Review: Year of the Rabbit

Year: 2019
Director: Ben Taylor
Writers: Kevin Cecil, Andy Reily
Stars: Matt Berry, Freddie Fox, Susan Wokoma

By Tom Moore

With some excellently timed lewd humor that’s elevated through great performances and wonderful characters as well as a great use of its era, “Year of the Rabbit” is the Victorian detective series I didn’t know I needed.

The six-episode miniseries follows Detective Inspector Rabbit (Matt Berry) – a dedicated, lewd, and crude Victorian London copper who’s often inebriated and brash mentality make him one of the most highly regarded officers on the force. After a bad incident, Rabbit reluctantly gets assigned an eager, but clumsy rookie named Strauss (Freddie Fox) and ends up working with a resilient and resourceful female cop hopeful named Mabel (Susan Wokoma). Together, these three must work together to stop murder plots, local gangs, suspicious snipers, and even a developing underground revolt to keep the streets of London safe.

Right from the first scene of Rabbit taking things a bit too far with an interrogation, this series immediately showcases the kind of humor it has, and it was perfect. This series definitely is more adult British humor with the kind of lewd mentality and strangeness that would be found in an Adult Swim show. Its profanity ridden at every turn, full of weird cases that include dealing with a killer who dresses in a brick wall disguise and diffusing a dire hostage situation, and brings together a collection of great characters and plot threads that are surprisingly strong.

Matt Berry, Susan Wokoma, and Freddie Fox in Year of the Rabbit (2019) © IFC

“The script is super tight and offers plenty of different directions within each case while also creating a fast-paced and hilarious good time.”

Not to mention, it utilizes some great nods to things from that era like disappointing erotic theater and a much more eccentric and well-established version of Joseph Merrick/The Elephant Man (David Dawson) – whose vulgar attitude and desires to create a lucrative freakshow of his own makes him one of the funniest characters in this show.

Berry, who many have come to know from Taika Waititi’s TV series “What We Do in the Shadows”, is absolutely immaculate in leading the charge as Rabbit. His blunt demeanor creates plenty of great lines that Berry spews with absolute confidence and he proves himself on multiple occasions to be both a comedic and intimidating force on the streets of London.

It’s hard not to respect the determination and fearlessness he has in putting criminals away and even though he might joke around, that doesn’t mean he’s unwilling to risk his own life to save those around him. The Chief Inspector (Alan Armstrong) constantly says how Rabbit is the best at what he does, and Berry certainly proves it through his slick line delivery, charming confidence, and pure brashness in fighting crime.

Matt Berry and Susan Wokoma in Year of the Rabbit (2019) © IFC

“Wokoma is also a blast as a black woman looking to make her voice heard in a society that doesn’t value her thoughts. Mabel is a constantly resourceful asset that proves her worth in sleuthing, being a strong physical force, and providing a charming comedic wit.”

Fox and Wokoma equally bring their own charm to their respective characters and create some rousing comedic moments. As Strauss, Fox creates one of the most enjoyable “rookie cop” characters I’ve seen with his admiration and somewhat horror of Rabbit’s antics constantly being hilarious to watch and his easily lovestruck heart makes for some engaging and oddly funny heartbreak. Fox also nails a strong build up emotion that comes in the form of a strong monologue to Rabbit and, overall, a strong comedic support to Berry.

Wokoma is also a blast as a black woman looking to make her voice heard in a society that doesn’t value her thoughts. Mabel is a constantly resourceful asset that proves her worth in sleuthing, being a strong physical force, and providing a charming comedic wit. She certainly faces her hardships with her adoptive father, the Chief Inspector, not initially allowing her to join the force and plenty of odd looks and slanderous cartoons in the local paper, but her ambition and drive is ultimately what makes her succeed and she’s given a great story thread that’s elevated through Wokoma’s dynamic performance the really great writing this series has.

Susan Wokoma in Year of the Rabbit (2019) © IFC

The things that really make “Year of the Rabbit” and impressively fresh watch are actually the really strong writing from Kevin Cecil and Andy Reily as well as great direction from Ben Taylor. While each episode has it’s own crimes to solve that are all enjoyable in their own right even if the Rabbit putting the pieces together at the end isn’t all that grand and kind of dumb, they all include little details that excellently build up a strong season villain full of timely and intriguing motivations and plays a strong role in Mabel’s story.

“The performances from everyone, especially Berry, are top-notch and the script and direction display some unexpected strengths that elevate this series to new heights.”

The script is super tight and offers plenty of different directions within each case while also creating a fast-paced and hilarious good time. Also, the running gags of people asking what happened to Rabbit’s eyebrow and people needing to punch him in the chest to get his heart going again never get old and are always funny.

Matt Berry in Year of the Rabbit (2019) © IFC

It also blew my mind how great Taylor is in creating some striking visuals through his direction. There’s a moment of great editing when Rabbit takes a physically brutal turn and Taylor channels his inner Edgar Wright that’s absolutely hilarious as well as a moment where a sniper’s shot through someone’s head is shown in a very artsy way. Not to mention, the costume design is well-utilized to make characters stand out through color and it’s really a great job from Taylor in bringing all these pieces together to create a series that is just as engaging visually as its script.

Like I said at the start, “Year of the Rabbit” is the pleasant surprise I didn’t know I needed. The performances from everyone, especially Berry, are top-notch and the script and direction display some unexpected strengths that elevate this series to new heights. Frankly, I’m keeping my fingers that the second season that’s hinted at in the finale eventually comes to life as this initial season instantly has me hooked.

4.5 stars

Streaming exclusively on Topic, the streaming service from First Look Media, on June 18, 2020.

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