Professor T, series 3, review: a show as awkward as Ben Miller’s sleuth

by 24britishtvMarch 27, 2024, 10 p.m. 20
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Professor T (ITV1) is a strange series about an odd fish. It’s back for a third run, which must mean that quite a few people watch it, and I can only think they’re viewers who miss Ben Miller in Death in Paradise and will watch him in anything.

The character of Prof Jasper Tempest is intriguing, on paper at least: a criminologist who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, and whose mental-health condition causes discomfort while also proving helpful in his line of work. He is also on the autistic spectrum. But this all sits awkwardly – as awkward as the Prof himself – within the framework of a bog standard detective show.

We pick up where the last series left off and the Prof is being escorted to prison for discharging an unlicensed shotgun in a police station. For a man whose OCD manifests itself as a germ phobia, this presents many challenges. When a friend prepares to send him a package, it includes wipes, gloves, soap and antibacterial spray alongside the shiitake mushrooms, macadamia nuts and lapsang souchong.

At one point, he gets beaten up in his cell and threatened at knifepoint, and his reaction is: “If you kill me, this unpleasantness ends. If you do not, I have a captivating anecdote for my memoirs.” Subsequently offered a move to the vulnerable prisoners unit, Prof T declines: “As a criminologist, I have been gifted a unique opportunity. I shall remain in the belly of the beast.”

While there, he solves a crime – a man has been murdered, it seems, over some dodgy car parts – but in the most perfunctory way because the plotline about his prison woes leaves very little time for anything else. The accused man, he decides, could not have been the killer because he was a boxer: “Boxers don’t do frenzied attacks, they conserve energy.”

I imagine there are real-life cases to disprove that particular theory, but never mind. The Prof identifies the real killer by observing him in the prison visiting room and relays this insight in his idiosyncratic way: “My hippocampus is telling me…”

The junior police detectives who require the Prof’s help are another weakness of this show, so bland as to be instantly forgettable. Whereas Frances de la Tour – as Tempest’s mother – is a big character, but the script doesn’t know quite what to do with her and she just pops up here and there, along with flashbacks to Tempest’s traumatic childhood. None of these elements fit neatly together. The original version of this drama is Belgian, and something seems to have been lost in translation during the transfer.

Series 3 of Professor T begins tonight on ITV1 at 9pm; all episodes are available now on ITVX

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