Review by C.J. Bunce
PBS is now airing a six-episode mystery series starring Ben Miller, best known for playing the first detective of many on the series Death in Paradise, an actor whose television work goes back to the early 1990s, including even a small role on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Miller plays Professor Jasper Tempest, the title character of Professor T, a British adaptation of a Belgian series about a quirky, obsessive, compulsive detective in the style of Adrian Monk, Prodigal Son’s Malcolm Bright, and Sherlock Holmes himself. The series airs weekly Sundays on PBS, also available to stream in its entirety with a PBS Passport subscription. Will this be another short-lived British police procedural, or can it survive in the ocean of similar series to find a second season?
Yes, it’s another brilliant, genius, hyper-observant detective. The series has all the usual suspects on its cast: a cop not unlike the co-star police officer in the short-lived American police procedural Forever, Detective Sergeant Lisa Donckers, played by Emma Naomi. Donckers is a young, ambitious cop on the case of finding a serial rapist on her old college campus at Cambridge. She studied under Miller’s Professor T, a blunt instrument teacher of the John Houseman school who is not afraid to call out his class full of underachievers for not making the grade. He seems laser-focused on his past, a mother played by Frances de la Tour (Enola Holmes, Harry Potter), and a boyhood home falling into disrepair that was the site of his father’s apparent suicide. Donckers decides since she’s on campus anyway, she might as well try to tap the brain of the great professor to help her solve the crime. But the professor wants no part of real crimes–he’s all about the study, the discipline, only.
The first episode is more world building than anything else, the mystery somewhat forgettable, the cast of characters at the police precinct nothing new, and the route to the culprit not very clever. Yet Miller has that special bag of traits that make him appealing in this role. For Americans, it seems every British lead either fits the part of the next Sherlock or Doctor Who or James Bond. Miller doesn’t have that outward gusto of Benedict Cumberbatch, and is closer to Hugh Laurie or Peter Capaldi in his rigid, stodgy manner. Miller makes for a respectable, classic Holmes in his teacher of forensics and criminology, and we’ve seen enough of the actor take charge in a leading role on Death in Paradise to tell he probably could pull off the lead of Doctor Who as well (but, alas, we doubt he’d be considered for Bond).
Professor T lives in a disturbing section of England–at night he sits atop the rooftop of a row of old buildings and stares off into nothingness, maybe dreaming of dancing with his past flame, who is also the chief of the police bureau (an update to the typical police chief with a bit of a flirtatious flare, played by Juliet Aubrey). The cinematography creates an almost spooky mood, giving that chilling feeling we’ve seen in similar boyhood visions of the past on Prodigal Son. The biggest ingredient lacking is any bit of humor or fun. Miller can do funny, so hopefully he gets a chance with this character.
Where will the series go from here? Who can tell, but Miller is an interesting actor and we’re always ready for the next quirky detective so we’ll be back for more next week. It is, however, difficult to get excited about the umpteenth short-season British show full of the same old tropes redone again–six episodes will always be difficult to get excited about.
It’s a good enough start. Check out Ben Miller starring in Professor T, with the first season’s six episodes airing Sundays on PBS.