I watch a lot of television, but truth told much of it is of passing interest. That said there has been a trend in recent years for shows to appear and disappear after a handful of episodes. I grew up in the era when a series arrived dutifully in late summer or late fall and stayed around for many months unless ratings were truly abominable. I grew up used to shows which cranked out thirty or forty episodes and lasted four or five years before moving on into the great TV graveyard. Now it's different, as shows appear and disappear with not even a dozen episodes each year, they appear for a few months then shuffle off to be replaced by something maybe as good, but often just different.
It is in that landscape that several years ago I chanced upon Ripper Street, a BBC production which told the tale of cops of Whitechapel in 1889, a few months after the notorious murders of Jack the Ripper. These are conflicted but essentially noble and passionate men who seek a modicum of justice in a grimy and dangerous and tragic world where justice is often a luxury. We have Edmund Reid, an erudite Detective Inspector who is moved by the plight of those in his precinct and who is himself plagued by the seeming death of his daughter. He is assisted by Inspector Bennet Drake, a ferocious fighter and stalwart policeman who admires his boss and who himself seeks love in all the wrong places. The third member of the team is Captain Homer Jackson, an American surgeon and scientist who lives in a brothel with his one true love the madam of the joint Susan, a powerful savvy woman. These three men work together and apart to use modern techniques to discover the sources of crime which plagues the painfully poor denizens of Ripper Street.
Later seasons see mysteries solved and lost children found and loves consummated. Along the way this trio of law officers defeat a menagerie of villains who prey upon the hapless and desperate. Things change in the series and after the third season it seemed the story had reached a conclusion of sorts, but with the fourth and current season events have reignited these men to work together once again. Time passes and the current season is set in 1897 amid the waning days of Queen Victoria. The nature of police work has changed as technology and other younger men adept at its uses come to help the original trio who pioneered the way forward.
The real strength of Ripper Street is the remarkable dialogue which has its characters sounding like they just walked out of a Dickens novel. No real attempt is made at naturalism here, but there is a sense of idioms of the day finding regular purchase in the speech. It's not a show you can watch with one eye, it demands your complete attention and earns that attention with compelling stories.
I read that a fifth season is in process though I also read it will be the last. I hope not.