a bit.  It stars three morons: James May, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Hammond.  James is a pedantic old bore, Jeremy is the most conceited and impatient man in the world, and Hammond is roughly the same as any 10-year-old boy.  Together, they review new cars, discuss trends in motor sports and car culture, engage in challenges (all to do with cars), and there is always a celebrity interview.

If you like cars at all, watching this show is a no brainer.  If you don’t particularly like or care about cars (I’m not exactly a gearhead), there are still plenty of reasons to watch.

The celebrity interviews are unique in that they revolve around the car history of the celebrity in question.  Season 19’s premiere features Damian Lewis (of Homeland fame) sporting his natural British accent.  Each celebrity that comes in goes for a lap in a ‘reasonably priced car’ on the TG test track, and his/her time is compared to the celebrities that have come before.  They get a good mix of the uber-famous (Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz), musicians (Will.i.am, to some more Brit-centric celebs (Nick Frost, Bill Bailey).  It’s just different than your typical crappy Access Hollywood interview, or some shit you would hear on Ryan Seacrest.  So it’s automatically better.

Most importantly, it’s very funny.  I tend to zone out during a lot of the car reviews, although they are written and explained in a way that makes it easy to understand and engaging to anyone with even a slight interest or knowledge of cars.  But the challenges! They are the best thing.  They make me so happy.  Invariably the guys have to each buy a car for X amount of dollars and cross across Y number of dangerous countries/states/deserts/jungles in order to get bragging rights.  It’s hard to explain what makes this so very funny.  The best I can do is offer some funny moments:

If you’ve never watched Top Gear before, give it a try tonight.  Jeremy tries his hand at making the smallest car in the world, then presents it in front of the cast of the Dragon’s Den (the UK equivalent of the Shark Tank).  Also, a word of warning–do NOT mix up this hilarious and witty show with the American version on the History Channel.  That one is …well it is exactly the same, but with all the charm, intellect, and class taken out.  All of it.  Skip that one, unless you really like flannel shirts, pickup trucks, and the like–in which case, what are you doing on this blog?!

TV Show Review: Whitechapel

Whitechapel tv series

Preparing for the premiere of the new period drama Ripper Street, BBC America recently aired the entirety of a similar series: Whitechapel.

Both series use the name of Jack the Ripper to place their shows within a rich history of mystery, of horrific crime, and of a specific place in London. Whitechapel is a small area of London, NE of the Tower of London. It’s pretty unremarkable when you consider all the things that have happened during the course of London’s history (see my post on Boris Johnson’s Life of London), but it is known world-wide because of Jack the Ripper, and because of all the things that changed for modern society, for the press, and for police work during the one year that Jack the Ripper terrorized the neighborhood.

It has been almost 150 years since Jack the Ripper committed his crimes, but he is still the best known serial killer in the world, and a source of endless fascination and theoretical postulating. So both of these shows are anchoring their (relatively standard) police dramas to the J-t-R myth in order to draw in viewers.  The problem inherent in this strategy is that after you talk about Jack the Ripper, almost every other case and every other villain is going to be anticlimactic.

Whitechapel was first broadcast in the UK in 2009 (US in 2011), and has had three seasons (series) so far. A fourth season is set to premiere in the UK this year.

This is a modern police procedural, but it attempts to draw a line between past crimes and current ones.  The first season is 6 episodes, all following a Jack-the-Ripper copycat. The main characters include:

Whitechapel-tvseries characters

DI Chandler (middle): The OCD new leader of the schlubby old-school homicide detectives in Whitechapel. Much of the show is devoted to his relationships with the other detectives, and his own neuroses. Played by the very posh Rupert Penry-Jones

DS Miles (left): This character is played by Phil Davis, who I recognized immediately as the murderer/cabbie from the very first episode of Sherlock. While watching that episode, I remember thinking that this guy was a great actor, so I was thrilled to see him in something else.  He plays Chandler’s second in command, and the two often butt heads on how to manage the other detectives and how to pursue cases.  But he is a very human character and fulfills a void left because of Chandler’s lack of connection with others.

Edward Buchanon (right): Edward is a Ripper-ologist during the first series, lending his expertise to the search for the copycat.  After that, the idea the show takes is that current crimes can be compared to older crimes and historical information can help to point police in the right direction. While this might be true on a large scale (e.g. knowing that women are more likely to kill by poisoning), I fail to see how comparing one specific modern crime to one specific historical crime can be considered accurate. There has to be a reason why the modern crime would happen in the same way as the historical crime. You can’t just assume a correlation!  At any rate, Edward manages the historical archives and offers his advice based on these historical data.

The first series, as I said, deals with a Jack the Ripper copycat.  I found this series the most exciting, and was let down when the following series dealt with the legend of the Kray brothers.  Their fame has not quite reached this side of the pond, so I had no connection with them.  In the third series, instead of focusing the entire 6-episode arc on one villain, there were three two-part episodes. I think this worked a bit better.  The last villain in particular, called the Mantis, was pretty scary.

I think season 2 was the low point for me, but it started to recover in season 3. DI Chandler’s OCD continues to plague him and his relationships with his fellow policemen are strained and rearranged due to his emotional problems.  Often, people with OCD are portrayed on TV in humorous or quirky ways (e.g. Monk) and it was interesting to see someone in a more serious role with this affliction.  It wasn’t humorous at all.

Miles and Chandler are full-fledged characters, but everyone else fades easily into the background. I could only name one other character on the show. That’s not the mark of good writing.

Plus, do we really need another police procedural? Is this different enough from CSI, Law and Order, Copper, etc. etc. etc.  Probably not.  So if we don’t need Whitechapel, do we need Ripper Street?

Ripper Street

Ripper Street premiered a few weeks ago in the UK, and in the US shortly after.  I’ll withhold judgment until I watch at least the first series.  Unlike Whitechapel, it is a period drama, taking place in 1889 in Whitechapel.  From what I can tell, it’s Copper in London.  I have hope for it because I do love Matthew Macfayden.  But I hope that attaching the Jack the Ripper name to the series isn’t the only thing they’ve done to make it more than your average cop show.