Whitechapel: Should You Watch It?

Should You Watch This New British Police Drama? 

Should You Watch This New British Police Drama? 

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 26 2011 3:34 PM

Should I Watch Whitechapel?

Philip Davis, Rupert Penry-Jones, and Steve Pemberton in a publicity shot for 'Whitechapel'.

What is it?
Whitechapel is a British police drama, premiering Wednesday Oct. 26 on BBC America. In the first three episodes, the rozzers investigate a series of crimes in London’s East End that bear a remarkable resemblance to the 19th-century murders attributed to Jack the Ripper; episodes 4-6 follow cases that echo the 50-year-old crimes of the infamous Kray twins.

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June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

You’ll like it if you enjoy fish-out-of-water stories.
At the beginning of the series, a squad of rough-and-ready coppers gets a new boss, Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones), launching a study in contrasts: tidy vs. boorish, privileged vs. self-made, educated vs. experienced, fast-tracked vs. dead-ended, rich vs. poor—and, this being a British story, the most important of all: posh vs. common.


You won’t like it if you want to see a realistic portrait of London.
Whitechapel’s version of the Metropolitan Police Service is lily-white, and its representation of the East End isn’t all that different. (A scene set in Brick Lane manages not to include a single brown face.) In fact, Whitechapel is an ethnically diverse area with a large Bengali population.

You’ll like it if you have a taste for macabre historical murders.
A Ripperologist (played with gusto by The League of Gentlemen’s Steve Pemberton) rescues the show from police-procedural cliché.

You won’t like it if you want to see the carnage.
Although the descriptions of Jack the Ripper’s throat-slashings and disembowelments are quite explicit, this isn’t a slasher pic. It’s a spooky story that won’t give you nightmares.

The bottom line:

Accents, creepy historical crimes, that handsome English actor who always plays princes and posh boys, that less handsome English actor who always plays taxi drivers and oiks. What’s not to like?