The British remake of Professor T (the fourth version of the 2015 Belgian show of the same name having already been remade in German, French, and Czech) stars Ben Miller as the titular Professor Jasper Tempest, a brilliant criminology professor who becomes a regular consultant for the Cambridge police. Although not breaking any new ground, Professor T’s debut season was a serviceable entry into the police procedural genre, if hampered by a fear of diverting too far from its original material. The good news is that, as the show grows more comfortable, its second season is officially better than the first.
The series’ basic premise is that the professor epitomizes the “insufferable genius” trope. His OCD, germaphobia, and need for structure and order make him exhibit odd rituals and antisocial behaviors, all while brilliantly solving crimes. He is rude, arrogant, and supercilious, though he might describe it as simple honesty. His bluntness and gifted mind are entertaining but can get wearisome after too many episodes, despite the show’s attempts at sympathy by implying Professor Tempest’s mannerisms and neuroses have been formed by a traumatic past that haunts him.
Each season of the U.K. version of Professor T consists of six episodes (including the just filmed Season 3), whereas the original Belgian version had thirteen episodes per season. (This is in line with most of the remakes; the German version ran four installments a season, the French one ran six, and the Czech version eight.) Unfortunately, this leads to the story arcs, many of which are reworked adaptations from the Belgian series filtered through an English lens, being condensed and feeling truncated.
Season 1 established the primary players. Lisa (Emma Naomi), a capable and driven police detective and former student of Tempest, gets him involved in assisting the police. Lisa’s supportive and supplicant partner, Dan (Barney White), chases her romantically through the majority of both seasons. Christina (Juliet Aubrey), Tempest’s former love interest, is the Detective Chief Inspector in charge of the cases Tempest consults on. Chief Inspector Rabbit (Andy Gathergood) starts out hating Tempest and his interference but develops respect for his abilities, in concert with cleaning up his own life and quitting drinking.
To round it off, there is Tempest’s overbearing, eccentric mother, Adelaide, played to perfection by the fabulous Frances de la Tour (Enola Holmes). The first season touched on the strained and complicated relationship between Tempest and his mother and his memories of his abusive, alcoholic father, who committed suicide when he was seven. Season 2 delves into the professor trying to better himself and the interpersonal relationships around him through a journey into psychotherapy, assisted by Dr. Helena Goldberg (Juliet Stevenson).
Despite the weighty backstory (not to mention the first episode of the series dealing with a rape case), the show tends to be light-hearted and intentionally comical. Tempest is prone to hallucinatory daydream sequences: musical numbers, cheerleading routines, arguments, and even envisioning his students as a flock of chickens. He imagines his worst fears about germs and sickness everywhere when visiting hospitals.
The second season builds on Lisa’s personal life in particular. Her reluctance to pursue a romance with Dan stems from her responsibility for her father, who is declining from apparent dementia. Despite her reasonable hesitation, her behavior toward Dan is sometimes appalling — leading him on one minute, putting on the brakes the next. She refuses to tell him about her father and caps it off by standing him up on a date at the end of the Season 1 finale.
Although a competent detective, her interactions with Dan make her seem selfish and derisive. However, seeing more of her relationship with her father in the second season gives her depth and needed pathos. Meanwhile, Dan is constantly being overlooked and outright disrespected in his job, leading him to seek extracurricular employment. He also begins dating Lisa in earnest, but their interactions repeatedly result in miscommunications or arguments since Dan is jealous of Lisa professionally. As a viewer, you both feel for Dan and want to smack him.
As for the titular detective, his involvement dramatically improved the police’s case-solving record in Season 1. However, it also unintentionally kept putting the detectives in a bad light for their over-reliance, making it seem like they might never solve cases without Tempest. This is (thankfully) improved upon in the second season, where Lisa is the driving force, regularly applying Tempest’s thought process to her cases and impressing her boss with her leadership abilities, to the point of being offered a big promotion.
The show’s strength is its solid cast and interesting cases, which aren’t necessarily murders. However, these are not mysteries intended to be solved by the audience. There is always critical information withheld until the end, which unlocks the puzzle, making this a potentially frustrating watch for those who enjoy being armchair sleuths. The point is not to give the viewers a chance to work things out but to showcase Professor T’s extraordinary intellect, an angle that can feel aggravating even when one is enjoying the show.
While Miller gives a stalwart performance, Belgian actor Koen De Bouw’s Professor Jasper Teerlinck remains the more enjoyable version of the titular character. There’s something too stereotyped in Miller’s characterization — Tempest is too stuffy and proper, too much of an upper-class snob. De Bouw’s Teerlinck is more playful, funnier, and more charismatic. I also have a minor quibble with Miller: Professor Tempest wears surgical gloves everywhere, but Miller constantly touches his face; a person with severe germaphobia would not touch his face with the same gloves that come into contact with the outside world.
While this may seem minor, those sorts of small details keep the U.K. version of Professor T merely good enough but not great. The series is still enjoyable despite its weaknesses. Season 2’s Tempest grows as a character and begins the complex process of self-exploration and mental transformation. Though a little slapdash, the season finale is compelling and sets up reasonable expectations for the third season, expected out in the U.K. in the fall of 2023.
Professor T Season 2 premieres on most PBS stations at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 3, 2023. All six episodes of Season 2 will join Season 1 on PBS Passport for members to binge on premiere day. As always, check your local listings. Season 3 is expected to arrive on PBS and PBS Passport in 2024.