CW: Discussion of Rape, Murder, Mental Illness
Illustration: Ben Beechener
I cannot remember the last time I sat down to watch live ‘terrestrial tv’. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney + have dominated our screens at home for many a month now. As a family we rarely agree on what to watch, each of us disappearing off into different rooms to watch the likes of ‘Clarkson’s Farm’, ‘Virgin River’, or reruns of ‘House’. So it is impressive that ITV has managed to persuade the whole family to congregate in the same room for a new crime drama. But persuaded we were, and for the past two Sundays we have sat ourselves down for ‘Professor T’.
This new crime drama did not disappoint. Set in present day Cambridge, the series seems to be a push back against the Oxford riddled ‘Morse’, ‘Lewis’, and ‘Endeavour’ that have so heavily dominated ITV drama in recent years. Although, episode one featured possibly the ugliest accommodation block I have ever seen…maybe ITV does still favour our ‘dreaming spires’?
Ben Miller plays the titular Professor Tempest, a Criminology professor struggling with childhood trauma induced OCD. Miller’s performance is excellent; he handles Tempest’s mental health issues with delicacy, and many will recognise his teaching style from their own lecture experiences. Tempest is dry, condescendingly intelligent, but lovely once his idiosyncrasies are uncovered. Like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, Miller gets to the very core of what drives Tempest. His past saturates every one of his looks, actions and most importantly his train of thought. In the first episode of the series, Tempest takes his expertise out of the lecture theatre and into the real world as he is reluctantly persuaded to consult on a serial rape case by an ex pupil – the wonderfully chipper DI Donkers. Then, in episode two he becomes a more permanent fixture on the team and assists in uncovering the culprit in a murder case.
The crimes themselves are not the most interesting part of this series. We have all watched countless crime dramas. Poirot deduced it, Holmes uncovered it, both Inspector Barnabys solved it. Life is brought to this new drama by the intricacies of the characters. Frances de la Tour is delightfully chaotic as Tempest’s mother and episode two is worth a watch just to see Sarah Woodward, as Tempest’s assistant (she is far more than this, but as a basic label this seems to fit), deal with fish.
Unfortunately, the series is not entirely new and fresh. The lead detective follows the recent trends in Crime drama characterisation; irritable, small-minded, drinking problem. This drinking problem is justified by the recent death of his daughter but nonetheless it feels unnecessary at this point in the story. He seems to merely be a foil to the sensitive but socially unaware Tempest. The second failing of the series is less its own fault. In the likes of ‘Midsomer Murders’ there are at least three deaths and five suspects littering an episode. Then, most advert featuring programmes span a two-hour course to compensate for the disruptions. But, ‘Professor T’ features neither of these staples. At only an hour and with limited suspects I finished the first episode particularly unsatisfied. I don’t know if it was the acting of minor characters playing suspects, or my own conditioning from past experiences, but I watched the final interview and confession with the feeling that they hadn’t got the right man. Surely it was a false confession? It all felt a little too easy, a little too straight forward.
But it is in this anti-climax that the show shines. It is not about the guilty party, but the innocent victim and how their fate is uncovered. If you are looking for an entirely plot driven series, then don’t bother sitting through the adverts. But if you want to appreciate a nuanced study into human psychology and laugh at a comically accurate dramatization of a lecture then ‘Professor T’ is definitely worth a try. Be warned, it is no ‘Luther’ and will not work if binged on Brit Box. While this is an available option if you don’t want to wait 7 days for each episode, I wouldn’t recommend it. There is something surprisingly gratifying about the self-denial of waiting a week for each episode. Some self-restraint has come back into my life and plot’s slow burn is only enhanced by the traditional drip feed approach.