Sadly, now that I’ve watched about half of the episodes in the 8-part first season, I can safely say that this series really does nothing beyond the first episode when it comes to touching upon the state of mind London was in after the Ripper killings (which, even then, was a serious let-down in terms of my expectations). I think the show is supposed to convey that the people are still terrified because the crime is unsolved, but in actuality, with so many other problems and active criminals in old London, it seems as if the Ripper becomes a forgotten shadow once the first crime in the show is solved.
The setting for "Ripper Street" is pretty basic: it’s 19th century London, 6 months after the Ripper last struck. The main character, Inspector Edmund Reid of H Division, is tasked with investigating murders and crimes in a post-Ripper world. He’s assisted on the job by two other characters, Detective Sergeant Bennett Drake and US Army surgeon and former Pinkerton agent Captain Homer Jackson.
And, well, that's about all, folks.
Thanks to its set-up and team of crime solvers, “Ripper Street” has been renamed in my mind as “Victorian England Law and Order meets Sherlock Holmes." Except that the show never focuses on what happens when criminals are taken to trial, so maybe “Victorian England Cops” is a closer analogy. Heck, one of the actors has even joked the show is basically “CSI: Whitchapel.” But no matter what, "Ripper Street" is not a title that aptly describes the show.
Truth be told, I think this incorrectly named show falls under the category of “why do I watch this” more than the category of “I enjoy this,” taking an uncomfortable place next to “Grimm” and the last few seasons of “House.”
I do have some idea of why I keep watching this show, though: if any station could authentically replicate old London, the BBC is the station to do it. The sets, costumes, and event accents that are so strong even I don’t always understand what’s being said bring this historical setting to life. One episode even briefly shows the digging of the tunnels that would one day become the Tube. In many ways, this show brings about odd feelings of nostalgia for this study abroad alum – it’s that authentic, even with its modern television style and pacing.
Also, the opening theme is beautiful. It’s the little things, right?
The crimes committed in the show bounce between interesting, outlandish and boring, which I suppose is true of any crime show but is still something that nags me when I stop and think about what I'm watching. And the cast? The actors are actually doing a good job with what they were given, but therein lies the problem: they were given very little, which, while probably intentional, is a major drawback in my eyes.
Let me put it this way: to this day, I cannot tell you which character is who and what distinguishes them from the others (other than who wears which hat or which suit). Their history, back-story, fears, dreams, goals? Don’t ask me, unless you give me time to go check Wikipedia – that’s how I figured out who in the world the main character’s companions even are when I started writing this blog post. I’m sure each character was briefly explained in the first episode, but now, I’m still waiting to learn more about each character weeks later, and as each episode goes by, I'm forgetting the little bit that I already knew about them.
Maybe I’m being unfair, as shows like “SVU” have had years to subtly work in character arcs and development. But as of now, I’m still waiting for the type of bond I feel with those detectives to form with the characters in “Ripper Street." Having that would certainly add a whole new level of investment to the show for me.
And like I've already said, it’s entirely possible these blank pages in the character’s development are intentional and I just don't like the writing style of the show that much. Still, I can’t help but feel that caring about the characters more than I do would have motivated me to finish the first season by now. Alas, my two reasons to finish “Ripper Street” are to continue to see developments in my old London, and to ensure that I have time to watch “Doctor Who” once it begins again.
Am I the only one who finds that a little sad?
Still, I'll be sticking with this show, because that's just my way: even if something isn't very good, once I start it, I have a hard time stopping. It's one of my greatest flaws and strengths. So for my sake, here's to the last few episodes of season one and/or season two improving on a show that, between its setting and unexplored characters, still has untapped potential and lots of territory to explore.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: After watching several more episodes and nearing the end of season one, I've remembered exactly why I always try to watch a show for more than two or three parts. I can happily report the show did, indeed, get better; while I personally would have reorganized the episodes in a way that better balanced the show's character arcs with the mysteries and action, I'm now confidant that as time goes on I will, indeed, come to love the people in this show. I suppose the writing is meant to be taken as a mystery - which, I admit, is a clever nod to the genre.