Death in Paradise star Ben Miller's Professor T - a spoiler-free review

·4-min read
Photo credit: Eagle Eye Media - ITV
Photo credit: Eagle Eye Media - ITV

Only the first two episodes of Professor T were made available for review.

Death in Paradise's Ben Miller is once again looking into a spate of grisly crimes in ITV's Professor T.

Unlike DI Richard Poole however, he's not on the police payroll, but a criminology lecturer at Cambridge University who grudgingly lends his expert knowledge after a former student-turned-detective seeks him out.

"My interest in crime is purely academic," he says, curtly. "I do not like to get my hands dirty."

Photo credit: eagle eye drama - ITV
Photo credit: eagle eye drama - ITV

The six-episode series is structured as a procedural, with each episode delving into a fresh investigation, and any and all loose ends relating to the respective cases tied up at the end of each instalment. If you're expecting a long-running saga à la Unforgotten or Broadchurch, you won't that find here, which might appeal to you, or you might find that it lacks the bite of the aforementioned.

That format ensures the narrative zips along at a brisk pace, but not at the expense of characterisation.

Through a series of flashbacks we learn that the titular Jasper Tempest had a largely unhappy childhood, and his relationship with his mother (Harry Potter's Frances de la Tour) remains strained throughout. She quotes King Lear at him during one of their many squabbles, which is the perfect encapsulation of the show's tone.

Despite the violent crimes committed in the first two episodes, Professor T is less Luther, more Midsomer Murders, with a handful of surrealist moments (talking goldfish, anyone?!) scattered throughout that you may or may not enjoy, depending on your disposition.

Photo credit: Eagle Eye Drama - ITV
Photo credit: Eagle Eye Drama - ITV

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The references to his challenging boyhood do elicit sympathy for Miller's character, who has a chilly, brusque demeanour and often lacks the necessary gentle touch when engaging with victims of crime. That glimpse into his formative years rescues Tempest from tumbling into the dead space where audiences care little or not at all for a particular character, and while you still wouldn't want to grab a pint with him, that context stops him from becoming irredeemable.

Tempest also has obsessive compulsive disorder (ODC), which obliges him to wear a pair of white latex gloves at all times. His personal assistant and her bottle of disinfectant are never too far away.

Miller himself has spoken openly about his own struggles with OCD when he was younger, which does give Professor T's approach to the protagonist's mental health a degree of legitimacy, and there are moments when the debilitating nature of his condition are laid bare. But some viewers will feel like his OCD is framed as a quirky character trait being mined for comedy purposes.

Photo credit: Eagle Eye Drama - ITV
Photo credit: Eagle Eye Drama - ITV

There's a scene at the beginning of the drama's premiere when Tempest stands at the front of a vast lecture hall and readies himself to teach, which involves sanitising his hands. He's already wearing gloves and as he massages the agent into all of his nooks and crannies, the sound of the latex being stretched and rumpled reverberates around the space as his students silently observe him.

It's undoubtedly played for humorous effect and is just one of Tempest's numerous habits which lean into an eccentric, oddball persona that feels ill-considered.

Photo credit: Eagle Eye Drama - ITV
Photo credit: Eagle Eye Drama - ITV

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The premise itself doesn't tread new ground and many of the characters that we meet feel familiar – the detective with a drink problem and tragic personal life, the promising young sleuth who thinks outside the box, and the palpable sexual tension between her and a colleague – but that's no barrier to enjoying Professor T.

The casting deserves a nod, particularly Emma Naomi's stellar performance as Lisa Donkers, a sharp-witted, charismatic detective who has the stage presence to match Miller. Prior to this, Naomi had a minor role in Bridgerton, but she's been given a lot more to play with here, which she traverses with ease. We'll no doubt be seeing a lot more from her in future, possibly as Donkers, and certainly elsewhere.

The Belgian series upon which it's based has three seasons under its belt, and there's no reason why its British counterpart couldn't continue to run given the flexible nature of the narrative. There are similarities between McDonald and Dodds, another ITV crime drama which previously sat in the Sunday-night slot and enjoyed impressive ratings and a thumbs up from critics.

But its success hinges entirely on whether people want to spend time with Tempest, who won't be everyone's cup of tea. That may well prove the deal-breaker.

Professor T airs on Sunday, July 18 at 9pm on ITV.

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