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TV review: Professor T, Baptiste, and King Gary

06 August 2021

ITV

The academic criminologist Professor Jasper Tempest (Ben Miller), who stars in Professor T (ITV Sundays)

The academic criminologist Professor Jasper Tempest (Ben Miller), who stars in Professor T (ITV Sundays)

CURRENT TV offers three contrasting and instructive (if highly fictional) versions of today’s alpha male. First, What Would Jesus Do? Jesus College, Cambridge, that is. In Professor T (ITV, Sundays), it provides the world with an academic criminologist of unsparing intellectual rigour, meticulous reliance on statistical analysis of evidence and pattern, and OCD personal fastidiousness. In these characteristics, there is an heir to Sherlock Holmes — and also in the entire absence of social niceties.

He sees no reason not to tell everyone exactly what he knows to be the facts of the case, nor to hide his overweening conviction of personal superiority — possibly not unlike a priest or two of your acquaintance. It’s a weird mix of a programme: a stylish comedy, presented with wit and verve, yet hitting from time to time darker notes, as the professor’s internal dialogue and personal demons (especially the running battle with his equally overbearing mother) acts out before our eyes.

BBC1’s Sunday-night crime thriller, the new and final series of Baptiste, never deigns to descend to comedy: this is unrelentingly dark, engaging our worst fears. Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador to Hungary’s (Fiona Shaw, giving yet another masterclass) husband and two grown-up sons vanish in the night. In the morning, the husband is found murdered, but of the boys there is no sign.

Baptiste, an ex-detective who finds missing people, doggedly takes on the case, profoundly irritating the authorities. As much as anything, this is doomed expiation of guilt over his own daughter’s death, caused in his haunted mind by his insistence on pursing his vocation at whatever cost to his family. A video shows Islamic terrorists executing one of the boys — but it turns to be a fake, posted by far-Right extremists to foment anti-Muslim attacks.

This demonic group carries out a massacre of immigrants; the assassin that Baptiste shoots is revealed as one of the missing sons. But perhaps this neo-fascist movement merely masks a ruthless campaign to make untold billions by razing and then developing a huge poverty-stricken district (all masterminded, of course, by a cynical Englishman).

The plot is so complex, pushing so many buttons, with so many flashbacks and time-jumps, that its clear purpose is to run as many rings as possible around the viewer. Try creating a time-line by watching Baptiste’s beard: long or short, trimmed or shaggy, it signals his successive levels of self-hating despair.

King Gary (BBC1, Fridays) is a glorious baroque romp. This suburban giant takes the absurdities of EastEnders as his serious model of behaviour: self-awareness is absolutely absent; every phrase, every attitude, is a cliché; a neighbour’s funeral is hijacked to announce with grandiloquent beneficence that all may share his newly ordered skip (“My skip is your skip”). Wheelie-bin wars will shortly break out.

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