London's grisly past informs the bloody present in a new season of BBC America's creepy Whitechapel (Wednesdays, 10/9c), telling its ghoulish crime stories in gripping two-week increments. Gone are the obvious copycats aping the infamous exploits of such legendary fiends as Jack the Ripper and the Kray brothers. Turns out the new breed of bogeymen can be just about as mystifying and terrifying, if not as memorable.
"What if we use the past as a map to guide us through difficult investigations — for inspiration, insight, as a cautionary tale," suggests the uptight and fussy boss man, Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler (the amusingly prim Rupert Penry-Jones), who just can't pass as an average "Joe" no matter how hard he tries.
His gruff sidekick, Sergeant Ray Miles (Phil Davis, a hoot), insists "guts, legwork, contacts" are the hallmarks of a true detective. He scoffs when Chandler brings in civilian crime devotee and Ripper-ologist Edward Buchan (Steve Pemberton) as a full-time consultant, stationed in the precinct's cellar to seek leads from hundreds of years of crime archives. "This is treasure," he purrs in delight.
So is Whitechapel when it gets down to gruesome business — and the first puzzle is a doozy, as four employees of a ritzy tailor's shop are slaughtered from within their fortress-like place of business. It's a variation of the classic locked-room mystery, and as Buchan researches eerie links to the 200-year-old Ratcliffe Highway Murders, the case takes on a contemporary life — and many more deaths — of its own.
Not for the squeamish (or, in this instance, the claustrophobic), Whitechapel is like a British Criminal Minds, albeit with a much more appealing sense of macabre wit in its appreciation for the history of Grand Guignol