Need A Crime Solved? Hire An Eccentric Professor

Two cop shows currently on the air both feature college professors with unorthodox and uncanny powers of deduction who are called upon by local law enforcement to apply their talents to solving tough cases.

In “Professor T,” a British import now airing Sundays on PBS, the title character -- Prof. Jasper Tempest (Ben Miller, above photo, left) -- is a Cambridge professor of criminology with OCD.

In “The Irrational,” which premiered Monday on NBC, Jesse L. Martin (above right) stars as Alec Mercer, a renowned professor of behavioral psychology who teaches at Wylton University (a fictional college) somewhere in Virginia.

They are each highly skilled at observing the character traits of murder suspects to determine whether these persons of interest are psychologically equipped to kill.



Then, in opposition to the conclusions reached by law enforcement agencies that have hired them as consultants, they disqualify the suspects the police and FBI are holding in their murder cases.

Profs. Tempest and Mercer are both iconoclasts with emotional baggage of their own. 

Prof. Mercer suffers from PTSD stemming from a bombing in which he was the only survivor. His scars are both emotional and physical; the right side of his face is disfigured.

The fastidious Prof. T is incapable of intimacy with anyone, either physical or emotional. He is obsessive-compulsive and is seen constantly straightening objects on his desk and other places.

He is also germophobic, and always seen wearing rubber surgical gloves wherever he goes.

Each of these professors has uncertain relationships with someone else in their lives. For Prof. T, it is his elderly mother, Adelaide, played by veteran English actress Frances De La Tour.

In the show, the relationship between mother and son is troubled. She has spent a lifetime managing her son’s peculiarities and somewhere along the line, she has come to accept him and his idiosyncrasies, while also keeping him at arm’s length.

“Professor T” started its second season on PBS September 3 (running through October 15). The new episodes have him seeking the help of a therapist for the very first time, although she finds him to be a difficult patient.

For Prof. Mercer, the relationship that preoccupies him the most is with his ex-wife Marisa (Maahra Hill), who just happens to be an FBI agent who is seen working the same cases as he.

In the show, they don’t spar, and seem to enjoy a cordial relationship. The reason they split up was not entirely clear in the premiere episode of “The Irrational,” but it seems to have something to do with his issues, including his PTSD and his dedication to his work, which he puts ahead of everything else.

The two professors are just the latest such characters in fiction and films with extraordinary powers of deduction -- a lineage that stretches back at least to Sherlock Holmes, who first appeared in 1887.

As for Prof. T’s OCD, we have seen that before too, in “Monk,” where the malady was portrayed in a manner that was so lighthearted that the show was nominated for 15 comedy Emmys during its first run from 2002 to 2009.

By contrast, “Professor T” is no comedy. But it is one of the best shows you can watch on TV right now.

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