Entertainment Television

Past informs present in compelling 'Whitechapel'

BBC America's "Whitechapel" premiered in October with style, wit and great performances that helped it rise above its police procedural cliches and a plot device—the investigation of copycat killers—that I feared would wear thin in subsequent seasons.

I'm pleased to report that creators/writers Ben Court and Caroline Ip and exec producer Sally Woodward Gentle have tweaked that gimmick ever so slightly, making "Whitechapel" (9 p.m. March 28, BBC America; 3.5 stars) fresh yet familiar in Season 2. Instead of probing copycat killers, the police squad uses past crimes to give them clues about those they are investigating.

"What if you could have 200 years of experience? What kind of detective could you be?" Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) asks his grizzled detective sergeant, Ray Miles (Phil Davis).

Miles, ever so dry, says he'd be looking forward to retirement.

Over Miles' protests, Chandler hires a researcher fans will recognize: Edward Buchan (Steve Pemberton), the amateur crime historian Chandler first met when his squad was investigating copycat Jack the Ripper killings in the first season. Buchan notices certain similarities between the 1812 Ratcliff Highway murders and a current string of murders that have happened in a locked store, house and apartment.

As was the case in the 17th century, the impossibility of a murderer getting into the locked locations and his seemingly magical disappearance afterward has the populace freaking out, believing that some kind of ghostly killer is stalking London's East End.

That case takes up the first two episodes of the six-episode season. It’s followed by two more cases in which Buchan and Chandler study the Marquis de Sade, the Thames Torso murders of 1887-89 and the legend of “The Bogeyman” for clues to help solve their cases.

One historical crime they examine is of special significance to Chicago viewers: In the second two-part story, which begins April 11, they reference H.H. Holmes, commonly referred to as America's first serial killer, who preyed on guests staying at his Englewood hotel during the 1893 World's Fair Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Part of the fun of "Whitechapel" is delving into the past with the characters, but it's also a pleasure to watch these actors play with their characters’ distinct quirks, from Chandler's obsessive neatness to Buchan's off-putting enthusiasm to Miles’ amusing desire to push Chandler into the dating scene.

His "date" lends some lighter moments—at least for viewers—to this dark, murderous world.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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