So, Ripper Street. Did you watch it?
Or did you perhaps do what I did?
1. See that BBC1 had a Sunday night drama set in the 19th century coming up, and ask yourself if we really needed another costume drama?
2. Sigh a little that this drama was apparently based on Jack the Ripper, on whose unknown bones countless previous stories had been staged, to little purpose? Did you check this fact?
3. Note that the opening episode featured a cut-up woman?
4. Read Grace Dent and Caitlin Moran on this subject, and nod wisely at their complaints that yet another 19th century woman was being cut up in the services of televisual entertainment?
5. Watch the first five minutes on iPlayer, just to have these suspicions confirmed (despite the unexpectedly kinetic action and the rather good titles, which did give you some pause)?
6. Switch off and go on Twitter to say glibly “nah. Didn’t like it.”
Well, I did. I did all that.
And ended up with social media egg all over my face when someone I know and like turned round and said “my husband worked on that, you dozy dickhead.” Well, she didn’t say that. I’m transcribing. But she was very hurt, and I was about as embarrassed as I’ve ever been. Not so much by her annoyance (though that was fierce) as by the knowledge that I’d cast an airy two-star rating over the work of a good many people based on little more than wanting to be seen as cool and down with Grace Dent.
You see, this is what happens when you lazily follow a herd and assume you know how things are. It’s what happens when you stop thinking for yourself. It’s what happens when you use social media to unthinkingly slag something off, even when that kind of unthinking slagging drives you nuts when it’s applied to your own work.
Because, here’s the thing. I’ve just watched the first episode of Ripper Street.
And it was really good.
I thought it was brilliant to look at, pacy, exciting and smart. Compared to most BBC drama, it got on with stuff, it didn’t take itself too seriously, and it had dialogue which didn’t sound like it had been filtered through an Archers script editor. It didn’t say “now, I’m going to show you THIS” and then show you it and then say “remember when I showed you THAT.”
It was dirty and salacious and occasionally silly – in a good way. It wasn’t Deadwood (as I’ve seen it described by some), but then it wasn’t on HBO – it was on BBC1 in primetime on a Sunday night. It wasn’t supposed to be Deadwood. But for primetime on BBC1 on a Sunday night, it was about as Deadwoody as I’ve ever seen the BBC get.
As for Dent and Moran – well, I just didn’t recognise Grace Dent’s description of it. Reading it again just now, I think what she wrote was, with the hindsight of actually having watched the thing, pretty dishonest. I can’t read what Caitlin Moran wrote – it’s behind a paywall. Perhaps she was fairer. But Dent’s central point – that Ripper Street was somehow designed to appeal to those who enjoy watching women being ripped up – was really unfair.
I won’t speak for the show’s historical accuracy – I don’t know enough to talk about that (see, I’ve learned from my experience already). All I’ll say is that, for this punter, it certainly seemed historically plausible enough for a BBC1 Sunday night show in this post-Downton age. A good deal more so, actually.
So, to the person who I offended with my tin-eared, big-headed, tone-deaf, pig-ignorant prognostications last night – I’m sorry.
To anyone involved in making Ripper Street – nice work, you must be chuffed to bits.
To Grace Dent – pull the other one, it’s got bells on.
And to me: don’t comment on things you haven’t seen. Don’t assume people who make television are less deserving of your admiration.
And, to quote a bunny rabbit with strong ankles: if you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say nothing at all.