Mr. Bean is back, baby ... only this time he's a pipe-smoking police detective in 1950s Paris.

It's not quite "Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher" levels of outrageousness, but Rowan Atkinson is still a bit of a left-field choice to play Jules Maigret, the stone-faced French commissaire, in the latest ITV adaptation of Georges Simenon's famous crime novels.

Maigret has always been a big, imposing figure; Atkinson, now 62, has only just filled out enough to no longer be classed as "scrawny".

He's one of the great comic actors, but does he also have the gravitas to portray such a dour, ponderous detective? Could he really go a full 90 minutes on screen without once getting an uncooked turkey stuck on his head or running a three-wheeled car off the road in a Mini?

Maigret sees Rowan Atkinson test his serious acting chops.
Maigret sees Rowan Atkinson test his serious acting chops.

In Maigret Sets a Trap, the first feature-length episode which screened on TVNZ 1 on Sunday night, Atkinson proved that he could, indeed, maintain a purse-lipped scowl, and that in the right cut of suit he can comfortably pass as a serious dramatic actor.

That said, we haven't really been missing much: his Maigret was good, but not quite the breakthrough performance of an untapped dramatic master.

Rowan Atikinson as Jules Maigret.
Rowan Atikinson as Jules Maigret.

Maybe "one-note" was just his brief. No matter if he was colluding with colleagues, swatting away members of the press or consoling the widower of a maniac's latest murder victim, Maigret's expression rarely shifted, his voice seldom anything other than a dry murmur.

"I am trying my hardest to catch the serial killer," he assured everyone impatiently.

It takes time to catch a crook, and Maigret had only been staring at his map and puffing on his pipe for four or five months. Give the guy a break!

Eventually the methodical detective hatched a plan: he'd send a dozen young women out on to the streets of Montmartre, use them as bait to flush out the madman who will then be caught by one of his plainclothes officers before he could stab one of them to death.

That these bait-women were the show's only significant female characters demonstrated what a relic of a bygone era (Maigret Sets a Trap was first published in the 1950s) the story has become.

It begged the question: do we really need to be constantly rebooting these crusty old detectives when there are more modern and relevant stories to be told?


Probably there's room for both, and the reason Maigret is back is because he's one of the classic fictional detectives.

You could even argue that a new series was long overdue - this is the first English-language Maigret since 1993 (when the detective was played by Michael Gambon).

Rowan Atkinson is Maigret.
Rowan Atkinson is Maigret.

Of course the main reason Maigret is back is there's still a large audience for him.

And as a fan of the genre there was plenty to appreciate in the show's clockwork plotting and seductive pacing, the charming scenery (Budapest standing in for 1950s Paris) and elegant sets.

This is a show that knows its audience, and at times the new Maigret proved all too relatable.

"Shall we do something tonight? We could go to the pictures or just go for a walk," the detective's long-suffering wife suggested when he had cracked the case.

"No, let's stay at home," he replied.

"I'd like to stay at home."