My initial assessment for the first series of the BBC Victorian Era police procedural Ripper Street was highlighted by the short quip "Needs Improvement". When the second season/series landed at my doorstep, a part of me wondered what I was in for. Essentially, there were three roads the makers of this television programme could go down: that of altering the formula for the worst, keeping things exactly the same, or adjusting it just enough to improve the show overall. Fortunately, it would appear that the latter path was the one chosen to travel here - as Ripper Street: Season Two has definitely gone under some renovation progress since I last visited it.
For starters, a staggering bit of reality has been mixed in for good effect. Sure, the original setup was able to establish that the series was housed in a somewhat-authentic Whitechapel District in the late 1800s - something the show's name should be able to imply alone. But it's not until the premiere episodes of Season Two, wherein the writers miraculously add Joseph Merrick - best know to today by his exploitive sideshow moniker, "The Elephant Man" - into the fray. Effectively portrayed by Joseph Drake, Merrick's inclusion makes way for a brief story arc that even more incredibly embraces the then-unknown phenomena of kung-fu.
It's almost as if the writers of Ripper Street were reading The True History of the Elephant Man whilst The Big Brawl was playing in the background. And frankly, it gives the already-mechanical recipe of Ripper Street's previously-established leads - once again played by the likes of Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn, and Adam Rothenberg - something far more interestingly to play off of. The aforementioned main characters also have a few new plights to endure here: DI Reid (Macfadyen) has been left by his spouse, while DS Drake (Flynn) and Captain Jackson (Rothenberg) both encounter further agonies of their own respective relationships.
Additional storylines for this series include an underground ring of telegraph boys being pimped out to older men - which makes way for bloody murder, a mad Irish bomber on the loose in London - which makes way for bloody murder, DS Drake's significant other (Charlene McKenna) getting (re-)involved with a dangerous religious cult - which makes way for bloody murder, and the sudden arrival of Captain Jackson's long-lost scoundrel of a brother (David Costabile) - which makes way for, well, I'm pretty sure you can imagine the outcome there. But I won't give up on them just yet. After all the show managed to redeem itself quite a bit after one series; perhaps Series 3 (which has been put into commission) will prove to be the best yet. We can hope, at least.
BBC Home Video brings Ripper Street: Season Two to Blu-ray in a two-disc set that presents the digitally-shot series in clean and crisp presentations with 1080p/AVC transfers. The episodes are offered up in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratios with lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtracks and English (SDH) accompanying. The only special feature found in the whole set is a short behind-the-scenes featurette.
In short: "It's not quite dead. It's getting better."