Professor T


Professor T

Professor T is a 2015-2018 Belgian TV drama series set in Antwerp about an eccentric professor of criminology at Antwerp University. The professor, played by Koen De Bouw, is called in by the Federal Judicial Police on particularly difficult cases. This, despite having no, or offensive, people skills and a serious case of OCD which manifests itself in a need for routine and cleanliness. But it may be these very attributes which make him so valuable. Social convention doesn’t prevent him from speaking aloud truths others are afraid to voice and his obsessive focus on detail allows him to observe patterns missed by less single-minded colleagues.

Sounds like it might be a bit of a bore, no? An often silent and always awkward main character who has a tight lid on his emotions. An engaging protagonist is usually articulate and willing to share his inner most thoughts. These mechanisms connect us with the fictional character.

But this is a case of the exception proving the rule. Though often silent, when he does speak, Professor T has insights which pull together disparate events into a cohesive whole. And just as importantly, makes observations on the human condition which are both deep and impactful. The latter often through quotes from his wide knowledge of literature and philosophy.

Professor T also has extravagant hallucinations/dreams/imaginings. Students as clucking chickens, the Dean as a Roman senator, detectives as barking dogs. An intense tango with a woman he gives little overt indication of caring for.

In this clever way, the writers imply an active and interesting inner life even though none of the usual literary devices are employed. The viewer likes, sympathizes, and cares about him. And is hooked.

I was sorry there were only four seasons of the show.

Professor T, the British version

I thought, however, that all would be right with the world when a British version of Professor T was announced. Starring Ben Miller, an actor who had played a socially awkward detective in a television series called Death in Paradise. Again, a difficult role as not only can he not express his emotions (such as loving one of the other detectives) but it’s possible that he himself doesn’t know or understand how he is feeling.

A perfect actor for the role, I thought.

So, I was looking forward to the first season.

It was okay.

Not awful but not great.

Even with an excellent lead actor, similar supporting characters, some of the same plots and even the hallucinations thrown in (although not so extravagant as the Belgian production but I think that was more probably the British series wanting to do them on the cheap than the English Professor T’s imaginings being less vivid). Just okay.

Why is that? The quality of the actors? Maybe but not the lead for sure. The subtitles? But usually a program without subtitles, i.e. the Brit one, is easier to watch. Cultural differences? I didn’t notice any big ones.

But I do have a theory and it has to do with the choices the writers made in both the British and Belgium series which made quite large differences in the quality despite the similarities in other ways. In the next post, I’ll discuss the impact of author choices.