Ripper Street: Series One Blu-ray Review: As My Teachers Always Said: Needs Improvement

Some will tell you that life imitates art. Others will insist that the opposite is true. Personally, from what I’ve seen in the fields of film and television, I would venture to say that art imitates art. Well, sometimes it’s art that’s being imitated. Other times, you have people emulating the likenesses of other endeavors from the film and television genres that simply weren’t too terribly outstanding to start with – and which were really only popular with the masses. It’s almost like popcorn imitating popcorn: a tasty treat when you dive into it, but it’s oh-so-fleeting in the long run. And yes, I know how truly awful that analogy was, so please accept my apologies here and now for that.

I guess what I’m trying to get at here – in a very roundabout, not-at-all-direct sort of fashion – is that there are a lot of similarly-themed items out there. Especially within the realms of television. Strangely enough, the British – who used to be somewhat immune to giving in to temptation and taking the easy way out of making TV shows inspired by other TV shows – have seemingly abandoned their longstanding practice of adapting timeless pieces of literature and creating groundbreaking documentaries in lieu of succumbing to ripping off other people’s works.

With Ripper Street – a BBC police procedural set in Victorian London, England several months after the disappearance of the never-captured serial killer, Jack the Ripper – we have shades of many different television and film franchises, all blended entertainingly into one. The main characters in question are Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen), who heads off H Division in Whitechapel (or, Ripper Street, if you will); his colleague, strong-armed Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn); and – in order to give the series a little street cred in the States, an American: Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) – a former US Army surgeon and one-time Pinkerton agent with a passion for booze and broads, and whose motives sometimes seem like he’s not entirely on the side of the good guys (just like your average American, right?).

The series opens with a scene straight out of Guy Ritchie’s lamentable Sherlock Holmes, wherein DS Drake is working undercover in an underground boxing ring. This is interrupted by the discovery of a body that may indicate the return of the Ripper himself. Fortunately, Ripper Street doesn’t go down that road; instead, it sets the stage for a series of standalone plots wherein our three leads dive head first (sometimes fist first) into one highly unusual case after another – all the while taking on the famous triangular relationship we all know so well from just about any version of Star Trek.

Pornography and snuff filmmaking in the earliest stages of moving picture technology. A demented take on Fagin and the kids of Oliver Twist. The potential outbreak of a cholera-like infection. And, just for good measure, some classic cop stuff: white slavery, corruption, and the odd “traditional” murder or two. Ripper Street throws just about everything in but the kitchen sink (although the American character does have a “dead room” [morgue] with some early primitive plumbing in it). The end result? Well, it’s an entertaining affair overall, though it seems to try way too hard a lot of the time. There’s a heavy emphasis on the blood and gore department (which is rather atypical for the Brits), the characters seem far too formulaic at times, and the writers occasionally seem to miss the dartboard (or watched one episode too many of Murdoch Mysteries).

That said, it’s a pretty decent series. It’s no Sherlock (the current, contemporary BBC version, kids – not that Guy Ritchie shite), but it certainly could be worse. It could do with some improving, nonetheless.

BBC Worldwide brings us all eight episodes of Ripper Street: Series One (a second series has been commissioned, though it was uncertain at the time this was printed to disc, so the title simply says Ripper Street) in a glorious High-Definition 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer that presents the often-bloody show in a robust and colorful presentation. Accompanying the series is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack that delivers exceptionally well considering it’s not a 5.1 affair. English (SDH) subtitles are also on-hand. Special features for this 2-Disc Blu-ray/Digital Copy/UltraViolet Combo set include a staggering amount of extremely brief featurettes and promo pieces, as well as a lackluster 50-minute documentary on Jack the Ripper – which really has no bearing here whatsoever when you stop to think about it.

So, while we hope the writers of Ripper Street improve on what they have to offer, let’s hope somebody else improves on the supplements of any subsequent home video releases.

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Luigi Bastardo

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