Ripper Street – a show with potential that ultimately fails because it tries to be Game of Thrones

My Granddad was hugely into detective stories. I’m currently going through his combined anthology of Sherlock Holmes, more on that much later. He also enjoyed television mysteries as well. Perry Mason was perhaps his favorite. Yet as best as I can figure a good chunk of detective and crime fiction changed at the beginning of this century.

Let’s say my Granddad and I sat down to watch a new show Circa 2017. The protagonist is a guy we’ll call Smith. Smith solves crimes as a bitter disgruntled detective. He’s an alcoholic estranged from his wife and doesn’t always play by the book. Good so far, right? And so the usual stereotypes play out for the first few episodes. Then, in episode 5 Smith has a moral crisis based upon some situation. He’s forced to make a choice.

In 1988, Smith would choose the lesser of two evils and make a hard but ultimately moral decision. Then the episode would end with him getting tanked in a bar. In 2017, Smith would shoot somebody in the back of the head and dispose of the body. My Granddad would get up, turn off the television, and walk away never to return.

And thus do we get 2017’s version of television detective fiction in BBC’s Ripper Street. A show with limitless potential that ultimately descends into a nightmare of confusion, awfulness, and moral ambiguity that leaves you wanting to go hide under some coats with a flock of puppies.

This is all the more depressing because all the pieces for a superb piece of detective fiction are in place at the start of this show. Series lead Matthew Macfadyen, who the ladies will best remember as Keira Knightley’s Mr Darcy, is a cloth cut leading man late 19th Century thinking detective even down to the way he holds his lapels. Jerome Flynn, of Game of Thrones fame, is the brutal sergeant with the heart of gold. The unknown Adam Rothenberg is the rogue American doctor with a chip for life.

The three of them are put into a depiction of 19th Century London that’s both gorgeous and hard earned. Victorian Imperial Britain doesn’t look like much fun from the gutters of Whitechapel. Every detail of the set, the costumes, the music transports you to this age of humanity. And for a while this show works as a decent piece of detective fiction, if some of the plots are a bit far-fetched, and is a generally good watchable show. Not coincidently, season one has the highest ratings. Then things go downhill, both for the show and in ratings. Why?

Because this is a show run of 2012-2017, it’s important to remember what a successful television show thinks it must achieve. The legendary crime shows of our era are apparently Breaking Bad, or Narcos, or whatever similar program is out there. In other words, the focus is either on the criminals, or an anti-hero. I think this all began with the success of The Wire, an admittedly spectacular show which was one of the first to take a real long hard look at the reality of policing in the modern world.

But now things are in overdrive. Now it’s simply not good enough to run a standard piece of detective fiction. This is too soft, considered naïve, or not what the audience wants. The audience apparently wants Game of Thrones, a show where no character, no one is worthy of total admiration. Where there is no good or evil, just eternal grey. Where brutality reigns, and nobody’s hands are in any way clean.

Ripper Street avoids all of this in the first season or two, then it dramatically and noticeably turns. And thus we get what instead? Before we’re done Macfadyen’s reputable Inspector Reid commits two cold blooded murders and cheats on his mentally handicapped wife at least twice. Now here’s a protagonist you can root for!

Indeed, at one point or another every single major character in this series commits a murder. Several of them are accomplices to many other murders. It’s hard to tell who has a higher body count by the end of this series, the criminal underworld of London, or our supposed main characters.

If one goes by the theory that the intent of television is not to make you feel depressed or awful and is meant to entertain you or help you escape from the routine of a grinding life, then you generally need to imagine that some of the characters in a show you should root for. You want them to succeed, be happy, or at least find some measure of peace. Every single character in Ripper Street loses. Every single character is worse off at the end then they were at the beginning. There is no redemption, no answers, only chaos and despair.

This is very much in the vein of Game of Thrones. I no longer watch Game of Thrones but generally keep abreast of what happens in the show. And I’m always struck in discussions with friends or coworkers who still watch and who try to self-rationalize what they see on screen. They seem to think somehow that by the end of Game of Thrones it will all somehow all work out. They talk themselves into it. Almost as if they need it.

They typically will focus on Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen as an example of the good one, or the one to root for, or the one who by the end of the series will emerge with at least some sense of accomplishment. This is in fact a specific plot point brought up within the show itself, where Danny is there to break the cycle, to stop the chaos, to bring some sense of peace to an absolutely horrific world.

But I always ask my friends and coworkers why this must be so? Why must, or should, Game of Thrones end in such a way? Why can’t the white walkers just kill everybody in the last episode? Why can’t Daenerys end up on the throne atop a pile of murdered corpses? Why must there be any redemption or peace at all, when all that’s occurred thus far is chaos and has no meaning?

