Ripper Street vs The Pinkertons

Similar eras, nods to real life but other sides of the Atlantic - just how similar or different are these two crime shows?

Ripper Street vs The Pinkertons

They're both mystery dramas set in the 19th Century, inspired by real-life detectives and their cases, and there's even a Pinkerton agent in Ripper Street. So what are the similarities or differences between the two series?

Both The Pinkertons and Ripper Street take inspiration from the real world.

Both The Pinkertons and Ripper Street take inspiration from the real world.

THE CASES

Ripper Street: Rather than basing cases on specific real-life crimes, Ripper Street takes inspiration from the general world of late Victorian London, so we get plots based around early photography, street gangs and the creation of the Underground. Jack the Ripper himself isn't an active villain in the show - instead, he's a phantom figure in the backs of the minds of the detectives while they get on with their lives in East London.

The Pinkertons: As with Ripper Street, the cases in The Pinkertons stem from the general setting - here it's the North American frontier in the 1860s, so there are crimes involving train robbers, whiskey barons and telegraph kingpins. And, like Ripper Street, there's one real-life event behind it all: the carnage of the US Civil War. The memories and grievances of the conflict haunt the Pinkerton heroes just as the Ripper era haunts Reid and co.

Not only are the cases in The Pinkertons and Ripper Street based on the real world, some of the characters are too.

Not only are the cases in The Pinkertons and Ripper Street based on the real world, some of the characters are too.

THE DETECTIVES

Ripper Street: Only one of Ripper Street's main trio of detectives is based on a real historical figure: Edmund Reid, portrayed as a forthright Victorian gentleman in the show. That said, a key supporting character - Fred Abberline - also existed in history, and has been played by Michael Caine and Johnny Depp in other Ripper-inspired dramas. Here, Abberline remains on the sidelines, though he does command great authority.

The Pinkertons: Like Ripper Street, The Pinkertons features three sleuths. In this case, all three actually existed. There's Allan Pinkerton, founder of the national detective agency, who in the show is every bit as tough and intimidating as his historical equivalent. Then there's his son Will Pinkerton, who exudes cocksure charm, while pioneering female detective Kate Warne has to deal with general male confusion wherever she goes. Just as the real Kate Warne probably did.

The Pinkertons and Ripper Street seem to be heading in different directions atmospherically.

The Pinkertons and Ripper Street seem to be heading in different directions atmospherically.

THE THEMES

Ripper Street: A running theme of the show is how the East End was one of the murkiest slums in Europe at the time, where feral gangs and ambitious criminals ran amok. As a result, Ripper Street has an atmosphere every bit as untamed, unpredictable and casually violent as the Wild West depicted in The Pinkertons. Another focus of the show is the private life of each lead character, from Drake's battle-scarred past and turbulent love life to the mystery of Reid's daughter.

The Pinkertons: While The Pinkertons does touch on the back stories of the characters, the emphasis is much more on the cases themselves than characters' personal demons. It shares the Ripper Street theme of a rough and ready area, in this case Kansas City, slowly becoming "civilized" in the face of crime and corruption. There's an added feminist thrust to proceedings, with Kate Warne breaking ground for women in policing.

While The Pinkertons aims for the cosier side of crime drama, Ripper Street is much grittier and sometimes violent.

While The Pinkertons aims for the cosier side of crime drama, Ripper Street is much grittier and sometimes violent.

THE TONE

Ripper Street: Much grittier in tone than most other period crime dramas, Ripper Street excels at evoking the bleak world of post-Ripper Whitechapel. It's not simply that it delves into subjects like drug addiction, prostitution, pornography and serial murder - it's also the dark aesthetics of the show that make such an impact, as well as the ornate Victorian dialogue which sounds convincingly different to how people talk today.

The Pinkertons: Considerably lighter than Ripper Street, The Pinkertons is more in the tradition of cosy whodunits - it just happens to be set amid saloons and forests rather than drawing rooms and pantries. The laid-back feel is also conveyed in the dialogue: while the people of Ripper Street sound utterly Victorian, in The Pinkertons they chat, bicker and crack jokes the way we do.

What's your take on the two crime sagas? Watch The Pinkertons Sundays at 8pm on Drama and weigh up the similarities and differences yourself.