One of my guilty pleasures of TV are police procedurals. Ripper Street combines this with my love of British TV and historical drama. It’s like CSI: Victorian London. It’s quickly become one of my favorite weekend shows, not least because of the clever references to the modern world, along with the atmosphere created by the costumes and characters.
The show follows Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, the head of the Whitechapel police division during the time of Jack the Ripper. Whitechapel is not the nicest of places, and it turns out they have far more than the Ripper about which to worry. The show skews decidedly political, following revolutionaries and outsiders, and reminds me of a steampunk world, only it tries to be historically accurate rather than speculative.
One of my favorite things about the show is the characters. The show focuses on an Edmund Reid who is noble, kind, determined, and very, very honest. The show juxtaposes him both with the status quo of London police — who are as often as not corrupt and often in the loop with the wealthy and politically connected — as well as with the American character. While there is some vagueness about his specific politics, the American doctor Homer Jackson is the outsider for which much of the plot must be exposed. He also represents the march of progress, both politically with his socialist leanings, and physically, as he brings forensic science into the 20th century. His “dead room” is an autopsy room where he turns Ripper Street into CSI: Victorian London. Rounding out the main male cast is Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake, a traditional, former-military copper who uses his fists to talk and tends to stick to tradition, though he is ultimately an honest cop. His boundaries are challenged when he falls in love with a prostitute.
The female cast is led by Long Susan, who is a madame with a secret past. She is married to Jackson, and she runs her house of ill-repute with a firm but caring hand. The show focuses upon some of her girls more than others, but makes sure they are more than pretty stereotypes. In contrast to Long Susan, Reid’s wife is a progressive woman in a traditional role. Their marriage is strained due to a past tragedy that is revealed as the first series goes on.
My other favorite thing about the show are the costumes. I love the bold use of color, adding splashes of saturated jewel tones to Jackson’s costume and Long Susan’s girls, while keeping the gritty, slightly dingy look of 19th-century London. The costuming, coupled with the often-veiled political references actually remind me of Firefly. The repartee between the characters doesn’t hurt on that score, either. Here’s hoping it stays running for a long time yet.