TV Review – Ripper Street, Death in Paradise, Lewis

Ripper Street

Boneheaded Flatfoots

Police procedurals have been getting a bit conceptual in recent years. Whether it’s the time travel/Sweeney procedural (Life On Mars) the modern day Sherlock Holmes procedural (Sherlock, Elementary) or the copycat murderer re-enacts old crimes procedural (Whitechapel), TV has tried its best to have its presentation be all modern and tricksy whilst its inner workings remain familiar.

Ripper Street (BBC1), set at the time of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, seems to be the culmination of this, although it has sometimes struggled with the identity crisis imposed by its forebears. Set six months after the last Jack the Ripper murder, the first episode found incredibly serious Police Inspector Matthew Macfadyen and his Whitechapel-based team dealing with an absurd copycat killer who turns out to be a toff making snuff movies.

Despite the moving picture having yet to be invented. This wasn’t the only implausibility as we also had modern pathology, tabloid journalism and Macfadyen pinning pictures related to the crime on a pinboard, like he was Trevor Eve or something. Surprisingly, given its unprepossessing start, subsequent episodes of Ripper Street have actually proven watchable. This is largely thanks to its sloughing off of its original premise and dubious anachronisms. Now it’s simply a police procedural set in late-Victorian times and I don’t know about you but that sounds pretty good to me.

Subsequent episodes have featured a violent Scouse Fagin, a Jewish orphanage, an outbreak of cholera and lots and lots of prostitutes. As its unlikeliness ebbs, it grows more compelling. Unfortunately, the writers have started writing stories about the main police characters, despite the fact that they’re very dull.

The latest episode centred on Matthew Macfadyen’s sidekick, a bruiser played by Jerome Flynn. The concept of Flynn playing such a character even two years ago would have seemed preposterous, even for those who don’t remember the warbling Robson and Jerome years – one of the many unlikely things that precipitated the rise of Simon Cowell. And there are some of us who still remember Badger.

Whilst his erstwhile partner is Extreme Fishing somewhere off Papua New Guinea, Jerome Flynn reinvented himself by somehow nabbing the best part on Game of Thrones. As Peter Dinklage’s sword-wielding minder, Flynn got all the best lines (“you wouldn’t know him”). His role in Ripper Street is largely the same, being Macfadyen’s bearded muscle, although sadly without the funny lines.

Instead he plays a gruff and loyal ex-soldier who is torn between his duty to his current boss and loyalty to his old boss, Iain Glen’s bitter ex-Colonel. As boring as Glen is in his role on Game of Thrones as a Queen Explainer, here Glen gets to chew the scenery, wrapping his fruity quasi-Scottish tones around some of the ripest dialogue heard on British TV outside of a Brian Sewell documentary.

Ripper Street is noted for Matthew Macfadyen delivering exceptionally florid Victorian lines seemingly every other sentence. Connoisseurs like myself have been collecting them. “Do you think me some boneheaded flatfoot?” “There was trouble taken to make it seem like self-slaughter.” “Will you indulge me and allow me to weary you with the details of my day?”

Iain Glen is Macfadyen to the power of 11, angry at his treatment by the British Empire. “Thus our glorious Britannia, Sergeant. She takes a man and hollows him, spits him back with the marrow still dripping from her maw,” he declaims casually whilst taking Flynn on a walk and talk through poverty-filled Victorian alleys. “Don’t you deserve to writhe no more in the serpent strangle of your nightmare?” he later tells Flynn, trying to persuade him to join a nefarious scheme to loot the British Mint of its gold.

Flynn is tempted by the scheme as he needs money to marry his sweetheart. Flynn seems a bit old to have a sweetheart, but it’s no matter as he bails on Glen’s plan at the last minute. To have gone through with it would make him interesting. TV has long had a problem with dealing with police corruption; characters are either cleaner than clean or dirty to the core. Real corruption has always been about what you can get away with, although plundering the British Mint is possibly a step too far. The game up, Glen self-slaughters with a final flourish. “They shall know my justice is a hurricane of fire, for I have thrown open the doors of the firmament!” You don’t get that on EastEnders, much as you suspect they would love to.

