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Ripper Street

title stars


Easily one of the best boxes of television to appear this century, Ripper Street will tear your remote from your fingers, shock your flat-screen clear off your wall and explode your cat. This is the sort of BBC import that PBS wouldn’t touch with a hazmat suit.

Set in the Whitechapel district of London in 1889, Ripper Street follows singularly embittered Detective Inspector Edmund Reid as he deals with the whores, derelicts, madmen, evil venture capitalists, corrupt civil servants… and at least one legendary elusive serial killer… who haunt the east end of London. Dis is da reawy grotty bit o’ the city, wot ‘as bodies everywhere. Y’d fink it were a bleedin’ war zone.

While Ripper Street clearly derives its name from Victorian London’s most notorious murderer, Jack rarely gets a mention after the first episode. Rather than yet another tiresome bucket of theories about the identity and motives of Jack the Ripper, the episodes deal with all the other nasties of the period… and an engaging choir of fiends they were, too.

In fact, pretty much every aspect of Ripper Street is fresh and unexpected. This is Dickensian London without even the merest suggestion of Dickens and his oppressive social conscience. Nobody is who they appear to be, and little of the action is predictable. Those of the more destitute characters who can’t find enough bread to sustain themselves could undoubtedly enjoy a satisfying dinner of red herring.

Edmund Reid is joined by his taller and more heavily accented sidekick Bennett Drake, and most notably, by Homer Jackson, a former military surgeon late of the American civil war, who lends a note of CSI: Whitechapel to the proceedings. Everyone, including most of the rats, has a secret past.

Filmed in Dublin, the series succeeds in evoking a compelling sense of the deplorable conditions and the foreboding sense of impending menace of London’s east end. Its camera work is edgy and laser-sharp. Every line of its dialog is flawless and turns out to have meant something sinister before the credits roll.

Ripper Street occasionally seems like a faint echo of the HBO production of Deadwood – there’s a touch less profanity, but its flawless overtones of mayhem, chaos and lawlessness are everywhere, as is a similar howling fiddle score.

The only unfortunate aspect of Ripper Street is that it runs for a mere eight episodes. A second season is said to be in the works as of this writing, and is expected to slash some fresh throats and bludgeon passers-by anew early in 2014.