Ripper Street ends this way. Inspector Reid himself is reduced in the final episode to admitting to his corrupt boss that there is only chaos. That he believes there is no meaning in his work. That all his efforts are/were pointless. That after decades as a policeman he has nothing to show for it but an empty street consumed by violence, murder, dead friends, and hopelessness. He ends the show alone in his office reviewing menial reports, alone, without purpose, without hope.  How uplifting!

I think my Grandfather would ask of such a show: What’s the point? What in the end is the point of Ripper Street? If you want to feel awful about life, about humanity, you can just read the news each morning. It’s right there in your face. To me, fiction’s purpose is to entertain, to give you an escape from the grind, and to explore some of the deeper themes of life on this floating rock. It’s there to give you some characters you can relate to, get to know, and ultimately to cheer for. You share their journey, learn with them, and learn about their life, and yours too.

But when Game of Thrones is your template, none of these things are evident. Ripper Street just leaves you a blank slate, without emotion, an emptiness. So I must ask: Is this the show’s point? Is this how they wanted the viewer to feel? Perhaps, and if so, the creators and writers achieved their goal. But why is this a valid goal for a detective fiction television series? Why is any of this necessary? What’s the point?

Does detective fiction need to be some kind of bubble wrapped clean shaven fairy tale where the protagonist is a constant paragon of virtue and can do no wrong? Of course not. This is a much more mature world and smarter television audience than 1988. But, I submit that what we have on today’s television has gone so far over the mark as to be just about unwatchable.

I don’t need my detective fiction to go so far over the edge of nihilism that we can’t even get a lead character who doesn’t commit murder. This says something about our culture, or at least about the state of television today. This is, to me, both a very sad state of affairs, and in the end, is just not very entertaining.

ripper

Our heroes?

Advertisements

how do you become champions without playing a championship?

So these Leicester blokes just won the Premier League title. Folks are freaking out. It’s draped the news for days. Apparently the odds were so high that I figure it’s the equivalent of having the Jaguars or the Browns win the Super Bowl next year.

For amusement, my Guests have calculated the chances of the Jaguars or the Browns winning next year’s title as longer than, “…the chance the Sun viciously explodes tomorrow due to a fourth rate intern pressing the wrong button at the Large Hadron Collider.”

Doesn’t that sound super rare? Gee I sure hope so. That Collider thing scares the hells out of me. They be wielding black magic inside that mountain, I assure you. Think workplace violence is bad? Wait till the Black Hole Ghosts they let into our temporal realm warp all those Euro scientists’ heads.

hadron.jpg

Anyways, Leicester didn’t play Manchester United and knock them off in a brutal Duel of the Fates that risked the destruction of multiple stadiums by hooligans drinking too many non-alcoholic beers. Instead, Leicester gets the trophy because Tottenham and Chelsea played to a draw. What?

At first, when I heard Leicester was to play Manchester I thought it was for the championship. To win it all, loser goes home, etc, etc. Apparently not. I guess in EPL the title goes to the best record, or so I’ve been able to gather. There are no playoffs.

That’s just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. So I embarked upon a quest to read the rules of the EPL to figure out why there is not just a straight Super Bowl like title game that would likely be watched by a billion people across the globe. After twenty minutes of this, I gave up. My head hurt.

You go ahead and try and determine via relegation, EPL rules, the Championship League, UEFA, FIFA, the various regional groups and ruling bodies, what the hell is going on. If you want to understand why the European Union is an unhinged organizational basketcase, kindly go and try to figure out how Euro soccer is organized.

If I’ve got it wrong, one of you seven fringe people who regularly read this blog who knows better please clue me in. I think I’ve got it right, but who knows.

Manchester United v Leicester City - Barclays Premier League - Old Trafford

Leicester City fans cheer on their side in the stands after the match despite not winning the title on the day, during the Barclays Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Two other teams just tied. We won!

Shakespeare’s skull is missing; we’re on the case

In some of Earth’s most ancient cultures, it is said the soul can never fully be at rest if the body is un-whole. Poor Shakespeare is missing his skull, and his soul might thus be trapped in some kind of weird Valhalla purgatory where he is compelled to club fight the same thug over and over again until his skull is reunited with the rest of his bleached skeleton.

We, at The Arcturus Project, are here to help. Based upon our belligerent preliminary research, my Guests and I propose the following unhinged scenario and vicious plan:

1) We build a time machine and fly back to 1794 where we will intercept the grave robbers on site. Rather than liquidate them immediately, as my Guests desire, we will preserve the timeline by sedating them, giving them a fake skull, and returning the original skull to the grave with the thieves none the wiser.

