Archive for October, 2017

Serendipity in finding the Best Show on Television: Professor T

October 11, 2017 - 11:08 pm 9 Comments


My father used to like the word “serendipity,” which means of course, the faculty for making fortunate discoveries by accident. It was apparently coined by Horace Walpole in The Three Princes of Serendip. (No prizes for guessing the heroes of this tale were lucky chaps). Dad used to derive double pleasure from his serendipity: the revelation or treasure-trove itself, and the chance to tell everybody about it using one of his favourite words.

So now I must tell you about my serendipity. I’m still reeling from the great good fortune of trawling through the many and varied offerings of the On Demand feature of our excellent Special Broadcasting Service—or simply SBS to the connoisseur—to discover the funny, witty, stylish example of the crime genre from Belgium, Professor T. Since I don’t own a television set, absolutely loathe the commercial television channels (haven’t watched one in years) I hadn’t heard or seen anything about Professor T. But I read the On Demand program blurb, saw the first show in the first series on my computer, and was so completely, irrevocably hooked, it was as if I’d been sucking it up intravenously for years.

Professor T is good. In fact it is the best television crime series I think I have ever seen. And when you recall programs like Cracker or those excellent Lynda La Plante creations such as Prime Suspect or Widows, you have to admit that over the years there has been a lot of competition. Since I’ve written a few crime novels myself, all of which have won minor literary prizes or commendations, I believe I am in a position to comment on the genre.

Crime writers know that their chief protagonist should be flawed. Phillip Marlowe, for instance was a drunk who tended to fall for the wrong gal. Professor T, Jasper Teerlinck, is a brilliant psychology and criminology lecturer who is a double blessing at Antwerp University because he can impart his knowledge to his students—he can actually teach! Yet he has a slew of neurological disorders—among them mysophobia, a pathological fear of germs and contamination by same. (Yes, I know Hercule Poirot and Adrian Monk had that problem, but Prof T does it better). The manifestations of these problems alienate him from many of the people he encounters in his work, yet—and this is another big plus—throughout the series his character is seen to grow. We learn more and more about the man as the series progresses. The same is true of the other leading characters. Don’t we get fed up with  those television series where the characters are the same at the end of their run as they were at the beginning! Even worse are the ones whose characters are not fleshed out at all but appear as mere stereotypes, as in “cosy” crime stories like those penned by Agatha Christie. (Though she’s great to read in hospital when you are in pain because you can always easily predict whodunnit—unless you’ve given up caring after the first page). Midsummer Murders is another such example: watching paint dry is probably a tad less boring.

The result of character development is empathy. Sabatini said “to understand is to love” in his novel Scaramouche. We viewers love those characters we think we understand, warts and all. Empathy is a big feature of Professor T. The police in the Antwerp P.D. actually seem to like and look out for each other. What a refreshing change from those hard-bitten a- – -holes who are constantly competing and marking their territory rather than cooperating! I’m pretty certain cooperation gets quicker and better results. Even the perpetrators of some of the crimes are treated with empathy. There is less of the good guy vs bad guy mentality and more of the frail human being who is capable of making some bad decisions.

Another gold star for Professor T is the almost palpable sexual tension between the Prof and Christina Flamant, the Police Commissioner with whom Jasper had an affair many years ago. She is approximately his age, an intelligent, attractive middle-aged woman rather than a vacuous twenty-year-old sex bomb.

Now I don’t want to give away any more about these two excellent series. No spoilers. Have a look at them yourselves and prepare to be beguiled, as I was. Am. The acting is excellent. Koen de Bouw as the Professor is wonderful as is Goele Derick who plays Ingrid Sneyers, the long-suffering faculty secretary. The young Inspectors, Annelies Donckers (Ella Leyers) and Daan de Winter (Bart Hollanders) are as decorative as they are convincing in their roles. Then there is the city of Antwerp itself: elegant, stylish, sophisticated. Professor T is a veritable feast for the senses.