Detective Inspector Eli Rabbit (Matt Berry) is using his persuasive interrogation skills to get a perp to start talking about a missing girl. His intimidating one-two punch of roughhousing and yelling is effective in breaking the suspect. So ends Rabbit’s demonstration in front of school children on what police do in Victorian London. The kids are obviously impressed but that might have to partially do with the actor playing the criminal being their teacher. The opening sequence helps set the stage for the rest of episode as there was more violence, profanity, police work and comedy to follow.
[SLIGHT SPOILERS FOR 1.1 AHEAD!]
Because of the school incident, Detective Sergeant Wilbur Strauss (Freddie Fox), is assigned as Rabbit’s partner to learn the ropes and to keep the rebellious inspector in line. He comes with many accolades including the top of his class (he happened to be the bottom of his class too since he was the only student). To round out the team is Mabel Wisbech (Susan Wokoma), who aspires to be the first female police officer and who happens to be the boss’ adopted daughter.
Together, the three set out to solve the murder of a woman found in the river. While Mabel takes a more academic approach researching in the library, Rabbit relies on his instincts and hunches to get to the bottom of the case. His search takes him and his partner into the seedy underbelly of London as we’re introduced to a colorful cast of characters including Rabbit’s informant, the proprietor of his regular pub and his arch nemesis, Detective Inspector Tanner.
On paper, the three leads come off formulaic. There’s a jaded, drunken veteran who has a nose for police work, a green, by the books but socially awkward officer, and a smart, strong woman who’s trying to take down the patriarchy by going against society norms. However, the actors’ portrayal makes them stand out and endear themselves to the viewers.
Barry’s Inspector Rabbit may not be too different from his previous roles; think What We Do in the Shadows and The IT Crowd. But he plays those characters so well. He can pull off shrewd detective, arrogant prick and bumbling idiot when the time calls for it. Fox’s Strauss plays a nice foil to Rabbit but you can already see a bit of his partner rubbing off on him. Wokoma can hold her own and be as foul mouthed with the rest of them. I wish she was featured more this episode since it’s supposed to be a team of three.
Overall, the writing is great with some fun callbacks. I don’t know whether the slang and jargon are British or Victorian, but either way they’re hilarious. Even the period piece gags are amusing from the burlesque show, to the telephones, to Rabbit’s arsenal. Barry’s performance, specifically, stands out with great moments where he is mistaken for a criminal and rides a bike.
Outside of the comedy, the storyline, itself, is interesting. It seems the show will follow a case of the week format but they will be all tied with an overarching narrative. It’s alluded that there is a secret society influencing the criminal activity in London and part of the weekly adventure will be unraveling that mystery.
The series premiere of The Year of the Rabbit is a funny, expletive filled episode with great leads and great jokes. Like any good pilot, it builds intrigue for the rest of the season as the trio navigate London’s underworld.