 

Shakespeare.jpg

We’re on it, bro!

 

2) Should we fail in our attempt to fold space and time via a machine, we’ll have to buckle down and search in today’s realm. Naturally our first stop will be Derek Jacobi’s hallowed mansion. As the foremost headman of the Anti-Stratfordian Faction, surely he’ll know the secret whereabouts of the skull as his cult has undoubtedly kept it hidden for centuries to further cloud the memory of the author who they claim is surely a fraud. Should we fail in our brutal interrogation of Jacobi, taken in by his charm, gentlemanly behavior, and delightful ability to star & seriously act in even the most C-grade of hack garbage movies, we’ll have no choice to resort to more ridiculous methods.

 

jacobi.jpg

Derek Jacobi, in the Oscar nominated Underworld: Evolution

 

3) We’ll begin by exhuming Shakespeare’s entire skeleton, a process that might result in the complete destruction of Holy Trinity Church, but whatever, omelets need making. Then we use the DNA from the skeleton to clone Shakespeare. Once the clone reaches the age of 52, we summary put him to death, and harvest his skull. We then rebuild Holy Trinity Church, put the original skeleton back in the tomb, and add the Clone Shakespeare’s skull into the tomb as well.

 

4) As a caveat, we don’t know the rules of Valhalla. We’ve never been there. So it’s possible that because the skull is a clone skull, that this won’t work. And Shakespeare’s soul would still be trapped. So next what we’d have to do is use the most invasive of surveillance methods to catalog the location of every 17th century skull in the British Isles. We’ll be able to tell what skull is from this era by detecting the presence, at the molecular level, of frilly cravat material common in this age, such as that seen gracing the neck and skull of Her Majesty:

elizabeth.jpg

Then we’ll use DNA tracing (see first part of Plan 3) to analyze millions of skulls until we find the right one. Then we’ll but that skull back in the church and (hopefully) manage to put back all the millions of other skulls too.

 

X) In the event Plan 4 becomes logistically impossible, we’ll have to activate Plan X. My Guests & I fly to Stratford-upon-Avon, and descend upon the Hamlet’s Determination Ale House. We drink until we come up with a better plan to solve this most pressing of the planet’s problems.

 

I’m banking on Plan X. However, if you wish to personally assist us in this most noble of quests, specifically Plans 1-4, please kindly provide us a bit of seed money by posting check, cash, or money order to the following address:

 

The Arcturus Project – Shakespeare Reclamation Branch

C/O Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation

1794 Aguiyi Ironsi Street

Abuja 900001, Nigeria

 

Your cooperation, as always, is very truly appreciated.

 

mel hamlet

Mel’s got it.  Mel’s got it!

I guess eventually I’ll be banned from Britain

Oh, that Trump dude, he’s so wacky. You never know what he’s going to say next. For instance, he wants to halt Muslim immigration, which to my back of the napkin math means my uncle couldn’t have married my aunt, but I digress.

What I find rather humorous about Trump is how seriously folks take everything he says, even though it’s quite clear that Trump doesn’t take everything he says seriously. The dude’s just talking off the top of his head, but every word he speaks is dissected like he’s thought about it for three weeks. Probably because the media and politicians are used to vetting political statements that took three weeks to write.

Well, Trump and Sanders aren’t like that. Both these dudes are cut from a different mold. Which is part of the appeal that’s kept them in the game. Folks don’t want their leaders to spout something they wrote three weeks ago. It’s fake, it’s disingenuous, it plays the average voter for a fool.

I actually kind of hope we see a Trump and Sanders election. I really do. Perhaps this will result in absolute disaster for the Republic? Yeah, maybe, but when the alternative was Clinton and Bush, I’ll take my chances with these two new nut lunatics. Particularly when 99% of the fringe policies they’re spouting (such as Trump’s Muslim ban or Sanders’ single payer healthcare) have absolutely zero chance of ever becoming law.

The British Parliament should probably be talking about important things, oh say, such as the forthcoming EU vote, federalism of the Union, or whatever. Eh, I guess it’s easier to take on Trump over his Muslim proposal, it doesn’t require them to actually do anything.

Hey you know this Jeremy Corbyn dude’s said some pretty horribly sexist offensive things too. In addition to having some policies that would see Britain conquered by Luxembourg. Maybe he should be banned from Britain?

Either way though, whether you hate these guys or love them, I prefer to let free speech be free speech, and let things get resolved at the ballot box. Except if you’re the British Parliament, in which case you prefer to handle things yourself. And so the birthplace of free speech spent a good portion of the weekend once again showing why the British construct is headed for the gutter.

