BBC America’s ‘Whitechapel’ is back, as good as before

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 23, 2012 

Viewers always wonder if a series will be as good the second time around.

In the case of BBC America’s “Whitechapel,” it is. This intriguing British police procedural show returns March 28 with a new story torn from very old headlines — the 1812 Ratcliff Highway murders.

In the opening two-part episode, the upper-crust Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) asks his Detective Sergeant Ray Miles (Ray Davis), a grizzled veteran of the office, “What if you could have 200 years of experience? What kind of detective could you be?” Miles retorts he’d be looking forward to retirement.

Chandler hires a historical researcher, an amateur crime historian named Edward Buchan (Steve Pemberton), whose excessive enthusiasm will let him work cheap “for tea and biscuits,” Chandler says in trying to sell the idea to his wary second-in-command. The police squad first met Buchan during the first series while dealing with copycat Jack the Ripper killings.

Now, the first murders happen in locked stores. They’re followed by others in locked houses. The details reference the Ratcliff Highway murders, where the uncommon element was that the murders happened behind locked doors in homes and not in the street, which was more common at the time. This, along with the lurid tabloid newspapers of the early 1800s in England, terrified the populace.

Part of the pleasure of watching “Whitechapel” is that it reaches back into history and shows how far modern police work has improved. When — after chasing several red herrings — Chandler and company discover the killer and solve the crimes, it’s as much solved by psychology as by knocking on or down doors.

Each character has quirks or phobias. Chandler’s upper-crust reticence hides a man with a neatness fetish who avoids dating. Miles worries that his wife of many years may be terminally ill — or something else. Buchan’s wild enthusiasm for his new job is cut down to size when his actions alienate the squad, making his boss, Chandler, a laughing stock. Never a good career move.

One of the more amusing moments is when the histrionics of a fortune-teller clash with the calm of a modern policewoman who, very clearly, won’t put up with any nonsense.

You may want to see it a second time to see how well the series is constructed. As in all good murder mysteries, the clues to the murder have been there from the start.

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WHITECHAPEL

10 p.m. EDT March 28

BBC America

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