“I’m not Hercule Poirot,” says the titular lead of this Belgian crime series. And, while he has nothing bar his nationality in common with Agatha Christie’s detective, there’s most definitely the whiff of numerous other TV sleuths. Suffering from extreme OCD, lacking empathy but having a detached but brilliant insight into the criminal mind, he’s a mix of Monk, House/Sherlock and – as an irritating consultant to the cops – Jimmy McGovern’s Cracker.
Derivative though the premise is, leading man Koen De Bouw (a Belgian legend, he can currently be seen in Amazon’s The Last Tycoon) completely owns the part, and the rest of the cast follow suit. Professor T – for Teerlinck – is happily lecturing in criminal psychology at Antwerp University, being rude to students and driving his colleagues to distraction, when an old student, Annelies Donckers (Ella Leyers), now a detective inspector – chaotically messy, in contrast to the Prof – seeks his help in a rape case. The whodunnit element is very well plotted, but it’s the overlap of interpersonal relationships and office politics – both in the university and down at Police HQ – that makes the show such a charming watch. As with the TV shows it emulates, we tune in for the crime, but stay for the characters. Each of the main players have emotional depth and secrets that bubble under the surface, coming to the fore as the series progresses. When we first meet Donckers, she’s just had a one-night stand with her detective partner, Daan (Bart Hollanders), who is obviously way too nice to be ‘the one’, not when she may have unresolved feelings for Professor T. The Prof himself, though a cold fish on the surface, reveals his true self when sitting on the university’s roof-top – during fantasy sequences, he breaks into song, hinting that he still has feelings for Doncker’s boss, Christina (Tanja Oostvogels). She, too, may not be over him.
It’s while on the roof that Professor T displays the arrogance that’s a by-product of his genius. He admires Antwerp cathedral, he says, its grandeur dwarfing all the other little houses. No prizes for guessing who’s the cathedral. But he does acknowledge that, while he feels sorry for the little houses, he consoles himself with the fact that, at night, they’re full of warmth and light and families, while the cathedral is dark and cold.
While the tone is occasionally problematic – the whimsy clashes with the grisly crimes – for the most part, this is an engaging and entertaining addition to the genre. And, in a TV landscape still heavily influenced by dour Scandi Noir, it’s great to see something that’s a little lighter in mood – rape, poisoning and murder notwithstanding. All in all, another hit from the Walter Presents stable.
Professor T premieres at 9pm on More4 on Friday 18th August, with new episodes airing weekly – and available to watch online and download on All 4’s Walter Presents after broadcast.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.