In Parliament’s view, free speech should be handled on a case-by-case basis as determined by whatever the government says, and the ballot box and liberty be damned. And so Britain shall adopt the free speech policies and enforcement methods of Saudi Arabia or China. Neat.

And so I guess eventually I’ll be banned from Britain, for writing something on this blog deemed offensive, or what I say to my friend in the bar. I’ll tell a dirty joke or whatever, and I’ll get tapped on the shoulder, and it’s a Brit MP wearing a $9K suit, and he’s like, “You’re banned, you can’t say that.” But I’ll just shrug, “Eh, you guys are no longer worth visiting,” and then go back to drinking my beer.

MagnaCarta

Magna Carta – soon to be banned from Britain as offensive to the values of the ruling political elite

I don’t get the popularity of this meme

It’s not even funny. Or is it funny because everybody says it’s funny? Or it is funny because everybody says it’s funny and it’s used about six-hundred times a day? I think I’ve seen this thing used once a day for about a week. What gives?

meme3

Uh, it really hurts my brain to even have to type the word meme. It’s such a stupid sounding word. It harms my sense of good language. Which is saying a lot, considering I do more harm to the English language in one day than Hitler did.

Hey speaking of Hitler, so the original purpose of this Keep Calm thing was to plaster it up on a wall in London so folks would stay motivated as the Luftwaffe firebombed the city. I’m not quite sure that adequately translates into a funny meme. Unless you happen to subscribe to ultra-dark-humor as I do.

Here, try this one on for size:

meme1

 

My Guests got in on the action too:

meme2

 

But this one is by far my favorite; a cheeky Brit surely wrote it:

Keep_Calm_EPS

outrage is now apparently the taste of victory

Great news! Your team just won. It’s a moment to celebrate glorious victory on the soccer / football field / pitch. You have many choices available on how you’ll enjoy this wonderful moment:

 

 a) Drink lots of beer with family and friends in an unbridled moment of enjoyable life

 b) Calmly read a book with your mate, pausing repeatedly to contemplate how lucky you were to get to see your team win

 c) Viciously parse random social media comments and shout loudly about how outraged you are that somebody wrote something that bothers you

 

Yeah, I know! I’d choose (a) or (b) too, and, oh, what, [unintelligible muttering] I’ve chosen (c)? When? [unintelligible muttering] But I did (a) and (b) last night. Doesn’t that count? [shakes head] [unintelligible muttering] Oh.

Once upon a time social justice warriors and the news media had pretty awesome causes to get behind. You could go to Alabama and do battle against goons who’d turn fire hoses onto people based upon the color of their skin. Or you could go to Nazi Germany and work against those guys who were too focused on mathematics and spreadsheets to realize what horrible fucking people they were.

You can do these things today too. For instance, you could go to Lebanon and deliberately cover the mass human misery and help millions in desperate need of support. Or you could go to Baltimore and cover the grinding day-to-day (not a single brief week) of how hard it is to live in America’s urban wastelands.

But why do any of this hard stuff when you can spend your time parsing somebody’s tweet and get mad at its content. After all, solving ISIS or urban America is awfully hard. Eh, whatever, let’s do nothing of actual value. Let’s sit behind a desk and trash free speech. It’s much easier that way.

I, of course, do this too. But the difference between me and somebody who works for the BBC or Washington Post is I don’t get paid for this. Plus, they’re on the nagging side. And I’m on the anti-nagging side. I want people to be free to say whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want. Their ilk literally wants to control human thought.

Two lunatic events to this end:

The Washington Post thinks this tweet is the most offensive thing England has done since the vicious firebombing of Dresden #BomberHarris #toosoon:

 

“Our #Lionesses go back to being mothers, partners and daughters today, but they have taken on another title – heroes: …”

 

Activist, journalist, and stormy-cloud-frowny-face-man Ishaan Tharoor, who used to be a senior editor at Time and a Yale man (must be a coincidence) called this a “sexist tweet”.

But what if I alter this tweet a little and make it say this:

 

“Our #Lions go back to being fathers, partners and sons today, but they have taken on another title – heroes: …”

 

To which my point is: What’s the fucking problem?

Is it illegal for us to refer to these female humans for what they are? I’m pretty sure every female player on the England team is somebody’s daughter. Quite a few of them are mothers too. Maybe we need to sanitize this speech to the point it sounds like a faceless machine wrote it.

After all, isn’t the term “lionesses” sexist too? Doesn’t that imply that female athletes can’t be male lions? Isn’t the fact that we say a female human can’t be a male lion the most offensive English anti-feminist thing since King Arthur beat (alleged) his wife over an (alleged) adulterous act? The BBC doesn’t seem to think so (surprisingly). The term’s plastered all over their website.

