Gentlefolk, start your DVRs.
Ripper Street is back with Series 3 (that’s “Season” 3, for us here in the States), airing on BBC America beginning April 29.
BBC canceled the show after its second season, citing low viewership in the UK, but when an online petition garnered over 50,000 signatures, the production company was able to reach a deal with (what is now) Amazon Prime Instant Video to fund a third season.
UK residents have already seen this third season, and reports I’ve read state that it’s the strongest, most viscerally charged season to date. The show’s creator, Richard Warlow, was more cautious about future seasons this time, and gave the end of Season 3 a sense of closure while still leaving sufficient loose threads with which to weave a Season 4, should it get picked up again. Here’s hoping on that score!
For newcomers, Ripper Street is set in Victorian London, post-Jack-the-Ripper, and follows a detective, his sergeant, and an American surgeon (who functions as the team’s medical examiner) as they pursue criminals and conspirators through the rough-and-tumble streets and alleyways of East London’s Whitechapel borough.
Regular readers of this blog know of my affection for this show (as posted here and here). I find its use of language especially effective and, when combined with the grittiness of the setting and the characters’ complexity, the result is an exceptionally immersive drama.
Some of the negative reviews of this show focus precisely on that use of language. The complainants find it pretentious and unrealistic but, as someone who has read letters and diaries from the Victorian/Gilded Age as research for my Fallen Cloud Saga (set in the 1880s and ’90s), I can say that in my opinion, the language is usually spot on and is remarkably free from the annoying anachronisms that commonly infest period dramas.
Is the language of Ripper Street more difficult to parse than that of other shows? Definitely, especially when the actors occasionally mumble a line or have to compete with a passing horse-cart. The syntax of scripts is more complex than our modern speech– especially the style (if one can call it that) of average Americans–and the writers employ period-accurate vernacular (see “A Peeper’s Dry Plate“) that, while enhancing the days-of-yore ambiance, requires viewers to pay closer attention to context.
Ripper Street presumes its viewers possess levels of intelligence, education, and interest that are higher than those needed to enjoy the baser types of trash-television that overwhelm our TV schedules. This is a good thing, and we can see its effect on American television. Shows are shifting away from the standard 26-show season and toward the British model of shorter seasons (8-10 episodes) and multi-episode/season-long plotlines. Some dramas are even adopting the British “one-off” model, such as NBC’s recent 8-episode drama, The Slap.
Quality, these days, is often seen as a “nice to have.” Software apps are immediately patched upon installation. Returns of defective products are common. But art doesn’t allow for “upgrades.” You have one shot, and high quality will help you succeed.
In drama, especially, it’s a necessity. The shift away from episodic shows that trudge onward for years, and toward longer, more involved plots with a finite lifespan, gives production companies the opportunity to concentrate on quality in the structure, the writing, and the production values of the show as a whole.
Good news, in my opinion.