At the opposite end of the police procedural is Death In Paradise (BBC1), somehow starring Ben Miller when the part was surely written for Martin Clunes. Miller’s a pernickety British Detective Inspector who is transferred to an idyllic Caribbean island with a sexy female partner and, get this, hates it. Oh the hilarity that has ensued, as he sits miserably in his gorgeous beach house saying, “I have an aversion to sand taking every refuge in every bodily orifice. May as well stick sandpaper down your trousers.”

There’s a certain expectation when a show has ‘death’ or ‘murder’ in the title. This is why the bodies piled up on otherwise innocuous programmes like Murder She Wrote or Midsomer Murders. So it goes here. The latest episode was all about buried treasure, despite there being no evidence that the original Pirates of the Caribbean ever did that. It was on QI. But death is stalking a group of visiting treasure hunters, especially burly leader Jonathan Cake.

First he is blown up in the cave he’s excavating. Having survived that, someone tries to drop a tree on him. Finally, he checks out via a severe aversion to insect bites and a suspiciously drained adrenaline pen. But Cake is actually the mandatory second murder, after the treasure hunters’ geologist is shot dead with a 300 year old flintlock. Police Commissioner Don Warrington is keen that the curse of dead pirates is not factored out of the investigation lest it affect tourism.

Fellow treasure hunter Kelly Adams seems to have the most to hide, despite wearing a bikini throughout. Miller’s glamorous sidekick, Sara Martins, is suspicious of her, possibly because she merely wears fetching tight yellow trousers. Miller eventually gathers all the protagonists into a Caribbean drawing room to reveal the killer. It turned out to be the one guy who was never a suspect and had an alibi. Funny that. Also, there was no buried treasure but there was a possible seam of palladium, which apparently fuels mobile phones. I think that was on QI as well, so the makers were watching after all.

Death is Paradise is as formulaic as TV gets, a moving painting-by-numbers where the lovely locations and bikini babes encourage you not to think too much about the rote plots. Despite this, or perhaps because, it has been extraordinarily successful, getting an average of eight million viewers – huge for the BBC on Tuesday nights.

The antecedent for most modern police procedurals was Inspector Morse, a behemoth that wasn’t allowed to die even when the character and its actor did. Lewis (ITV1) is keeping the Oxford punt propelled, even though it’s showing signs of puffiness and not just in Kevin Whately’s waistline. ITV might realise this as they’ve divided the formerly two hour show into two weekly one hour snatches.

Not that they would dare tinker with the formula, the origin of the one Death In Paradise gets so much mileage from at half the screen time. Lewis always starts with a scene featuring a group of characters we’ve never seen before exchanging meaningful looks that come to have huge significance later on. Here it’s a dinner party presided over by wideboy-made-good Peter Davison, needling his guests. Smooth copper Mark Powley exchanges glances with Davison’s wife. In the servant’s quarters, Taron Egerton and his girlfriend sing cheerful songs which his dad wistfully echoes. Which detail will ultimately unlock the mystery?

A typically twisty tale unfolds after the discovery of an old man’s body dumped in a park, with shocks roughly every half hour which by statute has to involve at least one other murder. So at half an hour, a doctor who attended the dinner party is also found dead, at an hour someone attempts to kill Egerton by stuffing him in a mortuary freezer, and at an hour and a half someone tries to set fire to the houseboat his girlfriend lives in. In between, we get the tale of the wrong body sent to the crematorium by a funeral home owned by Davison, and Powley apparently disappearing.

Ultimately, the detail at the beginning was Egerton’s dad finding a notebook in a draw which held the details of a crystal meth ring wherin repatriated dead bodies were stuffed with drugs. Everybody at the dinner table was involved but it was Peter Davison who went on the killing spree. In happier news Kevin Whately has finally moved on from his dead wife (killed for contractual reasons inbetween Inspector Morse and Lewis) and found love with pathologist Clare Holman, who’s been on the show(s) almost as long as he has. At one point it was John Thaw she was flirting with. Whately’s boss Rebecca Front remembers Morse too. “That man has a lot to answer for.”

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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