Whatever, I got my Guests to write this very, very professional tweet:

 

“Our #humans go back to being humans, workers and oxygen consumers today, but they have taken on another title – winners of the game: …”

 

See how much safer and kinder this tweet is. If only all our speech sounded this way. Then nobody would ever say anything valuable or fun ever again. Think of how awesome that world would be.

Next up is the BBC who (not surprisingly) raises the issue of how many low-class-haters took to the airwaves to use the term Pearl Harbor in conjunction with the Japanese loss.

Apparently, poking fun at history is horribly offensive and juvenile. What kind of insensitive pig would do something like that? Well, me. This is what I posted prior to the game’s start on an unrelated social media platform:

 

On July 5th, 1942 USS Growler torpedoed IJNS Arare and two other destroyers off Kiska or 2,527 miles from today’s stadium. Here’s hoping for an anniversary repeat. ‪#‎theystartedit ‪#‎toosoon”

 

But what if I alter this tweet a little and make it say this:

 

“On August 8th, 1942 Admiral Mikawa’s forces torpedoed and sank four Allied crusiers off Guadalcanal or 6,140 miles from today’s stadium. Here’s hoping for an anniversary repeat. #longlance #youstarteditoilembargo #toosoon”

 

To which my point is: What’s the fucking problem?

If we as a human race cannot laugh and tell jokes (even offensive jokes) about the most horrible war in human history, we’ll rapidly discover that humor no longer exists and we’re just a bunch of boring losers.

Somebody needs to get Tharoor and the BBC a bunch of beers and watch them drink until they calm down. Then they can just simply celebrate victory with the rest of us. They should try it now and again. They’d sleep better at night.

Normally I wouldn’t care, except that Tharoor and the BBC are powerful enough that people who actually matter are going to listen to them and further do what they can to control our speech.

It’s going to get to the point that anybody, anywhere is going to be afraid to tweet or say like, things, or anything at all, because they’ll be too afraid that what they say is offensive to somebody, somewhere, over something.

And what we can / cannot say will be dictated to us by an elite BBC woman and super-elite Yale man; upon pain of outrage and social ostracism. I fear this world. For when it arrives, it’s going to be a freaking miserable nightmare.

As an example, I almost, almost didn’t post my Kiska thing because I thought it’d offend people or folks would think it too juvenile. But I did it anyway. I’m glad I did.

stormy

The Arcturus Project’s Weekly (Not Weekly) Stormy Cloud Award goes to His Ivy League Eminence Ishaan Tharoor. Smart Yale man you might be, but wise you are not. Do you get it? I did a thing there.

We can’t build nothing no more

Hey remember when we built those big pyramid things in the desert last June? Don’t they look great? I mean, all that slave labor stuff isn’t neat, but at least the damn things were built to last.

Now we can’t build nothing no more. Everything’s just modern fragile garbage. If I build an apartment block today, it’ll get trashed overnight and in twenty years it’ll look like something out of Minsk Circa 2013.

Or take the new glass walkway over Tower Bridge London. The damn thing’s existed for about six hours and it already broke:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2847158/Tower-Bridge-glass-walkway-smashed-visitor-dropped-bottle-beer.html

First off, what’s the big deal with this glass walkway fetish anyways? We’ve now got one over the Grand Canyon, in Chicago Willis, inside The Church of the Holy Sepulture over “that place”, at Eiffel, and over Mao’s grave. Seriously, what’s the appeal? I don’t get it?

So you, can, like, look down, and see the ground, from beneath your feet? Way down there? Uh… (furrows brow in a vain attempt to understand the situation) … so, like, what’s, so if, I get vertigo, or imagine I can fall?

You know, if I take a swan dive off Eiffel I get a real neat view of the ground, for about 42 seconds. Why would I desire to replicate this feeling in a non-fatal outcome? Please to explain.

Second off, the article states the bridge glass cracked because, “The dropped bottle of beer caused an initial crack, but a woman walking over the broken glass in stiletto heels reportedly caused the pane to shatter further.”

So what kind of moron idiot do you have to be to design anything in London that is damaged by a broken beer bottle and stiletto heels? That’s like designing a Chicago sidewalk threatened by dropped hot dogs and disgruntled Bears fans’ feet.

Just you wait, the same dude who did the glass bridge is designing the future eighth runway at Heathrow. Expect the tarmac to be vulnerable to airplanes with more than one engine.

tower bridge glass

Even the Pharaoh’s slaves face-palm at this one