Despite the show's name, don't expect to see Jack the Ripper cases play a big part on Ripper Street.
That's because the new BBC America crime drama, which kicks off Saturday at 9/8c, takes place in 1889, a good six months after the last murder was attributed to the notorious serial killer. "The whole idea for us setting out on this journey was to really try and actually discard Jack the Ripper, at least in terms of wondering after who he was and trying to catch him," creator Richard Warlow told TV critics at BBC America's winter previews. "What we wanted to do really was to tell stories about the streets down which he walked and committed his crimes in the wake of those terrible murders and how it affected the community and, most importantly, the police that tried and failed to catch him."
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In particular, Det. Edmund Reid (Matthew MacFadyen), loosley based on the real-life Ripper investigator of the same name, will head up the division that tries to lessen the body count in the seedy and impoverished Whitechapel district. Helping Reid is right-hand bruiser Sgt. Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) and a mysterious expat American named Cpt. Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), who lends his groundbreaking forensic skills to the police force.
Here's an idea of what to expect from Ripper Street beyond Jack the Ripper:
Although the Ripper killings aren't featured, Reid & Co. have plenty of dead people to keep them busy. Fans of forensic-crime dramas will immediately recognize Jackson as Ripper Street's resident CSI who uses strange methods, the forerunners of modern forensics, to examine the bodies. Reid, whom MacFadyen describes as "free-thinking and forward-looking," is Jackson's biggest fan and obtains the tools he needs.
"I always thought one of the most interesting things about Reid was that he kind of was always convinced that if tomorrow's technology had been here today, they would have got the Ripper," said executive producer Will Gould. "They just didn't have the resources. They didn't have the things they needed to get that guy. And that was, obviously, a big kind of cloud hanging over them all."
Check out this clip of Reid presenting Jackson his new "dead room":
Let's face it: The Ripper wasn't the only one who targeted prostitutes. They are, after all, often walking the streets alone, unprotected and approaching strange men. Also, Jackson's unclear association with a brothel-keeper known as Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) makes the ladies of the night allies of sorts in certain police investigations. "On the one hand, [the Victorian era] was strict and filled with rules," said Buring. "It was also quite well known for being quite deviant and it really had this sort of dark undercurrent."
See what else Charlene McKenna, who plays the prostitute Rose, had to say about the era:
It's not just the women who will be trotting out their finery, but the men too. And although two of our heroes are part of the police force, don't expect to see them in the traditional bobby uniform. Both Reid and Drake wear suits, with the former sporting a snazzy bowler hat.
"Early on ... part of us, wanted to put [Drake] in uniform and really sort of fetishize a uniform," said Warlow. "Someone in uniform beating the crap out of suspects, that was sort of exciting to me somehow. [But] the thing about a British police uniform is you just look like a prat. There is no way around it. You just look like a bobby on the beat. So it was like, 'All right. Get him out of that and put him in a killer suit.'"
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MacFadyen is thrilled with his Victorian garb, or at least one element of it. "I really, really loved my hat. Probably too much," he confided. "But for me, it was kind of a love-hate relationship with those starched collars."
Rothenberg, whose free-spirited Jackson wears a number of colorful waistcoats and trousers, only focused on his facial hair. "The mustache did something to my head," he said. "I miss it too. I feel that when I shaved it, I felt like Samson cutting his hair off all of a sudden."
Yes, the series is gritty, edgy and deals with matters of life and death, but the core group of crimefighters have a three-way bromance that is built on high-minded moral ideals and occasional moments of humor. This isn't a farce by any means, but there is a bit of humanity and hopefulness that pervades the show, setting it apart from its darker BBC America cousin Copper.
Ripper Street kicks off Saturday at 9/8c on BBC America.
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