First aired in the UK on the 30th December 2012 on the BBC, Ripper Street was created and written by Richard Warlow (Waking the Dead). Initially set in 1889 and then progressing through the subsequent decade until 1900 where the drama ended in 2016, Ripper Street focuses on Whitechapel in the wake of the infamous Jack the Ripper murders in 1888. At its centre is Detective Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and Detective Sergeant (later Detective Inspector) Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) of the Metropolitan Police’s H Division and surgeon Captain Homer Jackson alias Matthew Judge (Adam Rothenberg).
The Year of the Rabbit aired in 2019 on Channel 4 in the form of a 6 episode miniseries. Written by Kevil Cecil and Andy Riley (Black Books, Glued etc.), it starred Matt Berry (IT Crowd, What We Do in the Shadows, Toast of London) as Detective Inspector Rabbitt, Freddie Fox (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Victor Frankenstein) as Wilbur Strauss, and Susan Wokoma (The Inbetweeners 2, Crazyhead) as Mabel Wisbech. Like Ripper Street, Year of the Rabbit is set in the east end of Victorian Era London.
Whilst binge-watching the Year of the Rabbit boxset on Christmas Day with my sister I was struck by similarities between it and Ripper Street. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to talk about these in this month’s blog. Before I do, though, it’s important to point out (to those who haven’t seen either series) that Ripper Street is a drama and Year of the Rabbit is a comedy. Also, that I’m not the first to compare Year of the Rabbit to Ripper Street as a review from a viewer on the IMDb entry for Year of the Rabbit is entitled “Ripper Street meets the Sweeny for plenty of laughs”.
As mentioned above the obvious similarity between the two series is their setting. Whilst tremendous effort is made by the makers of Ripper Street to recreate the east end of London as it was in 1889 and onwards, the Year of the Rabbit lacks this emphasis on the importance of historical accuracy. Despite there being humorous instances of Inspector Rabbitt grappling with “new” technology—his ineptness with the telephone being one memorable example—the series turns historical accuracy on its head in other ways.
For instance, the promotion of Mabel from a civilian to a member of the police is at odds with the reality as women weren’t permitted to join the Metropolitan Police until 1918. Sislin Fay Allen, the first black female Metropolitan Police officer, wasn’t recruited until 1968. Yet, the way the Year of the Rabbit handles Mabel’s progression is refreshing as it makes her a rounded individual who’s able to hold her own against the patriarchal establishment and confront it on several occasions.
That’s not to say Ripper Street portrays the less enlightened side of the Victorian Era as something to be celebrated. On the contrary, in its second season, each episode focuses on a different oppressed group of the time and explores the various hardships they faced. Equally, the decreased emphasis on historical accuracy in the Year of the Rabbit doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. In fact, it helps the series to create its own unique universe that feels realistic and absolutely bonkers at the same time. To put it briefly, Year of the Rabbit felt—to me, at least—like Ripper Street on constant fast forward.
Throughout the six episodes of Year of the Rabbit there were opportunities when the storylines could’ve been slowed down to enable deeper plot development and increased character development. Where Ripper Street may have taken at least one series to establish and develop a plot line, Year of the Rabbit flies through the key events like a stone skipping across the surface of a lake. In other words, there isn’t a lot of “filler” content in the Year of the Rabbit but rather a swift succession of important events with a great deal of humour along the way. This format works incredibly well for the series, though. Especially when one keeps in mind it’s a comedy one’s watching and not a serious and gritty drama.
With regards to characters, Ripper Street and Year of the Rabbit are similar in that they have three main protagonists. Detective Inspector Edmund Reid is the polar opposite of Inspector Rabbitt but I’d nevertheless be intrigued to see a meeting of these two characters if it were possible. I’d imagine Inspector Bennet Drake being unimpressed with Wilbur Strauss and Mabel Wisbech giving Reid, Drake, and Captain Jackson a run for their money. I suspect Captain Jackson would be impressed by her abilities, though, and even enlist her assistance when conducting autopsies.
The Year of the Rabbit’s D.I. Tanner (Paul Kaye) felt like an amalgamation of Ripper Street’s Detective Inspector Jedediah Shine (Joseph Mawle) and Fred Best (David Dawson). I think this was largely due to the character’s physical appearance; Tanner’s long hair was reminiscent of Shine’s and his prosthetic face was reminiscent of Best’s prosthetic ear. In terms of characteristics, Tanner shared Shine’s devious nature and determination to destroy the central protagonist (Rabbitt), and Best’s homosexuality.
Overall, it’s difficult to compare Year of the Rabbit to Ripper Street as they belong to two different genres. At times, Year of the Rabbit feels like a mockery of serious, dark, and gritty period dramas, like Ripper Street, which we’ve seen over the years. Yet, at other times, it feels like an affectionate tribute to these same dramas as well as to more traditional, slapstick comedy. In conclusion, both series are thoroughly enjoyable with their own merits and pitfalls. If you enjoyed Ripper Street and traditional British slapstick comedy, you’ll almost certainly enjoy Year of the Rabbit.
~ T.G. Campbell, February 2020
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